For more than 50 years, the Danbury police and fire departments have operated as separate entities.
That will all change in 2015, when a plan to create a centralized dispatch center staffed by civilians will come to fruition after three years in the making. It’s expected to save the city about $1 million a year.
“This is a huge culture change for public safety,” Mayor Mark Boughton said. “It’s something cities across the country have done. It’s a positive step.”
Emergencies requiring police and fire assistance currently are transferred through the two departments. This process increases call times and loses callers, according to Patrick Sniffin, the director of the Western Connecticut Dispatch.
Some emergency requests are also not routed to the appropriate station in the first place, since 70 percent of calls are made from cell phones, Sniffin said.
Officials say the condolidated dispatch center will increase safety and reduce response time. The dispatch center will allow calls to be handled faster and more effectively, Sniffin said.
“It’s a great change and it is something the department has been looking forward to,” Fire Chief T.J. Wiedl said.
In September, the city partnered with IXP Corp. to consolidate the emergency communication center and hire and train the civilians who will be taking over dispatch duties, Sniffin said. IXP is also conducting a technology audit, making sure all the department’s equipment is working properly.
The civilians were hired last month and are going through a series of training programs and certifications, which include shadowing current dispatchers.
Those police officers and firefighters who are current dispatchers will be moved to the field, said Alan Baker, Danbury police chief.
Police patrols will increase by the middle of January when the transition to civilian dispatchers is finalized.
“Three more officers will be on the roads and taking patrols instead of doing administration work,” Baker said.
The new dispatch center will be on the third floor of the police station on Main Street. When the police station opened five years ago, it was planned to hold a centralized dispatch center, Baker said.
The consolidation is also expected to save the city about $1 million a year, Boughton said.
“It’s great financially,” the mayor said. “The savings will primarily come out of the fire department. It will be an up front cost, but short-term paying for long-time gain.”
The original proposal in 2011 called for a regional dispatch center with area towns sharing the cost. However, other municipalities backed out of the plan due to cost concerns and their desire to keep their own dispatch centers.
“It was a hard leap to make since we weren’t even civilianized,” Boughton said.
However, Danbury officials believe that once other towns see the city’s dispatch center up and running, there will be renewed interest in creating a regional hub.
“I’m sure there will be initial problems, but problems that can be solved,” Baker said. “We are excited about this transition and this is going to have a long time benefits to the people of Danbury.”