Kelowna takes over dispatch operations

Five Penticton dispatchers were given termination notices as a result of the contract being lost to Kelowna

The transfer of fire dispatch services from Penticton to Kelowna has been seamless, according to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.

Beginning Dec. 7, emergency fire calls from the area have been dispatched from the Kelowna fire dispatch centre. In the summer the RDOS awarded the five-year fire dispatch service contract to the Kelowna Fire Department. The bid came in more than $1 million lower than Penticton’s, whose contract now expires on Dec. 31.

“We certainly put a lot of effort into the transition and into learning the geography for example. We had all of our staff down there for four days covering off most of the region. We saw a lot of new places and met fire chiefs to learn about specific challenges in their area and I think things have gone really well,” said Kelowna deputy fire chief Jason Brolund.

“It hasn’t been without its own little hiccups but it’s nothing that we didn’t anticipate and weren’t able to react to right away.”

The Kelowna dispatchers met with all the area fire chiefs except a few smaller ones like Missoula, Alison Lake (seasonal) and Haze Creek. Brolund said they are planning on covering those off later in the year, depending on weather and timing.

“Many of the chiefs hopped in the van with us and took us out on the road, telling us about their landmarks and their points of interest,” said Brolund.

During the voting process on the contracts, RDOS board members were assured by staff that Kelowna would have an expectation of service and benchmarks. Brolund said they already measure their performance against certain standards and monitor things like the amount of time it takes to answer a 911 call for other areas they service, and they will expand that to the RDOS and look to meet the same standards.

“As we get some data in place for the RDOS we will be able to reference that. So far everything has fallen in line exactly as I would expect, although we have only been at it for less than a week,” said Brolund.

The deputy fire chief said they have implemented a direct computer link with the B.C. Ambulance dispatch centre to speed up the transfer of information for medical calls.

“Over the last four months we have reviewed the entire system and implemented a station and apparatus numbering system to ensure greater clarity and safety for responding firefighters,” said Brolund.

Two new full-time dispatchers were hired by the City of Kelowna in a competitive hiring process, adding to the already 10 full-time dispatchers and one supervisor.

Brolund said staff from Penticton were invited to compete but the two people hired were not previous Penticton dispatchers. Five Penticton dispatchers were given termination notices as a result of the contract being lost to Kelowna.

The RDOS wants to remind the public to continue to call 911 to report fires, call 250-490-2305 for non-emergencies and 250-490-4125 for daily venting index burning.