We all know technology makes us more efficient — when it works right, that is; otherwise, it can frustrate.
That frustration is what the fire department of the town of Dighton, Mass., has been experiencing, but it is looking forward to that changing because of a $201,000 state Municipal Fiber program grant awarded to the town this summer.
Town Administrator Mike Mullen said Dighton applied for the grant in early April. He said the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, under the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, made it a priority to “partner with cities and towns to help address local priorities — whether that is safety, infrastructure, financial planning, etc.”
This latest grant is a part of that priority. The grants are through the Baker-Polito administration’s Community Compact Cabinet program. Mullen said the town has received several grants through this Community Compact Cabinet program for economic development, updating and upgrading the IT infrastructure through the “same overarching grant opportunity.”
Mullen said the town didn’t hire an outside grant writer; instead, he and the police chief, the building commissioner/facilities director along with Southeastern Massachusetts region Taunton Municipal Light Plant — a utility and fiber optic internet provider — came together to write the grant. Mullen said the criteria they had to meet was showing a need.
“We just had to demonstrate a compelling need in regards to how we would utilize the expanded fiber,” and also to address how “based on our understanding of the challenges the fire department was having with the VPN (virtual private network)” to how having the fiber optic service would benefit the community.
Fire Chief Christopher Maguy explained the challenges his department experienced.
“Our records management system is based out of the police department where central dispatch is (located). The server is based there, and without a direct connection, it’s very slow, very frustrating.”
He said when members have to submit a report about a run on the fire reporting system that is used in Massachusetts and nationwide, “What should take five to 10 minutes is taking 25 to 30 minutes. This will expedite everything and make it less frustrating.”
Mullen said even before the grant opportunity came up, leadership shared those challenges that the fire department was having with getting out to the public safety computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system with Taunton Municipal Light Plant.
“Up to this point, they had to log into the VPN, which was sometimes unreliable and time-consuming,” he said.
According to Mullen, the grant will allow the town to have a shared and dedicated public safety fiber line for all three of the public safety buildings — the two fire stations and police stations, “plus we also envision the infrastructure will give us a promising opportunity for a foundation to connect all the municipal buildings on one dedicated fiber line.”
Mullen said, “We’re at the point of placing a strong priority on assessing and planning our infrastructure needs and the ability to have one dedicated public safety and municipal lines to address our municipal needs — this is a tremendous opportunity.”
Chief Maguy said the change can help improve the town’s safety by “improving the flow of information between each fire station and the police department and central dispatch, streamlining the information flow back and forth.”
He added each building had its individual internet provider, and this change will combine all the buildings into one provider. It will also be a cost savings for the town.
Timeline for the project
Mullen said, “As we speak, we’re in the process of finalizing the contract and scope of work between our community and Taunton Municipal Light Plant.”
Dighton expects to be under contract in October, and while the work will start before the end of the calendar year, most of it will take place in 2023.
“Once we’re under contract, contingent upon the winter weather, we expect it’ll take approximately eight months to build out,” Mullen said. “We view this opportunity and investment as the first step in creating and establishing a municipal-operated fiber link to support all town operations. Along with the dedicated public safety line, we’d have the ability to plan and implement (a line for) the rest of the municipal buildings, including the library, highway department, town hall and the Council on Aging.”
The fiber optic lines will be run on utility poles, “Here in Massachusetts, we’re slowly moving toward underground, but predominately, our utilities are all run on utility poles,” Mullen said.
Chief Maguy added, “On the poles, there’s municipal space dedicated to these kinds of functions.”
When thinking about their future technological goals, Chief Maguy said for the police and fire departments having one email server in town, instead of three, will enable them to build their public safety equipment and radio communications and allow them to reach other locations in town.
Mullen said with the town-run dispatch operations in the police station, it is really the hub of their technology service and having everything run through one service will streamline that.
When asked how the police chief felt, Chief Maguy said, “I believe he’s of the same opinion as me — the more streamlined both our operations are, the better for both of us for sending information back and forth.”
Mullen said, “Our police and fire departments have strong synergy in everything they do, and we believe this will only help to link those efforts and relationships.” Dighton was one of more than 70 communities to receive the State Municipal Fiber Program Grant through the Baker-Polito Community Compact Cabinet to expand, upgrade or, like Dighton, initiate fiber optic service to their cities and towns.