WESTERLY — Westerly Dispatch, which provides dispatch services for 13 fire and ambulance departments in four towns and two states, has no intention of merging as part of a centralized dispatch center proposed by Westerly Town Manager J. Mark Rooney, officials said Friday.
Rooney has proposed moving the services provided by Westerly Dispatch at the Westerly Ambulance Corps headquarters on Chestnut Street to the Westerly Police Department. The idea is that police dispatch personnel would handle the work.
Rooney discussed the proposal with the Town Council Thursday and asked Police Chief Shawn Lacey to notify the ambulance corps after the council showed interest in exploring the idea.
On Friday, Ronald J. MacDonald III, president and acting chief of the ambulance corps, said the proposed merger would require the approval of every department and agency served by Westerly Dispatch.
"His suggestion to consolidate was a total surprise as this was not mentioned previously. I am not sure the parties floating this idea are completely aware of what this would entail," MacDonald said.
Westerly Dispatch serves fire departments and ambulance services in Westerly, Hopkinton, Richmond, and parts of both Charlestown and Stonington. Each department's electronic equipment is set up to connect to the ambulance corps service, MacDonald said. The service also answers after-hours calls for the Westerly Water Department.
When the ambulance corps headquarters opened in 2002, it was outfitted to serve as a backup emergency operations center for the town, and can also provide communications for the police should their station go down, MacDonald said.
"We wired the building for that as a favor to them," MacDonald said.
Rooney had said the ambulance corps was seeking a $75,000 subsidy from the town for 2019-20, double the amount it received in the current budget, to help pay for new radio consoles. Lacey said the console at the police department was upgraded in 2017 and has the capacity to add fire and ambulance dispatch services.
MacDonald said the ambulance corps might modify its request. "If it's going to cause angst or isn't feasible we could just forget the request for the console," MacDonald said.
Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns said he called Rhode Island's central 911 center in Scituate and the 13 chiefs whose departments are served by Westerly Dispatch after reading details of Rooney's proposal on Friday. Burns said he had been informed of the council's discussion but thought it was less detailed. "I told them we're not going anywhere. We're not merging," Burns said.
Burns, who also serves as chief dispatcher at Westerly Dispatch, played a critical role in founding the service when it started in 1990. "We have no intention of merging with police dispatch. Fire and ambulance is a unique service that doesn't mend well with police dispatch," Burns said.
Burns acknowledged, however, that some areas, including Groton, use the type of centralized dispatch service proposed by Rooney. "It depends on the level of service you are looking for," he said.
MacDonald said that many of the departments served by Westerly Dispatch joined with the service because they were dissatisfied with combined police and fire dispatch services. "A lot of fire departments left police dispatches because the police departments obviously put a priority on police," he said.
Westerly Dispatch employs three full-time dispatchers and 10 part-time dispatchers. The service runs on an annual budget of about $250,000. The new dispatch center radio consoles will cost an estimated $150,000, MacDonald said.
Rooney said he wanted to run his idea by the Town Council before discussing it with Westerly Dispatch and the ambulance corps.