Last call approaching for Penticton’s dispatch operators

Five city dispatchers will be out of a job when service is transferred to Kelowna Dec. 31

Penticton Fire dispatcher Allan Stark works at the controls in the operations centre at the main fire hall this week. Preparation is currently underway to make the transition at the end of this year to move the dispatch service to Kelowna.

While most people put children’s art or the grocery list on their fridges, Penticton fire dispatcher Dawn Young has her letter of termination.

“I love my job, I really do,” said Young as her eyes start to get misty.

The letter serves as a reminder to her of the hours of hard work she has put in to keep the community safe and the impending last shift she gets to work on Dec. 31 before the service is handed over to a Kelowna dispatch centre at midnight.

“We would like to have sort of a wake after,” joked Young, who has worked as a fire dispatcher since 2002.

A decision made by the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen in June to award the $1.8 million contract to Kelowna ended the 20-year run of the service being provided in Penticton. The five dispatchers are thankful to the fire departments in the region they worked with.

“You’ve made us feel like we are part of your family and that will be the hardest part of losing our jobs,” said Young.

It didn’t matter if it was a fire lurching towards the community or a wind storm sweeping across the city, the dispatchers were on the front lines of sending out help.

“All of us chose to work in Emergency Services as a career. Along with our choice, came our families who really have no say. They have made a lot of sacrifices over the years and we have missed out on family holidays, celebrations, grads, award ceremonies — moments that you can never get back,” said Young, thanking her family and those of the other dispatchers for putting up with it.

Young said the little grey cells they work out of could be chaotic at times. She recalled when the Okanagan Mountain Park fire inched closer to residential areas and getting another call that a fire had broken out at Vaseux Lake.

“You fly by the seat of your pants. You go from zero to 100,” said Young.

“During the time of the fires we didn’t have a generator, and when the power went out, the dispatch was the only piece of power in the fire hall. We had phones coming from another office through our ceiling, extension cords going out the window through the truck room floor. Everybody just kept working and moving stuff around. We were just all so used to working as a team.”

The dispatchers were the community’s problem solvers. Young said they kept a large binder full of numbers related to all kinds of situations.

“We were always told that if you wanted to talk to a real person and get your problem sorted out you call the fire hall. We knew who to call — anything from water leaks to bats flying in the house, a deer in the swimming pool, you name it,” said Young.

The dispatcher found a stable job to move to after Dec. 31, bur she said others haven’t been so lucky. The notice of termination was a double whammy for Young, she lost her job as a Penticton RCMP dispatcher when they moved that service to Kelowna years ago. But she, along with the other dispatchers, is still proud of the work they did for the area.

“We’ve had good days and bad, listened to you in the middle of forest fires, evacuations, plane crashes, fires, explosions and burns,” said Young. “Heard some funny ones, some that were so weird you couldn’t make them up if you tried. But in saying this, we always tried to treat you like family — the way we would hope one of our family members would be treated in an emergency. We’ve been right here, in your community, going through it all with you.”


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