The city of Westbrook has suspended its search for a new public safety director to consider whether to go back to having separate chiefs for its police and fire departments.

The city consolidated the police and fire chiefs’ positions into a public safety director in 2011, after the mayor decided not to reappoint the fire chief and the police chief retired.

At the time, Mayor Colleen Hilton said the main purpose was to improve coordination among the fire, police and dispatching departments. The city also happened to have the right person for the job.

Michael Pardue, a retired Ogunquit police chief with a management consulting business, had been appointed interim chief of the fire department in the aftermath of leadership and sexual harassment issues there.

With a background in police work and an established relationship with the fire department, Pardue was the perfect fit as the city’s first public safety director. But he may end up being the last.

Pardue stepped down in October to return his focus to his consulting business. The city hired a former commanding officer in the Portland Police Department, Janine Roberts, to lead the police department and Deputy Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte to run the fire department while it searched for a new public safety director.

The position was advertised, but the search is now on hold.

Just as Pardue gave city officials the confidence to pursue the consolidated position, the performance of the interim chiefs could convince them to revert back to having two chiefs.

“I’m very pleased with the work that both Chief Turcotte and Chief Roberts are performing,” Hilton said last week. “I have not abandoned the notion of the public safety director, but instead want to commence with a trial with the two chief positions and make a comparison between the models.”

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said city officials will probably decide which leadership structure to pursue while discussing next year’s budget.

The city saved about $96,000 in salaries and benefits the year it consolidated the two positions.

In addition to the savings, Bryant said, the departments became more coordinated. A downside, however, was that the public safety director had less direct contact with individual members of the departments.

“You expanded the scope of that person’s responsibility significantly,” Bryant said.

Hilton noted that, with a public safety director, it’s imperative that both departments have strong leaders as the second-in-command.

“I believe the public safety director model worked well for us at the time it was implemented,” she said, though she didn’t elaborate on whether that changed.

The town of Windham recently considered taking Westbrook’s lead after finding out its police and fire chiefs would both be retiring in the next six months.

Town Manager Tony Plante said officials felt, however, that having both chiefs leaving would be enough change at once.

“At some point in the future might it be something we consider? I think we always have to be open to the idea,” he said.

Several Maine communities have tried having a single public safety chief – and some ended up going back to separate department heads.

In 2012, the same year Holden switched back to two chiefs, neighboring Brewer consolidated the positions into one.

Perry Antone, who had been Brewer’s police chief, took over both departments when the fire chief retired and he has no reason to think it won’t stay that way for a while.

“They work well together,” he said of the two departments.

Another town nearby, Hampden, has had a public safety director for about 20 years.

Those communities are all smaller than Westbrook. More comparable is the city of Waterville, which tried having a joint chief about a decade ago, but the system wasn’t well received by the departments. Instead, the city decided a better way to save money was to share a fire chief with neighboring Winslow.

Westbrook, similarly, is considering other consolidation options. Bryant said the city is participating in a regional analysis with six other towns to better coordinate fire and rescue efforts and also is looking for ways to collaborate with the city of Portland to share fire department employees, equipment and facilities.