SPRING HILL — All emergency services in Hernando County soon will be dispatched out of one central location, the Emergency Operations Center in Brooksville.
After a lengthy and emotional discussion, the Spring Hill Fire Commission late Wednesday voted to contract with the Hernando County sheriff to dispatch calls.
In a 3-2 vote, the board directed Spring Hill Fire Chief Mike Rampino to prepare an agreement to hand over the duty of dispatching to the sheriff.
That work shouldn't take long since sheriff's officials have made those kinds of agreements with other agencies in recent years, most notably the city of Brooksville a year ago.
Spring Hill has seven full-time and two part-time dispatchers and Rampino has a plan for the full-time workers.
Four would be used to staff a new ambulance that would "float'' to wherever it is needed in the district. The dispatchers are already certified emergency medical technicians who could provide basic life support service.
The remaining three dispatchers would be placed in administrative positions that have been needed and would have had to be added later, Rampino said.
That plan means no savings to residents now, but some savings down the road from more effective service and from not having to add staff in the future to fill those needs, Rampino explained.
The chief said he encouraged the move because "I just think that it makes things more efficient.''
No new staff or equipment will be needed to accommodate Spring Hill in the sheriff's dispatch center, making the consolidation "a great idea and a great decision by the fire board,'' said Bill Kicklighter, director of information technology for the Sheriff's Office.
He said that bringing all the agencies into one dispatch center would better serve residents. Now, a call to 911 for a fire or ambulance means a county dispatcher must transfer the caller to Spring Hill's dispatch center.
"If you dial 911 and you live in Spring Hill, the last thing you want to hear is, 'Hold on while I transfer you to Spring Hill Fire Rescue,' '' Kicklighter said. "I wouldn't want to hear that. It may only take a couple of seconds but seconds count in those situations.''
The move was strongly supported by Fire Commissioner Robert Giammarco.
"This is about safety, welfare and efficiency for our taxpayers and it will save money,'' he said. "It's progress and we have to start moving forward.''
He was joined by Amy Brosnan and Leo Jacobs in voting for the controversial move. On the opposite side were Gene Panozzo and John Pasquale.
"We've always done dispatch,'' Panozzo said. "I voted the way I last voted, the way the dispatchers wanted us to vote.''
He argued that, when the citizens of Spring Hill voted for an independent fire district late last year, that told him that they "want to keep dispatch and keep our unit all in place.''
Giammarco said that Spring Hill isn't an island unto itself any more and that it is part of a larger population so consolidating only makes sense.
"It's progress. It's inevitable. It's going to happen,'' he said. "We need to be doing more cooperation. That's what a community does.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.