Saco first responders use new translation app for emergencies

SACO, Maine — Lieutenant Ken Foss has worked at the Saco Police Department for 20 years.

He admitted his first cruiser didn’t have a laptop. Now, he has a brand new tool to help him help others.

It’s an app and service called Convey911. When someone calls 911 with an emergency, and that person and the Saco officer don’t speak the same language, the officer selects the right language on the app and a certified translator is guaranteed to be on the line, ready to bridge the gap.

“Whether they be on traffic stops or investigations, this technology, I think, is helping out officers do their job better and more efficiently, while providing a great service to the citizens,” Foss said.

Before this, Foss said officers would need to contact the communications center, which would contact a third-party translation service. He said it could take up to three minutes to track down a translator in an emergency. Convey911 promises translators to be on the line within 30 seconds, with more than 350 languages and dialects available, including ASL over video. It handles 911 texts as well.

Lisa Reagan co-founded the company and is from Dixfield.

“We have saved lives,” she said. “We’ve found people that were lost. We’ve helped to give voices to women that have been in situations where they didn’t realize what they were getting into until they were into a situation, and realized they could text 911 in their native language.”

Fees range by municipality size. Saco budgeted $7,400 for the service this year, plus per-minute translation fees. 

Its uses aren’t exclusive to emergencies. Reagan said the city of Westbrook recently used it to wed a couple at city hall.

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