Fire chief sounds alarm over shutdown of Island-wide pager service

A fire chief on P.E.I. is fighting for time, following notice that the emergency pager system used by his department and others will be discontinued at the end of June. Bell Mobility says paging technology is getting old, and other users have switched to more advanced wireless services.

Bell Mobility cites 'ongoing significant declines in usage'

Georgetown fire Chief Mark Gotell demonstrates use of the department's pagers. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The chief of the Georgetown fire department is raising the alarm over the loss of Island-wide emergency pager service, which is slated for June 30.

Bell Mobility began notifying fire departments in November that it will discontinue its Island-wide paging.

"We want them to extend that deadline, until we can get somebody to step up and set up a new Island-wide system," said Mark Gotell.

Georgetown Fire Department is among the 13 P.E.I. fire departments that use the service. Twenty-three other Island fire departments use a localized paging technology, which is not Island-wide. It extends only within each fire department's VHF radio range.

It all comes down to cost and reliability.— Mark Gotell, Georgetown Fire Department

The Island-wide system notifies volunteers no matter where they are, tip to tip, on P.E.I.

"Some departments rely totally on the paging network. Some rely on a combination of paging and cell phone," said Gotell. "There can be dead zones with cell service ... the priority is paging."

Gotell and other volunteer fire chiefs met earlier this year to talk about what to do. They're reaching out to Bell Mobility and to the province to try to prevent the discontinuation of the service or to delay the deadline.

The shut-down of Bell Mobility's paging service on June 30 in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec is "due to ongoing significant declines in usage," according to a statement from Bell.

Older technology

"Paging is older communications technology of course, and Canadian businesses and other users have made the switch to advanced wireless services over the years," according to the statement.

The company said it continues to upgrade its wireless technology.

About 13 volunteer fire departments use the Island-wide paging service. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The fire marshal's office has recommended the 13 departments that rely on the Island-wide service, go with local pagers instead, like the other 23 departments.

A change in service providers could cost those fire departments thousands of dollars, according to Gotell.

He's been talking to communications companies in Nova Scotia about the possibility of establishing a new Island-wide pager service.

"It all comes down to cost and reliability," said Gotell. "We want to keep our pagers."

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