Westport agrees to joint fire dispatch pact with New Canaan
Updated 6:52 am, Wednesday, September 3, 2014
The town is joining forces with New Canaan to provide more effective -- and efficient -- coverage in the event of emergencies.
The fire department dispatch services of both towns are combining under an inter-local agreement ratified Tuesday by the Representative Town Meeting in a near-unanimous vote.
"We think we're going to get improved services all the way around," said Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury. The joint dispatch service will take effect Oct. 1.
"Westport will see positive financial results from this," he said, "(and) really one of the most important things is collaboration on future regionalization projects."
New Canaan's fire dispatching is now handled by the Southwest Regional Communications Center, also known as CMED. Located on the roof of Bridgeport Hospital, it is largely focused on emergency medical service calls.
"There are no shared services in this agreement," Jeffrey Wieser, District 4, told the legislative body. "This is all about the call center. This is all about 911."
"There will still be cooperation between the departments," he said.
"This is really just the beginning, in theory, for this kind of collaboration," said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, who spoke in support of the proposal.
"I would also encourage the RTM to be very aware of other opportunities for regional efficiencies," he said. "As you may be aware, the state is facing deficits again ... We will need to, as a municipality, find ways to save money as well, for we're going to have to be more self-reliant."
"I hope we're together again sometime in the near future talking about future regionalization," Steinberg said.
The only dissenting vote was cast by Kristan Hamlin, District 4, who suggested that attention should be spent focusing on improving coordination between Westport's police and fire departments.
"My concern is that by virtue of proceeding with another collaboration ... that we're putting that off ... and we're going in a direction that is less valuable to us," she said.
She also raised concerns about the financial risk to Westport in the event of lawsuits.
"The amount of financial risk is real," she said. "People sue dispatch outfits all the time."
"It's going to be very seamless," Jack Hennessey, New Canaan's fire chief, said of the arrangement. "It's going to work very efficiently."
"It's no more of a load on the Westport dispatch, then if you decided you were going to build another fire station somewhere else in town," he said.
The Westport Fire Department's communications center, however, is "state-of-the-art, for a town their size," according to Hennessey. "It was designed for expansion and can be ramped up at little expense to accommodate the new regional system."
Kingsbury said part-time staff will be added to the center Monday through Friday. "We've had labor issues," he acknowledged. "We've addressed those labor issues."
"We don't want to hire full-time employees also because we don't know how long it's going to go on," he said.
An annual service fee will be charged to New Canaan once the deal takes effect. For the initial term -- Oct. 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015 -- New Canaan will pay to Westport a fee of $58,500. For each extension period, the fee will be $78,000.
The New Canaan Town Council had approved the combined dispatch agreement on Aug. 27.