The next time you call 9-1-1 for a fire emergency in the South Okanagan you could be speaking with someone not even living in the area.
The service is currently provided out of Penticton, but fire dispatch for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen could be based out of Kelowna if the RDOS board decides to award a five-year agreement to the City of Kelowna at their meeting on Thursday. The RDOS administration has recommended the $1,075,999 contract be given to the City of Kelowna for fire dispatch service as soon as Dec. 31.
“We are delighted to be recommended as the preferred service provider at this point. There is a couple more steps in the process to go before we get into a lot of the operational aspects of this — the first one being on Thursday with the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen,” said Kelowna fire chief Jeffrey Carlisle. “If they approve, that is when we start to execute a contract with the City of Kelowna. Subsequent to that would be a decision by the City of Kelowna council supporting us to execute a contract with RDOS.”
The RDOS received four bids from Penticton, Kelowna, Surrey fire service and the Fraser Valley Regional District. The Kelowna bid was the lowest in the summary of annual costs provided for the five-year agreement, starting at $200,900 in 2012 and reaching a peak of $221,757 for service in 2016. Penticton’s bid would cost the RDOS the most at $523,000 for each of the five years, a $100,000 start-up cost and $150,000 of overtime. The other three bids indicated there would be no additional costs for overtime and minimal ($20,000 or under), in comparison, start-up fees. An evaluation committee was satisfied that all four proponents could fulfill the obligations of the contract but choosing Kelowna would have an estimated $1,789,000 savings over the five years.
The City of Penticton uses older technology that is provided by the regional district and would have to be replaced in 2012, which explains the higher costs. Kelowna, Surrey and Fraser Valley already use technology that the RDOS staff consider “state-of-the-art.”
Since 1990 the RDOS fire dispatch has been provided through the City of Penticton, who has five local dispatchers employed. Penticton fire chief Wayne Williams previously told the Western News that he doesn’t know what the outcome will be regarding the dispatchers job security if an alternate bid is chosen by the RDOS.
While some members of the public have shown concern about the quality of service and timeliness if a dispatch outside the area is chosen, the RDOS staff report states bids outside of Penticton all identified that new technology, planned site visits and regular communication will provide for fast transition of area knowledge.
“If you look at an RCMP model, they have regional dispatch. For example, in Alberta they have two dispatch centres that dispatch for the whole province. So while local knowledge and local experience does play a factor, with today’s technology and the training that you can put in place really addresses that issue,” said Carlisle.
The Kelowna fire dispatch has eight full-time dispatchers and work for nine fire departments in the Central Okanagan Regional District.
“I think one of the great benefits is that we already share a border with the RDOS, so our local knowledge extends right down to the Summerland boundary as it is today,” said Jason Brolund, deputy chief of regional services in Kelowna. “It’s really simple for our people to make the short trip south to do area orientation and start to learn that area just outside of our borders anyways.”