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Emergency Responders Worry Consolidation Means Money Trumps Safety

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Jens Schott Knudsen
/
Flickr Creative Commons
The 911 dispatch center in Rutland is slated to move to Rockingham and then Westminster as part of a plan that will save the state $1.7 million. But emergency responders and local lawmakers argue the plan will jeopardize public safety and cost jobs.

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s plan to consolidate the state’s 911 call centers has come under fire.

The governor says reducing the number of dispatch centers from four to two will save $1.7 million a year, which he says is vital in light of Vermont’s current budget shortfall. But emergency responders and local lawmakers argue the plan will jeopardize public safety and cost valuable jobs.

Seth Bride is a full-time Rutland City fire fighter who works part time in Rutland handling 911 calls. Bride feels that dispatchers at the state’s four public safety answering points — better known as PSAPs — are already stretched thin, handling more than 160,000 calls last year alone. 

"Neither the governor or I would be doing this if we believed for one moment that law enforcement, EMS responders or firefighters would in any way be jeopardized by this move." - Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn

He says the governor’s plan to have fewer dispatchers handling more calls over a larger territory is a mistake.

“It worries me because on more instances than I can count we have had 911 calls coming in and they are looking for help but don’t know an address,” says Bride. “They give us, ‘I’m off this road, next to Mr. Bill’s Farm Stand; I am by the monument.’ With four of us in the room at the Rutland PSAP we have had many times where we can turn around and say, 'We have been there, we know where that is, and we can get them help right away,” explains Bride.

The state currently employs 72 full-time and 33 part-time dispatchers. Under the governor’s consolidation plan, Rutland’s dispatch center would move to Rockingham and then to Westminster, where a new state police barracks is planned. Derby’s call center would move to Williston.

Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn says the mergers will mean more dispatchers will be at work in each remaining call center. He believes that will improve safety and response times, cut costly overtime and allow more flexibility in scheduling.

Neither the governor or I would be doing this if we believed for one moment that law enforcement, EMS responders or firefighters would in any way be jeopardized by this move,” says Flynn.

"This is a region of the state that has been devastated economically by a number of things including the fire at Rutland Plywood, the closing of Sears, the closing of Aubuchon's and the soon-to-be closing of J.C.Penney." - Rutland Sen. Kevin Mullin

Rutland Sen. Kevin Mullin isn’t convinced, and says its unfortunate that Derby and Rutland, two communities hit hard economically, are the ones to lose jobs.

While Commissioner Flynn says the state plans to cut roughly 14 full-time positions, Mullin says Rutland area emergency responders believe the number will be higher. “And this is a region of the state that has been devastated economically by a number of things including: the fire at Rutland Plywood, the closing of Sears, the closing of Aubuchon’s and the soon-to-be closing of J.C.Penney.”

Pittsford representative Butch Shaw, an assistant fire chief, says Rutland County lawmakers are not giving up. Shaw says during the recent budget address the governor challenged lawmakers to find better ways to cut the budget, and Shaw and Mullin say they’re working hard to do so.

A public forum will be held Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Center Rutland Fire Station to discuss the role dispatchers play in public safety.