ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Residents of this borough may have plenty of questions about the effects and benefits of the borough going on the Monmouth County dispatch system, but one thing is clear. They certainly love, respect and are grateful for their local police department.
Council took no action at the end of an almost three hour long public meeting last week on the benefits or deficits of eliminating the four dispatcher positions at the borough police department in favor on going on the county-wide system with emergency and non-emergency calls answered by a telecommunications specialist in Freehold. Final action by the governing body is anticipated at the next meeting of the Mayor and Council.
During the meeting February 15th, Police Chief David Rossbach gave an explanation why the borough would benefit greatly both in safety and economics by joining the more sophisticated and far reaching system already in place in most of the neighboring communities, with Undersheriff Robert Dawson responding to questions and giving more details about the county dispatch system. Dawson, a former Police Chief in Spring Lake, is in charge of the County 9-1-1 Communications Center.
Members of council asked several questions before the meeting was opened to questions and comments from the public.
Borough resident Mark Fisher, a regular follower and frequent questioner of all borough meetings, cited statistics and facts he had learned in doing research on the proposal. He noted that 50 of the county’s 53 municipalities currently use 9-1-1 call forwarding for emergency calls, with 25 towns, 80 fire departments, 39 first aid squads and others, for a total of 194 separate entities of various sizes and population, already use the dispatch system the borough is considering. Only one municipality, Spring Lake, has ever joined the system than left. “That represents a 99.5 percent satisfaction rating,” Fisher told the governing body.
More than a dozen residents spoke out during the hearing, most asking questions about how the change will impact how calls made to 291-1212 will differ from calls made to 9-1-1, and the chief explaining all calls to both numbers will be handled in the same manner. The difference he said, is a higher degree of sophistication and technology, together with a more immediate response both in information sharing and dispatching emergency equipment where needed with the new County dispatch system.
Some residents cited personal experiences where they were frightened by the length of time it took for an ambulance to respond to a call, but all praised or cited “the police department was there in two minutes” or “five minutes” or “immediately.” Council members and the chief sympathized with the residents, expressed gratitude each serious situation ended well in spite of fear and frustration, but offered the delay in EMTs responding may have been the result of the inability to get volunteer first aid squad members or drivers to get to the site rather than any delay in transmitting the necessary information.
Jim Krause noted that “no system is ever perfect,” but added “this is a no brainer. I support it.” Other residents followed suit in spite of a variety of concerns, with Rossbach continuing to respond to questions about everything from special events and what will happen to the current dispatchers once their jobs are eliminated.
One resident also singled out Sgt. Steve Doherty, whom, he said, not only calmed him in his anxiety while the resident was waiting for the ambulance and observing his wife suffering a heart attack, but also “saved her life.” He praised the entire police department in spite of a frightening experience he had in calling the 9-1-1 number, but after hearing Rossbach explained how the new system will be an improvement said he believes “the upgrade will be good for us.”