Washington Township police, fire fighters and EMTs told the mayor and council Monday that entering an emergency dispatching shared service agreement with Bergen County will increase response time, potentially endangering the safety of township residents.
"I'm not talking about saving jobs, I'm talking about saving lives," Fire Chief Jamie Powell said.
The township is currently exploring several possibilities for shared services, including joining the county's dispatch service or creating a new entity which will handle dispatching for Westwood, River Vale, Old Tappan and Washington Township.
According to Powell, township dispatchers can currently send out police to an emergency in fewer than 10 seconds.
"If Bergen County comes to a meeting and gives you the same 10-second dispatch response time, they're lying to you," Powell said.
Because 911 calls dialed from cell phones often go to the county dispatch center in Mahwah, local police, firefighters and EMTs already have experience working with county dispatchers. Several emergency responders shared stories of dealing with the county during Monday's council meeting.
According to township Police Officer Vincent Montalbano, the county dispatched a call as "an elderly party that fell down." When he arrived at the resident's home, he discovered that she had a heart attack, was not breathing and had no pulse. With help from another officer and an EMT, they revived the woman, but she died later that day. According to Montalbano, the woman's son said he spent about 10 minutes trying to reach the county dispatch.
"To this day, I'm still bothered by it," Montalbano said.
In another incident, Montalbano said a county dispatcher called Westwood police for a call at Westwood Jr./Sr. High School, which is actually in Washington Township. A Westwood dispatcher then had to call the township to send them to the scene.
Some officials said they thought an agreement between local municipalities would be an acceptable plan.
"We would rather have a system with our neighbors, where the police officers and firefighters can cooperate," firefighter Jim Zaconie said.
Zaconie is one of three county coordinators in the Pascack Valley with a county radio in the trunk of his car for organizing multi-department responses to emergencies. According to Zaconie, his radio stopped working for about six hours in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
Township officials said they are still exploring their options and will consider quality before entering a share service agreement.
"It's not all about saving money," Councilman Steve Cascio said. "It's about getting quality operations at a fair price."
Cascio said he had been "embarrassed" when no emergency officials came to a meeting with county officials to discuss possible shared services earlier this month. Mayor Janet Sobkowicz noted that local and county emergency officials have met on numerous other occasions. They have scheduled another meeting for April 3.