Penticton has lost the fire dispatch contract to Kelowna for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.
In a 12 to six vote, the regional district board awarded the five year fire dispatch service contract to Kelowna fire department, much to the dismay of the three councillors and mayor of Penticton, the mayor of Oliver and the mayor of Princeton who all voted against it. With a bid coming in over $1 million lower than Penticton, most directors stated it came down to fiscal responsibility.
“There were four contractors here and Penticton has put forward a very high price — an incredibly high price. And, I can tell you every year I have had to vote on this since 2003 I have come out swinging my fist saying there is no way I am going to support moving dispatch out of Penticton. In particular after seeing a couple people die out of the Naramata area as a result of Kelowna RCMP dispatch sending people to the wrong address, for example Chute Lake road on the Kelowna side,” said Naramata director Tom Chapman. “I am almost embarrassed, with all due respect, of the cost differential between Penticton and the other three departments.”
Penticton, who currently holds the contract until Dec. 31, came in with a bid of $2,865,000. Kelowna’s bid is $1,075,000 and was the lowest of the bid offers narrowly beating out Surrey fire service and the Fraser Valley Regional District. Penticton fire chief Wayne Williams said at this time they don’t know the full ramifications of fire dispatch moving to Kelowna or how it will effect the five dispatchers currently employed by the Penticton fire department.
“I think we have had a great level of service for over 20 years now to the regional district. I think a lot of our dispatchers are known on a first name basis with most of the departments and we were set to continue for another 20 years,” said Williams.
When questioned on the price disparity, Williams said considering all of the extras they included in their service such as after hours calling, “we thought we were very competitive on that.”
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton, who stepped away from his duties as RDOS chair to speak to this matter as a peer, said the Penticton fire dispatchers have immediate intimate knowledge of the area and that can’t be replaced.
Ashton said Penticton is not the cheapest but believed they could provide the service better than the other bids.
Dale Kronebusch, RDOS emergency services supervisor assured the board that Kelowna would provide the same services as Penticton currently does and suggested as an assurance the board should put forward with the contract an expectation of service and benchmarks expected to be met.
Planetworks consultant Dave Mitchell, who was on the team evaluating the bids, said he had been doing fire dispatch for 45 years and has developed a transition model for situations like this and described it as “bulletproof.”
Still there were concerns. Penticton councillor and regional district board member Garry Litke said when the request for proposal was put out the bidders did not find out until later that there was 4,700 extra calls a year. He said when that information came forward to the bidders their costs didn’t flinch.
“I can’t believe that Kelowna would accept an additional 4,700 calls a year with no increase in cost and can absorb it at the same price. It is difficult to believe,” said Litke.
Concerns about using radio over internet protocol was also raised by Litke.
“My understanding is that in the South Okanagan, in particular the Anarchist, the internet often goes down. So when the internet goes down what happens to your 9-1-1 service? People are going to be left with their lives hanging in the balance while somebody tries to figure out how to re-establish communication,” said Litke. “It all comes down to lives. How much is a life worth? If we are going to start saying that $5 to $6 a household is what the price of a life is well, then I have a problem with that.”
Over the next five months a transition plan will be in effect to move to Kelowna dispatch.
RDOS CAO Bill Newell said in the weeks leading up to the end of the Penticton contract, on Dec. 31, a trial run will take place with Kelowna dispatch to ensure everything is up and running smoothly.