Two years after expanding its dispatch center's facilities and workload, the Ravenna Police Department still maintains the same number of dispatchers. And that's beginning to become a safety problem, Chief Timothy Adkins recently told City Council.
Adkins recently approached council's Health and Public Safety committee, asking for authorization to hire a third full-time dispatcher. He said the dispatch center's call volume has increased dramatically since 2010, when it began to serve fire departments in surrounding townships.
Adkins said the dispatch center averaged 6,615 calls in 2012. About 3,684 of those come from Ravenna, Rootstown and Charlestown -- the communities the dispatch center served prior to the 2010 expansion.
Now, the center also serves the Edinburg, Palmyra, Paris and Deerfield fire departments, which account for about 3,000 calls a year. And another 600 calls will be added to that should the department add the Windham Fire Department to its list of clients.
"Our calls have already gone up 66 percent, and we haven't added a soul," Adkins told council.
The dispatch center employs seven part-time dispatchers. Two have set schedules, and the rest float to fill in for the full-timers for days off, sick time and vacations. Because these dispatchers have other jobs, Adkins said, they can't always be counted on to fill a need. Mayor Joseph Bica noted that the city recently established a limit on the hours part-time employees can work, thereby limiting how much these people can help.
The center, Capt. David Rarrick said, needs two dispatchers on duty to handle complex fire calls, plus a third to handle police calls. The "busy time" is the most critical, he said.
"If we do add another department, we need to be able to assure them that we're capable of doing the job," he said.
Council President Fran Ricciardi, however, lamented that the employee's salary and benefits would total $61,540, eating up any gain the city was expecting to see once notes for the expansion are paid off. He questioned whether a part-time dispatcher might be a better option.
"The dispatch center does not generate the revenue we had originally expected," he said. "That's why we've seen other dispatch centers close their doors ... It seems like a lot of expense with very little return."
But Councilman Bruce Ribelin noted that the city was already spending nearly $600,000 a year on dispatching before the expansion.
"If we don't do this, we can't risk bringing another community on board," he said.
Adkins said the department had always envisioned adding a full-time dispatcher when call volumes increased by 2,000, and the department already is past that point, with or without Windham.
Bica said the additional clients were never intended to subsidize Ravenna's dispatching costs, but merely to offset the cost of the expansion.
"If we're not willing to invest in this in the long haul, we need to look at outsourcing our dispatching," he said.
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