FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners promoted a county dispatcher to the newly created position of communications director Tuesday, the final step in separating the dispatch center from the sheriff’s department.

Dispatcher Stan Wheeler, 64, of Farmington, was promoted to the position at the salary of $40,414.

While the communications center is now considered an separate entity, the two departments won’t be housed in separate buildings until February.

Construction on a $600,000 communications center, built across from the sheriff’s department on Fairbanks Road, was completed earlier this year but can’t open for operation until the 911 system is installed Feb. 5.

Along with additional space, the new communications center is also intended to be a more secure building to protect the nerve center of county emergency responders, including higher, more protected windows.

After the switch, the non-emergency number for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, 778-2680, will direct callers to the sheriff’s secretary and there will be a separate number to call the dispatch center. The number has not been established yet but will be eventually announced, said Wheeler.

Wheeler will oversee eight full-time dispatchers, a utility dispatcher and two supervisors. The $792,479 budget for the communications center was severed this year from the sheriff’s department budget and included funding to hire a communications director at a $42,000 annual salary.

Wheeler, a former minister, trained at Bangor Theological Seminary, lives with his wife, Donna, in Farmington.

Wheeler has 13 years of dispatch experience, with six years with Franklin County dispatch and seven years prior to that as a dispatcher in Livermore Falls.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said separating the dispatch center makes sense because it’s become a specialized field with its own set of training requirements and technology.

He said because of this it makes sense that the communications center is overseen not by the sheriff’s department but by its own director.

“It’s a trend going on across the state,” he said.

He said the hiring process was conducted with other communications directors from Brunswick, Maine State Police, Sagadahoc County and Somerset County.

Wheeler said he plans to make changes to the department and work to ensure the center is represented among emergency responders in situations like preparedness exercises and debriefing after emergencies.

“Dispatch has always been the forgotten child,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252[email protected]

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