Knox County 911 calls are being routed to Waldo County where dispatchers will then alert first responders.
The Knox County Public Safety Building in Rockland. Credit: Stephen Betts / BDN

Knox County 911 calls are now being answered somewhere else.

Since January, the Knox County Regional Communications Center has had four employees, when it should have 13. Rockport Fire Chief Jason Peasley said low pay and poor working conditions are to blame.

“We have dispatchers that work 92 straight days,” Peasley said. “Twelve hours a day without one single day off. Things are bad.”

Peasley said one dispatcher who has been working at the Knox center for two years is making $18.60 an hour.

With such a small staff, the dispatch center doesn’t meet standards to be a public safety answering point. That means the center cannot take 911 calls.

Instead, now emergency calls in that region are sent to Waldo County Regional Communications Center. Those dispatchers then send a computerized message to Knox dispatchers, who then alert local emergency crews.

Peasley said the Waldo center’s takeover of Knox calls has doubled the number of calls it receives every day.

Knox County 911 callers used to stay on the phone with a dispatcher until emergency services arrived. Now, a Waldo dispatcher will inform a caller that crews are on the way and hang up, according to Peasley.

“There could be delays,” Peasley said.

Once the Knox center proves it can hold a full staff, it can reapply for public safety answering point from the state. Peasley said the center could reapply in six months, but it will likely be a year before it meets standards.

Rockport Select Board members worry it could take even longer, saying county commissioners haven’t done enough to address the staffing shortages.

“I would like to have a vote on a no-confidence vote,” said Eric Boucher, vice chair of the Rockport Select Board. “Do a no-confidence vote on the county government for failing to do their job.”

In a Monday meeting, Rockport Select Board unanimously voted to withhold the town’s payment toward the regional dispatch center until it hears from a county commissioner at the Sept. 11 meeting.

“We fund a police department, a fire department and ambulance crew,” said Denise Munger, the chair of the Rockport Select Board. “We fund, in Rockport, all those services. But they are no good if the 911 service isn’t up to snuff.”