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Fire dispatch service causing some static

Penticton dispatchers were laid off when a RDOS contract bid was won by Kelowna. Since the Jan. 1 transition was made, some departments have complained of garbled communications. - File photo
Penticton dispatchers were laid off when a RDOS contract bid was won by Kelowna. Since the Jan. 1 transition was made, some departments have complained of garbled communications.
— image credit: File photo

Despite some fire chiefs in the South Okanagan complaining of garbled emergency dispatch service, the provider in Kelowna believes it does not impact response time.

“Our hope is with this issue to have a resolution in place in the next few weeks and in the meantime we certainly have backup systems in place to make sure service isn’t affected whatsoever,” said Kelowna deputy fire Chief Jason Brolund. “I don’t want to downplay the issue, but I also want to make sure everyone is aware we are working on it and there is a plan in place.”

However, some fire chiefs in rural areas of the South Okanagan are saying they aren’t having the same “seamless” transfer of dispatch services that the regional district touted last month.

Several departments have been experiencing problems with radio communication since the 9-1-1 services were transferred from the Penticton Fire Department dispatch centre to Kelowna in early December, when the new contract began with the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.

The service was provided by Penticton fire department for 20 years prior, but Kelowna outbid several groups to win the five-year contract from the RDOS.

Since the transition started on Jan. 1 dropped calls, and garbled, incoherent communications have resulted in some frustration as regional departments attempt to deal with the issue.

“The first three calls we received after the switch to Kelowna were really bad,” admitted Keremeos fire Chief Jordy Bosscha. “It has improved somewhat since then — the last few have improved.”

Bosscha said that were it not for the additional system of “rip and run” — a faxed transmission of the call that is sent to the fire hall that includes the address, cross streets, access codes and additional information — the department would not have had a clue as to what each call was about.

Kaleden fire Chief Darlene Bailey reports the department continues to have problems with signal quality. She has been in contact with the regional district regarding the problem, most recently on Jan. 5, when two motor vehicle accidents occurred in Kaleden in the morning and some very poor communication with Kelowna dispatch resulted.

Bailey took the issue of bad dispatches up with Brolund in Kelowna.

“I told him I was looking at hiring a technician to take a look at our situation,” she said. “But he advised me to wait, as they were aware of the issue and were attempting to deal with it by switching the service provider for the signal from Kelowna to Penticton, something they will be working on around the 15th of the month.”

Penticton fire Chief Wayne Williams said so far he is satisfied with the Kelowna dispatch service and how they have been dealing with the transition issues. He said they also have had some problems with unclear dispatches that seemed to be resolved on the weekends and evenings.

“Kelowna is dealing with it and we do have backups in case it comes through garbled. Kelowna has really stepped up to the plate to ensure we have a very professional dispatch service here,” said Williams. “We have had a couple that were hard to understand, but they say it twice and we can make sense what is happening along with the rip and run printer right near the fire truck. I think things will be changing next week and hopefully we don’t have that problem again.”

Brolund said the communication teams have been working diligently to resolve the issue, which he hopes is the last in the transition.

“It revolves around the quality of the audio and it comes and goes, but there is a level of static present that we would like to improve,” said Brolund.

The Kelowna deputy fire chief said upgrades to the link between Kelowna and Penticton should clean up the audio quality, which will be followed by additional testing and monitoring.

“All our systems are designed as such there is no single point of failure. One of the improvements we offered with the new dispatch service is providing departments with the rip and run, paper copy of the details of the call they are going to so they can grab it at the fire hall and bring it on the truck with them,” said Brolund.

A former Penticton dispatcher told the Keremeos Review that the area isn’t ready for the Radio Over Internet Protocol.

“It was the plan of the RDOS and Kelowna’s bid to save money by using the Internet to go to each department individually and thus be able to eventually get rid of the mountain top linking sites on Kobau and Beaconsfield. There is nothing wrong with the radio equipment; it works very well and does not suffer from the same jitteriness and missed words that is presently happening,” said the dispatcher, who preferred anonymity.

The dispatcher said the ROIP jitter and latency has to do with use of bandwidth and sharing business lines, which are better than the average home Shaw line, with other users. The former dispatcher said this is why the radios sound better on nights and weekends when business use is way down.

Brolund did not want to comment on the Internet line provider, but did say they are increasing the capacity of the link between Kelowna and Penticton.

“It is the advice of our communications team that it should go a long way towards resolving the problem,” said Brolund.

RDOS emergency services supervisor Dale Kronebusch said there have been a few issues fire departments have brought forward, but these are expected as they are only one month into the transition. Besides the distorted dispatches, they are also working on mapping which firetrucks should be responding to what areas.

“I think conservatively it will take three to six months to work the issues out, but so far we are doing fine. We will know a lot more soon with the dedicated IP line,” said Kronebusch.

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