Grants support city dispatchers

WESTFIELD – The budget of the city’s Emergency Communications Department, the newest city department created last year to combine emergency dispatching for police, fire and medical emergencies, was augmented when two grants totaling $138,186 were accepted by the City Council at the most recent meeting.
Both a support and incentive grant for $114,840 and a training grant valued at $23,346 were awarded by the State 911 Department of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
John Medley, the director of the department said that the funds are apportioned by the department to all the communities which operate Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) based on the number of emergency calls handled by each dispatch center.
The funds originate in the 911 surcharge added to all telephone bills in the Commonwealth.
The city’s new combined dispatch center, located on the grounds of Barnes Municipal Airport, was established, in part, because state officials are encouraging regional dispatch centers which handle emergency calls for multiple communities.
The lion’s share of the expenses for hardware at emergency dispatching facilities which answer emergency 911 calls are paid by state grants so there is an incentive to limit the amount of hardware required by encouraging the creation of PSAPs which can handle the needs of several emergency departments.
The state, through the 911 Department, also assists communities which operate a PSAP with grants for personnel and training.
Medley said that the larger of the two recent grants will be used to help pay for salaries and overtime for the dispatchers working at the dispatch center.
There is currently a shortage of dispatchers qualified to work as emergency medical dispatchers and a concomitant shortage of training positions to allow certification of new dispatchers.
As a result, the dispatchers currently qualified are being asked to work a considerable amount of overtime which taxes the department’s budget.
The smaller grant, Medley said, will be used to fund additional training for the dispatchers.
He explained that the dispatchers are required to take continuing training courses as a requirement for their positions and the department has to pay for that training.
He said that dispatchers may take classes in specialized areas such as dealing with a hostage situation or an active shooter incident.
“Specialized classes taught by trained professionals”, he said, “cannot be provided in-house” and the grant money received for training will be expended for that sort of instruction to keep the city’s dispatchers current in the latest developments in the emergency dispatching field.

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