The City of Fort St. John is urging residents to be vigilant with their addresses after fire dispatch operations were outsourced and transferred to Campbell River on Vancouver Island Thursday morning.
The controversial move was formally approved by the Peace River Regional District in March after months of closed-door meetings, and the North Island 9-1-1 Corporation now handles fire dispatch services for the region’s 11 fire departments.
In March, the regional district also voted to sign a contract that moved primary 9-1-1 answering services from North District RCMP in Prince George to E-Comm, a company based in Vancouver.
In a statement today, the city said residents should provide very specific details about exact addresses when calling 9-1-1. General directions may not be enough for operators unfamiliar with the region, the city said.
“In the past, the calls were managed by our staff so if a caller said they were located 10 minutes past the red barn on ABC Road, we knew where to go," Fire Chief Fred Burrows said in a statement.
"It is very important that our citizens know exactly how to report their emergency from now on.”
The regional district says the service transition was overseen by the district and local fire departments, along with Telus, E-Comm, and BC Ambulance.
The district's move to switch emergency answering services in the region follows a consultant's recommendation in 2015 to find cost savings in primary 9-1-1 answering services, and to consider contracting a fire dispatch provider with full-time dispatchers—relieving both Fort St. John and Dawson Creek's fire departments from fire dispatching duties.
E-Comm handles initial 9-1-1 calls from the region, which are then transferred to fire, police, or ambulance dispatch services depending on the nature of the call. E-Comm will forward fire calls to North Island 9-1-1, which will then dispatch local fire departments. BC Ambulance calls are forwarded to a secondary answering service in Kamloops.
The move to outsource fire dispatching for cost saving reasons was vehemently opposed by Fort St. John, as well as city firefighters, which voted against the plan. The regional district is responsible for providing 9-1-1 services, and the city's fire department had been dispatching fire crews in the North Peace for more than 30 years. More than $1 million was spent of the department's dispatching system over the last decade.
The union representing city firefighters reiterated its opposition to the move in a statement Thursday, but said it will work with North Island 9-1-1 to maintain service quality.
"There is a great advantage to the people of our community in keeping the service local," said Matt Crompton, president of the Fort St. John Professional Fire Fighter Association, in a statement.
"We are committed in continuing to provide a professional service to the people of Fort St. John. In addition, we will work with North Island 9-1-1 to ensure the transition of dispatch, and continuing dispatch service, is handled professionally with the best interests of our community in mind."
North Island 9-1-1 is managed by and serves six regional districts, including 51 fire departments over 56,000-square kilometres on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. It will provide fire dispatch service to the region over five years at a cost of $635,477. Meanwhile, the regional district expects to save $1.56 million over five years on its new contract with E-Comm.
The city entered a proposal to take over fire dispatch for the entire Peace Region, but was underbid by North Island 9-1-1. The city says it will continue providing fire protection to rural areas under a fire protection agreement in place since 1988.