I write on behalf of those who work in the Regional Fire Dispatch Centre, here in Penticton. A very important vote is being taken at this week’s RDOS board meeting, where the location will be decided on for the regional dispatch centre.
I hope to give a voice to those of us that perform this job now.
Our dispatch centre answers emergency (9-1-1) and non- emergency calls for Penticton, as well as 13 other fire departments in the Southern Interior. We monitor close to 200 direct alarms for the various buildings in the regional district and city. We monitor alarms for the City of Penticton facilities, such as water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant as well as automated alarms in the regional district. We provide man-checks for those working alone and travelling alone.
We are the voice you hear when you call in an after-hours emergency to the City of Penticton, Summerland, Princeton or regional district. We are the voice you hear when you’ve lost your dog, sprung a leak in a pipe and your basement is flooding. Maybe, we’ve met you when you’ve come through our centre for a tour — and we talk to your children about how 9-1-1 works.
We’ve listened to your child screaming when there is a fire, and someone is burning; you’ve hit a gas-line or a power line is on your house. We’ve been there through the Garnett Fire, the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, the Vaseux Lake fire and two major windstorms. We are the invisible, behind the scenes people working hard to keep yours and our community safe and get help to you fast.
For the most part, we have grown up here, raised families here and live here. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to do our job. And we all take pride in the service that we provide to our community. Our dispatch centre was recognized in a recent study as one of the fastest for answering our 9-1-1 line.
I have seen both sides of how this system works, having worked as a dispatcher with the Penticton RCMP (until that job moved to Kelowna), and have to say to those that make this decision, please do not give another essential service away. There is a loss of control of service to the community that will never be recovered.
You will hear that with technology you can dispatch from anywhere. And that may be true for some services, but fire is not one to give away. How many times have you been told to call *5555 to report a forest fire from your cell? And you still call 9-1-1. During forest fire season, our call volume goes through the roof reporting fires here in the Okanagan. How will a 9-1-1 centre handle those calls — from people who aren’t from here, reporting something that they don’t know where it is, to people that don’t live here and know the area? Technology is only as good as the humans that use it.
Penticton is unique in that our population can almost triple in the summer months, and when you are on the answering end of a 9-1-1 call from someone who has no idea where they are, you want that local knowledge.
We know where the ‘Old Turtle Farm’ was on Highway 3A, we know where the ‘Three Blind Mice’ trail is up behind Naramata, we know where the ‘Beer Tree’ is on Campbell Mountain, where Trappers’ Flats are behind Summerland, where Waterman’s Hill is going into Okanagan Falls and the 201 goes out. Just give us a landmark.
Please keep it local.
Dawne Young, emergency fire dispatcher
Regional Fire Dispatch Centre