Overnight dispatching may shift

TREMONT — When a 911 call is placed from anywhere in Hancock County, it goes to the regional communications center in Ellsworth.

From there, a dispatcher can send the call to a town’s local dispatcher, the state police regional communication center in Bangor or continue to dispatch from that office to county or local emergency response officials.

Confused yet?

Tremont’s dispatching services for law enforcement are handled by the Hancock County Regional Communications Center (RCC). Calls for the fire department are sent from the Ellsworth center to a dispatcher in Southwest Harbor. Calls for the Southwest Harbor/Tremont Ambulance Service also are dispatched from Southwest Harbor.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday, Fire Chief Keith Higgins requested the dispatch expense for the fire department of $20,000 be moved from the municipal budget into the fire department’s budget. That amount includes dispatching services but also administrative services, such as issuing burn permits for Tremont residents.

“About 10 years ago, the department took our own checkbook and our own money out of the town [budget],” he said. “We took our own bills back and we’ve been paying them.

“One of the bills that didn’t go with us was dispatch,” Higgins continued. “It stayed here … The way I look at it we’re the actually customer. We’re the one who uses the service. I’d like to see fire department paying the bill and have absolute control of the service we’re being provided.”

Dispatch services for the fire department would be nearly a quarter of the price with the RCC, but Higgins stated the extra price for administration services would be worth it. By moving the item into the fire department’s budget, that could change in the future. Town records show in 2015 the RCC provided dispatch to Tremont fire department for $3,095.

“So you guys would decide dispatch, whether it stays in Southwest Harbor or goes to the RCC,” Selectman McKenzie Jewett asked Higgins prior to the board voting.

“You guys would be part of that decision process,” Higgins responded. “But, it’d just be us as the customer directly relating to them about what we need.”

Selectmen unanimously voted in favor of moving the fire dispatching budget item into the fire department’s budget by way of amending the Memorandum of Understanding between the town and the department to reflect the change.

Town Manager Chris Saunders pointed out that the change would not affect the already approved FY20 budget but would go into effect for the FY21 budget.

Overnight dispatching has also been a topic of discussion in Southwest Harbor. Officials there are exploring the option of moving the overnight dispatch shift to the Mount Desert Police Department, which could affect the Tremont fire department during the overnight hours.

“You don’t have any concerns about overnight dispatch going to Mount Desert?” Selectman Kevin Buck asked Higgins.

“We were at Mount Desert,” said Higgins. “Our only concerns were if we were in the middle of responding to a call and they got off shift and had to leave.”

According to Higgins, the town has also had the RCC dispatch for the fire department in the past.

“We’ve gone that way a few times,” he said. “But, the RCC only pushes buttons and answers the first two trucks, after that we self-dispatch.”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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