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Feb 15, 2011 4:47 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Bridgehampton FD Looks At Switching Dispatchers

Feb 15, 2011 4:47 PM

Bridgehampton Fire District officials said this week that the district is in negotiations with the Village of Southampton to switch all the Bridgehampton Fire Department’s emergency dispatching duties to the Southampton Village Police Department, after being dispatched by East Hampton Village Police for more than four decades. The move could save the department more than $60,000 a year and avail the department of new technology not yet available through the East Hampton dispatching system.

“East Hampton has been dispatching the Bridgehampton Fire Department since we had handheld radios back in the 1960s,” Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman Steve Halsey said this week. “It’s a hard thing to do but ... we are very seriously exploring a move to Southampton.”

The Bridgehampton Fire District, a taxing district overseen by the elected fire commissioners that funds the hamlet’s fire and ambulance services, recently signed a three-year contract with East Hampton Village Police for dispatching duties that would have it paying just over $186,000 a year for the service, an increase of some $28,000 per year over the last contract.

Mr. Halsey said that East Hampton has agreed to free the district from the contract if it decides to make the switch, charging it only a prorated fee for the number of days in 2011 that it uses the village’s dispatching service.

According to Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley, the village and the district have a handshake agreement on a dispatch contract that would cost the district approximately $120,000 a year.

“They’re saving money and they’re also getting an improved system,” Mr. Epley said. “And it will be a new revenue source for the village.”

Southampton Village spent $250,000 in 2009 to upgrade its dispatching equipment, the mayor said. Capturing the Bridgehampton dispatching duties, and the thousands of additional calls it would bring, would require the village to expand its dispatch staff so that two dispatchers would be on duty 24 hours a day. Currently, the Southampton Village Police dispatchers handle only the Southampton Village Police, Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance and Southampton Fire Department calls and typically have just one dispatcher on duty during the overnight hours.

Switching to Southampton’s dispatching would also make a computer dispatching aid, called RedAlert, available to the Bridgehampton district. The system helps districts track the thousands of emergency calls they respond to each year and would still require the district to purchase computer up-links for their vehicles, which could cost as much as $5,000 per vehicle.

Mr. Halsey said that the decision to switch was in no way connected to an incident last November in which a mixup by an East Hampton Village dispatcher misdirected ambulances responding to a 911 call of a man suffering a heart attack. The mixup, caused by a dispatcher failing to follow protocol, sent ambulances to an address in East Hampton when the call was actually coming from a home with the same address in the hamlet of Wainscott, in the Bridgehampton Fire Department’s coverage area. Ambulances took more than 20 minutes to finally reach the stricken man, who died a short time later.

“There’s no reason for us moving other than the financial savings to the tax district,” Mr. Halsey said.

The Bridgehampton Fire Department’s emergency calls account for about 20 percent of all the calls the East Hampton Village dispatchers handle, and losing that load—as well as the $186,000 in anticipated annual revenue—will likely mean staffing cuts in the dispatch unit. Village Administrator Larry Cantwell would not say whether layoffs would be necessary. He noted that there is currently a vacant position that would likely not be filled and that attrition may be able to cover other necessary staffing reductions.

Mr. Cantwell explained that the steep hike in costs for Bridgehampton in the new contract was a product of increased costs incurred by the village and jump in the number of calls the district generated in 2010, which is used to determine the rate for each of the fire and ambulance districts that use East Hampton’s dispatchers. He said the village allocates about half of its $1.9 million annual salary and benefit costs for its dispatching unit to the contracted fire and ambulance districts, including the village’s own departments, which account for about 32 percent of the calls. The bills for individual districts are determined by their share of the total calls received from outside the village.

“Our total cost basis went up over the last three-year period and their calls went up a higher percentage than anyone else’s, so they got hit a little harder this year than the others,” Mr. Cantwell said, noting that the Montauk Fire District’s contract went up only $3,000 this year and that Springs went up only $1,000. “We told them that we like providing the service to them and want to continue but that if they want to make a change they are free to do what is best for their district.”

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So, where do I apply for new dispatcher position?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 17, 11 6:23 PM
First you take the Suffolk County Civil Service test for Public Safety Dispatcher I. Then comes the keyboard skills test, medical and psychological evaluation. If you score high enough you get called for an interview and then possibly hired for the position.
By K Aventi (33), Southampton on Feb 17, 11 10:56 PM
Thanks for the info.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 19, 11 11:59 AM