county dispatching safe despite needs

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AUBURN — Androscoggin County’s dispatch center resembles the back room of an electronics store.

Everything works, but there’s too little space. Filing cabinets rob walking space from a too-narrow corridor. New digital technology sits atop a secondhand console that looks like it was removed from a school bus.

“We are maxed out,” said Capt. Raymond Lafrance, the county’s patrol captain. “This is as much as this console can hold.”

But is the county safe?

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“Yes,” Lafrance insists. Most of the electronics are the same age as the Lewiston-Auburn 911 dispatch center. In most cases just four or five years old. They are merely wrapped in a too old, too small package.

“Our problem is furniture,” Lafrance said.

That problem is part of the ongoing discussion between the county and public safety departments throughout the area.

In the coming weeks, a third committee tasked with making recommendations for dispatch changes is expected to make a report to the three-member County Commission.

Possible changes could include revamping dispatching at the county building, moving to Lisbon’s dispatch center or taking over the L-A 911 center and making a single, countywide facility.

The committee, led by Lisbon police Chief David Brooks, leaned toward the Lisbon option.

However, Sheriff Guy Desjardins hopes something can be done to preserve the service in the county.

He’s proud of the center and its staff, even though its budget is about one quarter of the L-A 911 center’s.

County dispatchers undergo the same training as the cities’ center, including ongoing education and regular recertification.

L-A 911 center handles more calls and offers more services to agencies, including Reverse 911. That service allows the center to make sophisticated phone notifications in case of emergency.

The capability is one of the things that led the town of Poland to make a deal with the L-A 911 center, moving its fire and rescue calls there beginning July 1.

Town Manager Dana Lee said this week that he and his selectmen had grown tired of waiting for the committee work to equal action, labeling it “analysis paralysis.”

County Commission Chairman Randall Greenwood vowed Monday that action would happen this year.

Meanwhile, Desjardins and Lafrance aimed to assure people that the aging county dispatch console remains trustworthy.

The backups have backups, Lafrance said.

“There are double redundancies,” he said. If one of the stations at the console died, the other two could cover. If the whole console blew, calls would instantly go to Lewiston-Auburn 911.

The biggest problem faced by the county system is a lack of expandability.

The county dispatches all of its deputies plus municipal police in Livermore Falls, Sabattus and Mechanic Falls. It also dispatches for the fire departments in Livermore, Livermore Falls and Turner. It dispatches both fire and rescue calls for Durham, Greene, Mechanic Falls and Minot.

All that communication needs open radio channels. All 12 on the county console are now taken.

When Poland goes, that will open one up. But it offers little flexibility.

“We have old furniture,” Lafrance said. “No doubt about it.”

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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