Fire and emergency medical services officials from several area communities hailed this week's opening of a new dispatch center as a substantial public safety enhancement.

Fire and emergency medical services officials from several area communities hailed this week's opening of a new dispatch center as a substantial public safety enhancement.

The new 2,000-square-foot Metropolitan Emergency Communications Center, 911 Creekside Plaza, Gahanna, opened on Jan. 28.

The facility provides emergency dispatching services to fire and EMS crews in Violet, Jefferson, Mifflin, Plain and Truro townships, as well as Whitehall, and replaces a 350-square-foot center, which also was in Gahanna.

According to emergency response officials, the new center will enhance public safety in the six communities its serves because it is more compatible with emerging technologies. It also allows for expansion of dispatch personnel.

"It is our dispatching center," said Violet Township Fire Chief John Eisel. "It allows for them to expand the number of dispatching positions, which should help them properly manage calls and tactical needs.

"It's just a tremendous opportunity for us."

Originally established in 2001, the MECC dispatches emergency crews to some 30,000 incidents annually. Typically, those responsibilities are in the hands of three or four dispatchers at any one time.

Depending on the situation, the number of dispatchers could double at the new, $350,000 facility.

"We could actually put eight dispatchers on the system," said Jack Rupp, Plain Township's assistant fire chief. "When (Hurricane) Ike came through last year, we were just overwhelmed at the old call center.

"We would have loved to be able to bring additional staff in, but we had no place to do it," he said. "With the new facility, we can bring in more staff and deal with those types of situations."

Many of the technology upgrades were made possible by more than $2-million in federal grants the center has been awarded over the past several years.

Each of the six departments the center serves helps fund its ongoing operations. Financing is determined based on the number of runs in each community.

Eisel said the Violet Township Fire Department, which is supported by local property taxes, will contribute about $200,000 annually to the center.

Currently, the MECC provides dispatching services to approximately 120,000 people in Franklin and Fairfield counties. Based on Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission statistics, Rupp said, the number is expected to grow to $250,000 by 2020.