Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported a proposal to have firefighters work in the police department as dispatchers. Instead, the firefighters would "hit a switch" to transfer dispatch services electronically to the police station.
Could combining police and fire dispatch services help cut down on the amount of overtime? That's a question the Portsmouth Town Council would like to explore further.
The council discussed combining the services Monday night after hearing more about a shortage of manpower at the fire department.
With the recent resignation of Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Bento, the fire department will have four open positions, requiring more overtime expenses, according to town officials.
"We're three down now. This (Bento's resignation) will bring us down to four," Finance Direct David Faucher said. "That's why I'm recommending hiring two…We're trying to bring down the overtime and overall costs."
The council previously approved hiring one firefighter. Faucher asked the council to approve a second Monday.
The council eventually approved this hire, but not before discussing the option of civilian dispatchers, a proposal still being debated.
"It's my understanding that the reason we have so much overtime is because we've understaffed the fire department," Council President Joe Robicheau said. "The civilian dispatchers would eliminate the need of having full-time firefighters answer the phone."
Robicheau also said he would like to see the police and fire dispatcher services combined electronically. The firefighters would still serve as dispatchers, but in the event of a manpower shortage, firefighters would "hit a switch" and dispatch services would transfer electronically to the police station.
This plan would not include hiring civilian dispatchers.
"The plan would be…as long as there are sufficient firefighters, for one of them to man the dispatch center. The fire department would answer the phone calls. If that firefighter has to leave, he throws a switch and police pick up from there," Robicheau said.
"There are other issues besides the equipment and hardware…but also the issues with the unions," Keith Hamilton said.
Robicheau motioned for the town administrator to determine costs for such a combination of services. Councilor Paul Kesson amended the motion to have the police and fire chiefs create a "staffing plan" for the program.
"We need to come up with a different way on how to deliver these services," Kesson said.
The council voted unanimously to approve the motion.