Ahoskie supports merger

Published 10:38 am Tuesday, December 20, 2011

AHOSKIE – A plan discussed by Hertford County officials to consolidate three E-911 dispatch centers in the county into a single entity has been met with open arms by the Ahoskie Town Council.

At their meeting last week, council members unanimously approved a draft interlocal agreement, crafted by Hertford County Manager Loria Williams, to merge E-911 services.

The plan has also gained the support of Hertford County Emergency Management, Hertford County Emergency Medical Services, Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan, Ahoskie Fire Chief Ken Dilday and Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh.

“We need a team effort on this to keep this idea going,” Fitzhugh said as he addressed the Ahoskie Council at their Dec. 13 meeting.

Fitzhugh pointed out that each E-911 communications center in the county (located at the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office, Ahoskie Police Department and Murfreesboro Police Department) currently operates with one dispatcher per 12-hour shift. Under the new rules, two dispatchers plus a supervisor will work per shift.

“If we decide not to join with the county on having centralized emergency dispatch, we’ll still have to abide by the new statewide legislation that will require additional manpower per shift,” Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond said. “We’ll see our dispatch staff triple. That will add $150,000 to $200,000 annually to our budget.”

“If we decide to consolidate, we’ll do so with the dispatchers that are currently working at the three E-911 centers,” Fitzhugh noted. “Another thing that’s being discussed is how we can combine all the equipment currently in use at the three call centers. We, the Ahoskie Police Department, currently have up-to-date equipment. We have some of the newest equipment.”

Fitzhugh said the current dispatchers working in Ahoskie, as well as in Murfreesboro, will need additional training to bring them up to county standards.

“That’s because we currently do not dispatch rescue, only local police and fire,” he noted. “Rescue calls are handled by the county and they do require specialized training as to how to stay on the line with a caller until emergency responders arrive.”

Fitzhugh reminded the council that if the merger does occur, the current town dispatchers, if they choose to work at a central E-911 call center, will become county employees.

The police chief also reminded the board that timing was crucial in this possible merger. He said grant money is available through February to help the county offset the costs of consolidating its E-911 services, to include possible funds that could go towards building a new communications/dispatch center.

Hammond said his research into this possible merger revealed that state officials want each county to offer E-911 services from a single source rather than multiple emergency dispatch centers.

“As it stands right now, calls for emergency assistance are handled by the county, the Ahoskie Police and the Murfreesboro Police,” Hammond said. “I can only speak for what we offer through our police department. We have a small staff that handles a high volume of calls. That’s why Chief Fitzhugh thinks the county’s plan to consolidate will benefit our citizens.”

Hammond also pointed out that the possible merger would perhaps result in a new E-911 center being located centrally in the county.

“We’ll still have emergency responders coming out of the same location they are now, but a combined dispatch operation should lead to faster response times,” Hammond said. “The way it is now, the calls for assistance sometimes have to be passed from Ahoskie or Murfreesboro to the county and vice-versa. Under this new plan there will be no need to pass data back and forth, it will be all done simultaneously.”

A consolidated E-911 center also has other advantages.

“If we implement a centralized center we’ll implement emergency medical dispatch as well as the protocols for fire and police,” Hammond said. “With that the dispatchers will be trained and skilled in a way to provide medical help over the phone until the emergency responders arrive on the scene.”

The operating system for a consolidated E-911 center will be Internet protocol based. Hammond said that will allow for better networking and coordination between systems.

“I have reviewed this draft of the interlocal agreement for joint E-911 services throughout our county and I have no issues with it,” Hammond said.

“Whatever we do, it’s all in an effort to provide the best E-911 service to all the citizens of our town and our county,” Fitzhugh said. “I support this. I feel strongly that consolidating E-911 is the way to go.”

“I think it’s a good idea to join with the county and with Murfreesboro,” said Councilman Winfred Hardy, former Sheriff of Hertford County.

On a motion from Hardy, the council approved the draft interlocal agreement in a 5-0 vote. They also appointed Councilman Maurice Vann to serve as Ahoskie’s elected official on the E-911 advisory board. That board – comprised of county/Ahoskie/Murfreesboro representatives – has already launched a series of meetings.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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