A recent dispute over fire dispatch services in the Yarmouth County area has renewed a call by the Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia to ensure dispatch is consistent and dependable across the province.
Jim Roper, the association’s president, said the issue has been discussed since a 2007 study that noted deficiencies. In 2015, the association, along with other partners, started developing standards for dispatch centres.
As the situation arose in Yarmouth, with the town looking to close its dispatch centre and contract out the service, Roper said the association started getting calls from fire departments that used the service looking for short-term advice and it became clear the issue of service quality needed to be revisited.
A resolution was drafted at the association’s annual meeting a year ago calling for a study to look at what’s in place and how it should look in the future.
“With the basic outcome to have a system that’s robust and sustainable and equivalent to the other two emergency services within the province,” Roper said of the RCMP and Emergency Health Services dispatch systems.
“They both work very well, so we know that’s a model we can follow.”
With the Yarmouth dispatch centre closing at the end of January (the town recently signed a contract with the centre in Digby), there remain 11 dispatch sites in Nova Scotia. Roper said the association doesn’t think there needs to be one centre for the entire province, but that all centres need to be operating at the same level and ability.
Calling on the province for help
When the association was developing standards, a big issue was back-up capacity, he said.
“In some cases, the fire dispatch now have no backups. So if there’s an issue in one dispatch centre, there’s no back-up support for the fire service. Those are the kind of things that we’re looking for in the new system.”
Roper said a meeting in late 2018 with Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter was productive and he’s hoping they’ll meet again soon to determine a plan. A spokesperson for the province’s Emergency Management Office said officials have agreed to further talks about fire services and dispatch “in the coming months.”
“As municipalities are responsible for fire services, we are also open to discussing dispatch options with them,” Susan Mader-Zinck said in an email.
Technology a concern for some
Roper said the quality of technology in dispatch centres varies, with some fairly new while others are working with older equipment.
“Granted, they work fine, but how long is that system maintainable and going to be operable? That’s a concern.”