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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Westport to Dispatch New Canaan Fire Calls

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Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury: “We’re not going to be a failure.” Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The Westport Representative Town Meeting (RTM) tonight approved a landmark agreement under which the Westport Fire Department will dispatch emergency calls for the New Canaan Fire Department.

Westport officials said they hoped the agreement will eventually lead to additional regional cooperation with resulting cost savings.

By a vote of 28 to 1 with 1 abstention, the way was cleared for initial nine-month trial of the agreement starting Oct. 1 to be extended for a full year beginning July 1, 2015 if both towns agree.

“We’re here to make this successful,” said Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury. “We’re not going to be a failure.”

New Canaan Fire Chief Jack Hennessey said, “We’re very excited about it in New Canaan and we’re looking forward to this opportunity that the Town of Westport is offering us.”

New Canaan First Selectman Robert E. Mallozzi III, a New Canaan volunteer firefighter, was in the audience but did not speak.

The agreement caps years of efforts by Westport to forge emergency dispatch agreements with neighboring municipalities.

At several points, Weston and Wilton were considered initial partners. But those efforts failed due to problems involving union agreements, pension plans and insurance, among other issues, according to Westport officials.

Kingsbury said he wanted to start small—New Canaan has far fewer daily calls than Westport and is made up of half a dozen paid firefighters per shift plus volunteers.  He said that physical constraints of the Westport fire dispatch center prohibited taking on additional municipalities.

He said there were ongoing discussions with the Westport Police Department about a combined dispatch but that space constraints at both departments precluded this happening at the moment.

He also said Police Chief Dale Call asked to “put on hold” discussions on the issue because of pending retirements.

But Kingsbury said the trend across the country was to consolidate emergency dispatch centers and that Westport would be eligible for a $250,000 state grant if it were to combine its police and fire centers.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg praised the agreement and encouraged the town and the RTM to seek additional regional efforts. He warned that state aid to municipalities, which has been maintained in recent years, could fall victim to cost saving efforts in the future.

Kingsbury said Westport was “not really looking to make a lot of profit” in the first year of the agreement with New Canaan.

The first nine months will bring a New Canaan payment of $58,500 with estimated costs of $51,750, Kingsbury said. The full year beginning next July provides for New Canaan to pay $78,000 with projected costs of $63,167.

Kingsbury said Westport will bring on part-time dispatchers during the daytime. In the event of a major storm or other event in New Canaan, that community will “decentralize” and take over its own dispatching, he said.

Kingsbury stressed that the New Canaan agreement will not result in diminished service or delayed calls for Westport residents.

“It would be like another fire station in Westport, but it just happens to be in New Canaan,” he said.

In fact, Westport’s service will be enhanced because now there will be two dispatchers on duty during the busy daytime hours, he said.

Kingsbury said Westport fire dispatchers will be taken on tours of New Canaan to familiarize themselves with the community.

The lone opponent to the agreement was Kristan Hamilin, District 4.

She said she felt the savings with the New Canaan agreement were modest and that the town seemed to be putting a combined dispatch with the Westport police department secondary.

Sylina Levy, District 3, abstained.

 

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Posted 09/02/14 at 10:56 PM



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