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CRD fire services face wider split

Nov 07 2011

Colwood and View Royal fire departments are considering contracting out for dispatch services, a move that flies in the face of a recent report that says the region should consolidate the number of fire dispatch centres.

Critics say such a move could further fracture an already complicated system in which six communication centres with different technologies operate in a region of 350,000 people.

Colwood's and View Royal's departments are currently dispatched by Langford Fire, but they have put out a request for proposals, hoping to receive bids from dispatch centres across the province, including Saanich, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Kelowna or Surrey.

Colwood Fire Chief Russ Cameron said it is also hoped that Langford will bid.

Cameron said the two departments wanted to negotiate a deal giving them direct control and better service for less money rather than having their contract negotiated through the Capital Regional District.

The CRD currently negotiates a contract with Langford Fire on behalf of 18 fire departments in the West Shore, Sooke, small communities on the Island's West Coast and the Gulf Islands.

The amount each fire department pays for dispatch is based largely on population and call load.

It makes sense for Colwood and View Royal to have the same dispatcher since both fire departments automatically respond to a structural fire in either community, Cameron said.

Colwood pays $68,000 for dispatch services, Cameron said. View Royal fire chief Paul Hurst could not be reached for comment.

If Colwood and View Royal contract outside Langford, it would mean police are dispatched to an incident in Colwood by West Shore RCMP but fire is dispatched from elsewhere.

Cameron said advanced technology means it doesn't make a difference where a call is dispatched from - so long as it's fast.

A review of fire dispatch services, completed by the CRD in April, said the three fire dispatch centres - Victoria, Saanich and Langford - "operate using different technologies and, at the present time, lack an integrated fail-over or disaster-recovery model for all centres within the region."

That means if a dispatch centre was damaged in an earthquake or had a major power outage, its dispatchers would not be able to go into another communications centre in the region and seamlessly use its technology.

The report recommended reducing the number of dispatch providers "to two or possibly a single provider."

Dave Hodgins, former B.C. fire commissioner, said the move is a step backward in implementing a single dispatch system across Greater Victoria, which is served by seven police departments and 18 fire departments.

"It seems like, as opposed to trying to bring everything together across the region for centralized services that are effective, efficient and cost effective, we just seem to be looking for opportunities to create different structures that maybe are not the best," said Hodgins, who is running for Esquimalt council.

"When people need help they need to know that the system is well organized to provide that."

Victoria is considering contracting out fire dispatch with Saanich, which spent $600,000 on a new communications centre in 2008.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin made the comments following a report that said the Victoria fire department's main hall on Yates Street, where the dispatch centre is located, could crumble in the event of an earthquake.

The fractured emergency communications system was put under the lens during the coroner's inquest into the Sept. 4, 2007 Oak Bay murder-suicide in which Peter Lee killed his six-year-old son, his wife and her parents before killing himself.

A 911 call was transferred through a confusing maze of dispatchers and police officers from different departments.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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