Committee wants to streamline, improve public safety
By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER — Just how this community can continue to offer first-class service to its residents in the future as revenues shrink and fixed costs escalate is being assessed by a cross section of residents.
The Public Safety Advisory Committee has spent weeks familiarizing themselves with the operations of the fire and police departments, as well as the Ambulance Service, in an attempt to determine how operations can be streamlined or changed to comply with the lean economic times.
Once the study of these departments has concluded and recommendations presented to the Town Council for consideration later this fall, another committee will be selected to study other town functions, according to Town Manager Robert Simpson.
“I think we’ve all learned a lot from the process,” Simpson told the committee Wednesday.
Although Wednesday’s meeting lacked a quorum, the committee members in attendance reviewed a draft of their observations and recommendations regarding the Fire Department and the Ambulance Service that was prepared by Simpson. The town manager had hoped that the committee would finalize its study of the Police Department this week. Instead, another meeting was set for Oct. 1 to complete that study.
In the draft copy of the study released Wednesday, the committee said the town should take a leadership role in any initiative to regionalize fire protection services. The committee envisions the creation of a regional fire department headquartered in Dexter, but one that provides support to and uses the resources of other communities. That would necessitate a full-time chief and some full-time firefighters in future years. The advantages would include standardization of training, the ability to draw personnel from a wider population base, greater purchasing power, and reduced capital costs, according to the committee.
The committee also recommended that the compensation for emergency response time should increase from $6.25 per hour to the $10-$11 range over a three-year period and the compensation for training should increase from the current $2.50 per hour rate to $6.25 per hour. They further recommended that contributions to the firetruck capital reserve account should be increased dramatically in 2004 to meet department goals and that the department should acquire a small boat with outboard motor for water or thin-ice rescues.
Commenting after the meeting, Fire Chief Melvin Wyman said regionalization is something that should be considered. “It is something I think will eventually happen,” he said. Wyman said the town already is engaged in some form of regionalization because the police and fire departments are dispatched from a Bangor agency and the Fire Department participates in mutual aid.
Regarding the Ambulance Service, the committee suggested that serious consideration be given for a cooperative arrangement with a local hospital to assume responsibility for the staffing and training of the Dexter Ambulance Service. Under this suggestion, the town would retain ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the facility and equipment.
Another proposed alternative is to continue the Ambulance Service as a municipal department, but increase the compensation for both part-time and per-diem employees. In addition, the department’s four part-time employees should be changed to full time and should have at least two paramedic-qualified emergency medical technicians on staff.
Simpson told the committee Wednesday that ambulance staffing has been a problem. He said the department is down to eight or nine employees who perform the bulk of the service. To meet the needs, local firefighters have been serving as ambulance drivers, he said. Simpson said the department will be able to meet the staffing schedule through September and the schedule may have to be altered after that.
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