Fort St. John's fire chief is warning residents to be "very specific" when speaking to 911 operators as dispatch services for northeast B.C. move more than 1,000 kilometres away to Vancouver Island.
In a statement, Fire Chief Fred Burrows urged callers to provide exact addresses and specific directions because he was concerned dispatchers on the island may not be familiar with the Peace region geography.
The move took effect Thursday.
"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," Burrows said.
"It is very important that our citizens know exactly how to report their emergency from now on."
Previously, 911 calls from the Peace River region in northeast B.C. were answered at an RCMP office in Prince George, with fire emergencies then being transferred to dispatchers in either Fort St. John or Dawson Creek.
The move faced opposition from the city of Fort St. John and the Fort St. John Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Both organizations expressed concern dispatchers on Vancouver Island wouldn't be able to understand the directions given by callers in a region with many unnamed roads and local landmarks.
"Trying to describe to someone that you're 100 miles up the highway ... 20 kilometres on the left and 15 in on the right to someone in Campbell River with no knowledge of oil patch roads is pretty difficult," said Matt Crompton, president of the Fort St. John fire fighters association, in an interview at the time.
The decision to move the service was made by the board of the Peace River Regional District, in a vote of 7-5.
A North Island 911 spokesperson said the organization uses advanced mapping technology that allows employees to provide accurate directions "pretty well... anywhere in the world."
'They know what they're doing'
Speaking to CBC after the change was made, Crompton said the move was "disappointing, but it's a situation that the firefighters are going to work with."
Crompton said he still believed there was an advantage to retaining dispatch services in the Peace region, but since the change has been made, his priority is on keeping the region safe.
"We'll work with North Island 911 to make the transition," he said.
"They are a professional dispatch service, they know what they're doing, and I have confidence in them."
Crompton said no calls had been received in the seven hours since the change took effect Thursday, so he couldn't comment on how the new dispatchers were working.
"We'll see what happens when the calls start coming in," he said.