FARMINGTON — Two of three Franklin County commissioners voiced concerns Monday about male and female dispatchers sleeping at the county Communications Center if a shelter-in-place plan is implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioners voted unanimously March 31 to approve the contingency plan.

On Monday, they agreed to table the plan while officials figure out how to have separate sleeping quarters, find out the cost to rent two recreational campers to include showers, and the overall cost.

Commission Chairman Terry Brann of Wilton said he was also concerned about dispatchers’ mental health and not being able to go home to their families.

Neither Brann or Commissioner Charles Webster of Farmington liked the plan, they said, especially men and women sleeping in the same quarters. They were concerned  about the liability of using a personal camper.

Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong said he was in favor of the plan and that they should listen to the dispatchers.

The plan approved last week calls for four dispatchers to stay at the Communications Center for two weeks at a time. Two dispatchers would work 12 hours, while the other two dispatchers would sleep or do other things at the center. After two weeks they would swap. In case of a significant emergency, the two off-duty dispatchers could assist.

Dispatchers worked hard to put the plan together so they could continue to provide the public with emergency services, Tim Hardy, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, said. They cleaned out the training room to use as sleeping quarters and put in air mattresses to use as beds. They also are doing their own cleaning of the center to prevent possible exposure to the virus.

This is not about money, Hardy said, it is about the better good for the community. Information from the state and federal level continues to change. Every time a new order is mandated, dispatchers receive calls about what it means.

There is a kitchenette at the center. There are bathrooms but no showers. Dispatchers thought they could use a personal camper that had a shower that could be set up outside the center, he said.

Barker offered his own recreational camper for dispatchers to use at no cost.

County Clerk Julie Magoon said her concern was not so much about sleeping arrangements but using a private camper. She would like to see the county rent one or two commercial units that have separate showers, bathrooms and sleeping quarters. She also said she and others went over figures and estimates and it would cost $5,000 to $7,000 a month for the plan. The county has a $50,000 contingency that could cover that, Finance Manager Vickie Braley said.  Some of overtime costs could be reimbursed by the government, Hardy said.

Dispatcher Dawn Tolman said the plan was for two male dispatchers to work together and two female dispatchers to work together during the rotation. When one pair is off duty, the other pair would work. There are seven full-time dispatchers available to cover shifts and three trainees who are not trained. The trainees cannot handle the center by themselves, she said.

Dispatchers were not requesting overtime while they were sequestered.

None of the dispatchers are jumping for joy to be away from their families for two weeks and sleep on air mattresses, she said. If the 911 calls don’t get answered they would go to the county’s backup in Augusta but that agency does not have a system to call out the local emergency responders  to provide help to the public.

The state requires a minimum of two dispatchers per shift in Franklin County, Dispatch Supervisor Levi Gould said. Dispatchers have been talking about the plan for two weeks. They have brainstormed and there was no other way than to have dispatchers sleep at the center to protect against exposure. If someone gets the virus, they would lose dispatchers and not meet minimum requirements to stay open.

Farmington resident John Rosenwald, who was on the conference call, said Webster and Brann’s thinking about men and women sleeping in the same building was old fashioned. He said he was very impressed with the dispatchers’ plan. His wife, Ann Arbor, said she thought the dispatchers’ plan and renting campers made sense. She was very impressed about dispatchers doing their own cleaning, she said.

Webster and Brann said they didn’t understand why dispatchers couldn’t do what the jail and law enforcement personnel are doing and go home after each shift.

Commissioners are expected to hold another meeting to further discuss the plan either Thursday or Friday.


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