EDITORIAL: Increased staff at Meriden dispatch center

EDITORIAL: Increased staff at Meriden dispatch center


Nearly 13,000 calls between April and June — that’s the kind of volume Meriden’s Emergency Communications Center handles. And these are high-stress calls, some of them calling for life-or-death decisions when a resident is caught in a house fire, or when a police officer must respond to a crime scene. Add to that a seasonal increase in call volume — and staffing shortages, and the recent death of a veteran dispatcher — and resources have been stretched thin at the city’s emergency dispatch center.

But a department with such critical responsibilities must be operating at full strength, so it is with relief that we hear the news that five new hires are expected to start in the coming weeks, which will offer some relief to workers at the center, according to Emergency Communications Director Doree Price.

The gravity of the situation came to light in September 2015, under a previous director, when three firefighters were injured in an East Main Street fire. At that time, questions arose about the performance of a single dispatcher, which led to a deeper investigation into the department as a whole.

Two reports — one internal, one external — pointed to concerns about the performance of the dispatch center, and at least one city councilor said he had heard talk about problems at the center, but that those concerns had not found their way up the chain of command to the city manager. The director, Frank Kiernan, resigned in 2016. A former Greenwich police officer, he had been in charge for about nine years.

Twelve employees now work in the dispatch center in three-person shifts around the clock, Price said. The new hires will allow four people to work on each shift and provide greater flexibility for overtime. Janet Roller, a longtime employee of the dispatch center, died last month, further aggravating the staffing issue, Price said.

The five new employees “will help greatly to reduce the additional hours some people are working now and change what their regular hours are,” said City Councilor David Lowell, who serves on the council’s Public Safety Committee and as executive vice president of Hunter’s Ambulance. “They are the air traffic control of our public safety in this city, but we need the bodies in the seats to lessen the burden on each of them.”

We agree entirely, and we trust the dispatch center will henceforth be maintained in a state of full efficiency. Lives depend on it.


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