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Reporting fire emergencies in Yukon communities now easier with dispatch centre

Dimension Tech Services in Whitehorse built a dispatch centre to handle reports of fire emergencies in Yukon's rural communities.

Every community in Yukon now connected to the service except Dawson City and Whitehorse

The dispatch centre has been operating since May 2020. The service is being used in every Yukon community except Whitehorse and Dawson City. (Submitted by Warren Zakus)

If you build it, they will call.

That's according to Warren Zakus, the owner of Dimension Tech Services.

Zakus's company built Delta 1 Fire Dispatch centre a year and a half ago to improve fire dispatch services in Yukon's rural communities.

Previously, when rural Yukon residents called 911 to request fire services, he said, people would get patched through to a volunteer firefighter who would be using a portable radio.

"Of course, when you're talking on the radio only one person can talk at a time," Zakus said. "It made for very difficult communication."

Callers trying to report a fire emergency also sometimes faced the issue of no available local responders to answer the call.

Now, when 911 is called, the operator will transfer the call to the new dispatch centre, which takes it from there.

"As soon as we determine the location and confirmed that there is an emergency, we have a system that's called a 'pre-alert,'" Zakus explained.

"Our dispatchers can just press a button and that will send a message to the fire department. It'll activate their pagers over their fire radio system and it also sends them a text message to all of their members letting them know there's a pending emergency for them."

Zakus says the pre-alert system allows the dispatch centre to get more information from the caller while fire crews get ready to respond to the emergency.

Off to a blazing start

The Delta 1 Fire Dispatch centre is located just outside of Whitehorse. It began operating in May 2020.

Zakus says he thought COVID-19 would put the idea on hold but it didn't, in fact, he said it was the pandemic that "pushed things to materialize."

"It started with the conservation [between] officers and the Department of Environment," he said.

"The officers were deployed to help manage the Yukon borders during COVID and they didn't have an effective way of communicating or tracking their staff so they're our first customer. They got us up and off the ground."

It only grew from there.

Every community in the Yukon except Whitehorse and Dawson City are using the service.

Zakus says the city of Whitehorse has its own dispatch centre and Dawson has not signed on with the service. 

With the new dispatch service, 911 operators transfer calls to Delta 1. Before, callers would get patched through to a volunteer firefighter on a portable radio. (Submitted by Warren Zakus)

The centre employs five full time dispatchers and three casual positions.

"There's always someone on duty in a rotational basis," Zakus said.

"We started in May 2020 and basically the office hasn't been empty since. There's always someone there, 24 hours a day."

The Yukon's Fire Marshal James Paterson said in an email to CBC News that the company does bridge a gap in services for rural communities.

"A local innovative business saw a need for a service that didn't exist and brought it to life," Paterson wrote.

Zakus says his company is providing services to the Yukon Government, the Ta'an Kwach'an Council and other organizations, but he has no plans to expand beyond fire and conservation dispatch.

"We have no desire to take on any of those other roles like EMS," he said.

"The big thing here is I wanted to provide a service that wasn't already being provided. There's no need to generate competition with some of these services. We're just looking to fill the gaps."

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