British Columbia

Fort St. John firefighters upset 911 services moving to Vancouver Island

The Fort St. John Professional Fire Fighters Association is upset 911 calls from the Peace River region will soon be answered at offices in Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Calls used to go to Prince George, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John — now headed to Vancouver and Campbell River

B.C.'s Peace River region will soon have its 911 calls answered by people in Vancouver and Campbell River. (E-comm)

The Fort St. John Professional Fire Fighters Association is upset 911 calls from the Peace River region in northeast B.C. will soon be answered at offices in Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

"Having fire fighters in the PRRD dispatched to life and death emergencies by people who are over 1,000 kilometres away ... can lead to delays in determining exactly where to send help," president Matt Crompton said in a letter posted to the association's Facebook page.

"Because of the vicinity of the province that we live in and all the oil patch roads and stuff, it's sometimes difficult for callers to let us know exactly where they are," explained Crompton.

"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."

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Calls to be answered in Vancouver, dispatched from Campbell River

Currently, calls to 911 coming from the Peace River region are answered at an RCMP office in Prince George, explained Peace River Regional District CAO Chris Cvik.

Fire emergencies are then transferred to either Fort St. John or Dawson Creek for local crews to be dispatched.

Firefighters in Fort St. John are upset they will soon be dispatched by crews in Campbell River. (Fort St. John Professional Firefighters Association/Facebook)

Under the new system, calls will be answered by E-Comm in Vancouver and fire crews will be dispatched by the North Island 911 Corporation in Campbell River.

Cvik said North Island 911 Corporation will be given detailed maps of the region in order to accurately determine location, and local crews with knowledge of the area will determine how best to get there quickly.

The decision to change 911 services was made at a closed board meeting in December.

Cvik said the board made the decision to not discuss the change publicly, citing provisions in the Local Government Act allowing for privacy in contract negotiations.

Local knowledge needed, opponents say

The 911 answering and dispatch services are separate contracts.

Board chair Brad Sperling said E-Comm was the only organization to bid on the contract for 911 answering services.

Opponents worry that crews in Campbell River won't have enough familiarity with backroads in northeastern B.C. to effectively dispatch emergency services. (Google Maps)

He declined to comment on the decision to move dispatch to North Island 911 until after the January 12 meeting.

Fort St. John city councillor and PRRD board member Byron Stewart also declined an interview but in a public Facebook post said he was against the decision.

"We cannot be reliant upon those living in Vancouver and Vancouver Island to provide our safety services," he wrote. 

"Once gone south, we will never get these emergency services back."

Crompton agreed with Stewart's concerns.

"Local area knowledge makes it a little bit safer for those people and allows us to get to where they are as quick as possible."

With files from Jordan Tucker.

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