British Columbia

Northern B.C. mayor calls on provincial government to help communities access 911 services

Gary Foster, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, submitted a resolution at this year's Union of B.C. Municipalities convention asking the province to help make 911 services available across the province. 

Resolution submitted at UBCM asks for 911 service for the entire province

While cell service may be available in northern B.C., 911 is not. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

If you're travelling in the northeast corner of B.C. and need emergency assistance, you can't call 911 because that service doesn't exist.

The only way to get a hold of police, paramedics or the fire department is to call those services directly, and in a moment of panic, they may not be easy to find. 

Gary Foster, mayor of the sprawling Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM) — which covers the Fort Nelson area, is trying to change that. 

Foster submitted a resolution at this year's Union of B.C. Municipalities convention asking the province to help make emergency services available across the province through additional funding for the region. 

The NRRM covers more than 85,000 square kilometres and is home to nearly 6,000 people. Because the municipality covers such a vast region, it can take as long as two hours for emergency crews to reach a caller.

"If you can't reach service providers, that time can be even longer," Foster said. "That's a bit of a problem."

In addition, Foster estimates about 250,000 tourists travel through the region each year to get to Alaska. 

"[Tourists] don't realize that they don't have 911 service, so even if they do have cell service, they don't know how to contact emergency services," Foster said.

If someone requires emergency services in B.C.'s north, they need to dial a 10-digit phone number, instead of 911. (Northern Rockies Regional Municipality)

The telecommunications provider in B.C.'s north, Northwestel, does not offer 911 service outside of Yukon. So, to be able to access 911, the municipality has had to look to other providers and communities. 

The NRRM is currently looking at signing an agreement with Grand Prairie, Alta., in hopes of accessing its 911 services. Foster hopes it will cost less than $100,000 per year.

"What we're looking for now is we're looking for support from the government," Foster said.

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With files from Daybreak North

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