Chittenden County leaders to create regional dispatch center

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) During an emergency every second matters, which is why Chittenden County leaders want to create a regional dispatch center.

"There may just be one dispatcher on in South Burlington and one dispatcher in Williston and you can be really busy in one community and really quiet in another," said Burlington Fire Chief Steven Locke. Locke is spearheading the movement after Queen City Mayor Miro Weinberger asked him to dive into the idea.

The goal is to cut down call-answer time and deploy police, fire and EMS resources more quickly. Emergency services would stay where they are, but dispatchers would move to a new office space. Organizers say they wouldn't hire or fire workers, just pool the group under one roof.

"By doing this all in the same building, you can let your colleague know, hey, I need a rescue," said Colchester Deputy Town Manager Aaron Frank.

Burlington, Colchester, Essex, Milton, Shelburne, South Burlington, WIlliston and Winooski are all considering joining the public safety authority. Right now when you call 911 in most of these communities, you go to a state or municipal answering point, before being transferred to a local dispatcher.

"It takes about 71 seconds for them to intake your information and then transfer you," said Frank. "One of the things we're seeking to do is eliminate that 71 seconds."

Organizers talked with the Public Safety commissioner about the idea Tuesday, and expect to get feedback from the attorney general's office within a month. Now, each select board or city council will decide whether to have residents vote on the proposal next Town Meeting Day.

"Our police chief, fire chief and rescue chief all favor a regional approach in Chittenden County," said Shelburne Town Manager Joe Colangelo. "Vermont's a little unique that all the municipalities are kind of trying to do it on their own. It's more common to see a regional approach."

Locke tells us that in 2016, there were 51,000 911 calls in Chittenden County. The chief believes the authority would save money-- the county currently spends about $3.5 million on dispatcher services. He admits that one of the longtime concerns about the idea has been a loss of local knowledge but says that isn't a problem anymore with new technology.

"When you call 911 from either your home phone or your cellphone, it's giving the geographical location of where that caller's calling from," Locke said.

Organizers say they are looking at a space in South Burlington for the dispatch center.