Moose Jaw firefighters 'disappointed' in changes to 911

The Moose Jaw Firefighters Association is questioning changes to how firefighters are dispatched to emergencies, after its local dispatchers were laid off last week.

Local dispatchers laid off after switch to province-wide call centre

Moose Jaw firefighters say they were left in the dark over a recent change to how 911 calls are dispatched. (Moose Jaw Fire Department/Facebook)

The Moose Jaw Firefighters Association is questioning changes to how firefighters are dispatched to emergencies, after its local dispatchers were laid off last week.

On Friday, the City of Moose Jaw announced all fire calls to 911 in Moose Jaw would be dispatched from Prince Albert, Sask.

- Gord Hewitt, Moose Jaw Firefighters Associaton

Prince Albert is home to a province-wide 911 dispatch centre (PA911) and the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for all 911 calls throughout the province, excluding Regina and Saskatoon.

Previously 911 calls were already being received by PA911, but were then routed back to Moose Jaw's internal dispatch centre. 

Moose Jaw's fire chief, Ron Montgomery, says change will allow firefighters to respond to emergencies quicker.

"By having the same centre that receives the 911 call also dispatch our firefighters, we believe we can improve our response times to life threatening emergencies," Montgomery said in a press release. 

Concerns over safety

But the president of the Moose Jaw Firefighters Association isn't sure safety was the main factor in the decision, which he said was announced to staff abruptly on Friday. 

"I don't understand necessarily how safety is improved by moving what was your local dispatch to a dispatch centre three or four hours away from the city," said Gord Hewitt.

Hewitt says he also heard from concerned residents and firefighters from other jurisdictions. The association posted the announcement on its Facebook page on Friday, receiving hundreds of comments and shares. 

"I've heard from other firefighters across the province that ... we could expect some issues so that's something we'll have to look into," Hewitt said. 

Jobs lost

The change to a province-wide dispatch centre resulted in four full-time dispatchers being laid off, in addition to one part-time dispatcher. 

The city says the switch will create one job. It says a new position will be added at one of the fire halls to man the front counter during business hours. 

"We've relied on dispatch as long as any of us have ever worked there," Hewitt said. "It's not just answering phone calls."

Firefighters in the dark

Hewitt says firefighters are upset and disappointed following the city's announcement over how the change was approached.

He says he only found about the change minutes before the first dispatcher was laid off and that the system had already been switched over. He added the officer on duty at the time also wasn't informed and was left looking for the dispatcher, who had been sent home. 

"We're quite concerned about how this happened and the lack of communication that went on through this process," Hewitt told CBC News. "That's something we're going to be addressing with administration."

Hewitt says the association is meeting with city administration on Monday. He says he would have liked better communication and a transition period. 


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