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Regionalizing emergency services eyed; Dudley, Webster look to raise dispatch efficiency, cut costs.

Byline: Brian Lee

Dudley and Webster are exploring regionalizing their emergency dispatch services.

A contract for a consultant to study regionalization will be awarded next month, Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar said.

"It never hurts to ask the question if you don't know the answer," Chief Wojnar said.

Dudley-Webster received a $50,000 state grant last year for a Public Safety Answering Point Emergency Dispatch Consolidation Study. The grant expires June 30.

They are hoping to have the study completed by the end of June.

Chief Wojnar, the applicant, said he and Webster Police Chief Timothy J. Bent reached out to their administrator and manager, respectively, and fire and ambulance personnel in both towns.

Dudley police dispatcher Leona D. LaFountain said regionalizing would be a big change, but then again she is used to adapting. Ms. LaFountain said a pad, pencil and radio were all the tools she had when she began the job 43 years ago.

Cost estimates and the feasibility of running a combined system will be learned through the study, Chief Wojnar said.

"I think it would behoove us all to pool our resources together as far as dispatching goes, especially Webster and Dudley, where we work so closely together anyway," Chief Bent said.

"If it helps to streamline operations and saves some money, or allows us to reallocate money to another place it's a win-win for everybody," Chief Wojnar said.

No other communities in this immediate area are looking into regionalization, said state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security spokesman Terrel Harris, whose agency with the state 911 department fund feasibility studies, architectural and construction, renovations, equipment and training costs with development grants.

Mr. Harris said 17 groups have decided or are deciding if they will regionalize, representing 135 cities and towns.

The grant fund was created in 2008 when Gov. Deval L. Patrick signed a law establishing the state 911 department.

In fiscal 2009 the state awarded $7.3 million and in fiscal 2010 it awarded $7.9 million, Mr. Harris said.

"Combining emergency 911 operations creates efficiencies in service and also reduces operating costs for taxpayers," Mr. Harris said.

Among things to consider are station coverage, consolidating groups, potential physical upgrades and aligning procedures for response, Chief Wojnar said.

"We wouldn't anticipate anything like reinventing the wheel because we've already got a lot of the infrastructure in place," he said. "You might need to modify some equipment, run some additional phone lines and radio equipment, but it's not like we're purchasing a building and building a standalone facility."

"We'd look at using it in our current station, only because it's newer," the Dudley chief said.

Dudley and Webster would be eligible for money from the state to offset costs of regionalization, he said.

The study will also look at the pros and cons of other local communities joining the effort if they want to, Chief Wojnar said.

Webster Fire Chief Gordon Forrester said "regionalization may work," but he expressed uncertainty about the extent of savings because "you still have to have somebody there during the day to do the job" of answering the public's requests for reports, among other duties.

Webster has 29 police officers, including the chief; Dudley has 11 police officers, including the chief.

Webster has about 45 firefighters in its all-volunteer department; Dudley has seven full-time firefighters and about 30 call firefighters.



CUTLINE: (P) Dispatcher Leona LaFountain answers a non-emergency phone line in the Dudley emergency dispatch center yesterday. (C) Emergency personnel
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 13, 2010
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