New Canaan and Westport have now officially joined forces, with the launch Wednesday morning of the town's newly combined fire dispatch system.

The joint dispatch center for both fire departments is based at Westport Fire Department headquarters on Post Road East.

Activation of the combined fire dispatch system, which had been approved by officials in both towns last summer, was announced jointly by New Canaan's First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and First Selectman Jim Marpe of Westport.

Under the arrangement, Westport officially began fire dispatching services for New Canaan at midnight Wednesday, after spending several weeks testing and training the staff. The center will be staffed with a second dispatcher, Monday through Friday, during busier daytime hours when most calls for service are generated for both municipalities.

The first dispatch for New Canaan firefighters was at 9:10 a.m. Wednesday morning for a two-car motor vehicle accident on the Merritt Parkway. The Westport Fire Department dispatch center handles about 3,500 calls for service a year, according to officials, while New Canaan generates approximately 900 to 1,000 calls annually.

Planning and approval for the project was in the works for more than five years, the first selectmen said in their statement.

Both first selectmen noted that the center is the first joint municipal dispatch system in Fairfield County.

"Not only are we excited that the combined center will help improve service and public safety, but it will help serve as a template for future regionalization and mutual cost savings," Marpe and Mallozzi said in a joint statement.

The inter-local agreement was ratified Sept. 2 by the Westport Representative Town Meeting in a near-unanimous vote.

"We think we're going to get improved services all the way around," Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury said at the time.

"Westport will see positive financial results from this," he added,

The only dissenting vote was cast by Kristan Hamlin, District 4, who suggested that attention should be spent focusing on improving coordination between Westport's police and fire departments.

She also raised concerns about the financial risk to Westport in the event of lawsuits.

"The amount of financial risk is real," she said. "People sue dispatch outfits all the time."

When the New Canaan Town Council approved the pact Aug. 27, the body was told by Doug LoMonte, a lawyer with Berchem, Moses & Devlin, who drafted the interlocal agreement between New Canaan and Westport, that both towns would benefit from the merger.

"Westport has the resource and New Canaan has a need," he said.

In recommending that New Canaan support the joing dispatch system, New Canaan Fire Chief Jack Hennessey said that Westport Fire Department's communications center is "state-of-the-art, for a town their size ... It was designed for expansion and can be ramped up at little expense to accommodate the new regional system."

An annual service fee will be charged to New Canaan. For the initial term -- Oct. 1 to June 30, 2015 -- New Canaan will pay to Westport a fee of $58,500. For each extension period, the fee will be $78,000.

New Canaan's fire dispatching was previously handled by the Southwest Regional Communications Center, also known as CMED. Located on the roof of Bridgeport Hospital, it is largely focused on emergency medical service calls.