Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror North Island 911 dispatcher Scott Kobus mans one of the stations at the Campbell River No. 1 Firehall. As of December, the dispatch centre will now also coordinate fire response in the Peace River District in northeastern B.C.

Campbell River dispatch to take over dispatching for Peace River fire departments in December

Preparations and consultations now underway to make a smooth transition

The dispatch centre in the Campbell River Fire Hall No. 1 already coordinates the emergency response of over 50 fire departments across Vancouver Island. As of December, they will dispatch for 11 more – but these ones are in Northeast B.C.

“We’re more than tripling the size of the area we’re dispatching,” says North Island 911 Corporation (NI911) President Larry Samson. The final contracts were signed last week, and will see the Campbell River centre take over the dispatch services in the Peace River Regional District, “but the technology these days enables us to do it and still maintain the high level of service that Thomas (Doherty, deputy fire chief) and his staff provide.”

The Campbell River dispatch centre currently covers approximately 56,000 sq. km of area. With this contract, they will increase their coverage to about 175,000 sq. km.

Despite the enormous physical size of the area they are adding, Doherty says, they don’t expect they will have a capacity problem.

“We have two dispatchers on site at all times, and with the capacity load we have, we have room for growth,” Doherty says. “This was an ideal opportunity to expand our centre here and provide this service for up north.”

Currently, the Campbell River centre dispatches for about 10,000 calls per year, and the Peace River District currently fields about 2,000 calls per year, so it isn’t a huge increase in call volume, just in coverage area.

Doherty says they have been up in the Peace region consulting and coordinating with the departments they will be dispatching, and will continue to do so up until – and then continuing after – they take over the role. They want to make sure all concerns have been addressed and everything is smooth sailing going forward.

“We’ve heard concerns from some of the departments about us maybe not knowing the geography up there, but with the technology these days, like Coun. Samson said, it’s not even an issue,” Doherty says. “We use a number of technical avenues available to us and we’re using much of the infrastructure that’s already in place, so we’re not concerned about that at all.”

And to make learning the area easier, NI911 technical staff and its GIS (Geographic Information Systems) analyst is up in the Peace region, meeting with their GIS analysts and staff and “mapping all the landmarks and what they’re known as in that area,” Doherty says. After all, it’s one thing for dispatchers to be able to tell responders what the nearest cross street is for response within municipalities, but it’s quite another when directing them out in the countryside. For example, if someone here in Campbell River called 911 about a fire “near the Ripple Rock Trail,” or “out near the dam,” those would will be points on their mapping system. The same mapping needs to happen for the new coverage area.

The main complication Doherty foresees is remembering that much of the area is an hour behind, running on Mountain Time rather than Pacific Standard Time – which shouldn’t be much trouble for professional dispatchers.

Samson says the whole arrangement came about when the Peace River Regional District decided that running a dispatch centre up there for only 11 fire departments maybe wasn’t a great use of financial resources, “so they put out a Request for Proposals, and we expressed an interest. Once our staff was able to demonstrate their high calibre of professionalism and dedication and most importantly that they could deliver the end product – getting the fire department out with a timely response – we were successful in our proposal.”

The money NI911 will receive from the Peace River District for providing the service, Samson says, will help stabilize the NI911’s approximately $2-million operating budget “and ensure the reserve funds for things like capital infrastructure is well funded. It will also allow us to cover the cost of living increases at a much lower rate than we currently see.”

Which is good news for taxpayers in the Strathcona Regional District – one of the six shareholders of NI911 along with the Comox Valley Regional District, the Regional Districts of Mount Waddington, Alberni-Clayoquot, Powell River and a portion of the Nanaimo Regional District.

It’s also good news economically for the future of Campbell River itself, Samson says.

“It shows that we can bring high-technology-type service and industry here. It shows you don’t have to – as a tech company, for example – be in Vancouver or Victoria. And there’s an economic spin-off to this deal, too. There are a number of other industries that provide services to NI911. It’s much bigger than just the dispatch aspect.”

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