Moving the region’s fire dispatch services to Kelowna is a grave mistake, according to the local president of the International Association of Firefighters.
“When I read in the paper the time and effort and reasoning behind this whole deer policy because someone might get hurt, well, oh my God, I can tell you, and mark my words, that someone is going to get hurt or someone is going to lose property because of this whole failure, and nobody is putting any time or effort into it,” said Mike Richards, president of Local 1399 of the International Association of Firefighters. “The way this whole thing fell apart ends up being pretty frustrating because it is somewhat political and, as you know, politics don’t always make sense.”
In a 12-6 vote, the Region District of Okanagan Similkameen awarded the $1.8 million contract to Kelowna in June. On Monday, Kelowna council approved the five-year contract. The service that has been run out of Penticton for over 20 years comes to an official end on Dec. 31, affecting the job status of five local dispatchers.
“I guess that seals the deal, they have already been issued their layoff notice effective Jan. 1,” said Richards, adding a transition counsellor has been hired to help the workers figure out what their next steps in life will be.
With the move, Kelowna has stated they will need to hire two more dispatchers. Richards said that doesn’t guarantee those who were laid off in Penticton will get those positions, they have to go through the hiring process just like anyone else.
Most RDOS directors said moving the dispatch came down to fiscal responsibility. Kelowna’s bid came in more than $1 million below that of Penticton, which had the highest of all bids at over $2.8 million.
“It’s all very disappointing. I think we fought very hard to make the City of Penticton understand they needed to put in a competitive bid based on what was going to be the result if they lost. They chose not to. They put in a status quo bid which is really why this went out for tender in the first place, so really the writing was on the wall,” said Richards.
Kelowna assistant fire chief Jason Brolund said taking on the additional responsibility will not adversely impact response times or dispatch operations in Kelowna, but will, in fact help improve their service. The hiring of two more dispatchers in Kelowna will mean an increase to the nighttime coverage in the dispatch centre at the main fire hall on Enterprise Way. Currently there is often just one dispatcher on at a time during their night shift.
Brolund said the cost of the new dispatchers will be borne by the revenue generated by the contract. Kelowna dispatchers plan to visit the South Okanagan and meet with area fire chiefs before the contract takes effect in December. Brolund said as a result of that local knowledge, along with using technology, high-tech mapping and satellite imaging, there should be no concern about a lack of presence hindering the local dispatchers when they deal with South Okanagan calls.
As part of the transition plan a trial run will happen in the weeks leading up to the changeover to ensure everything is up and running. Still, Richards has concerns about technology, call load and dispatchers perhaps not knowing the ins-and-outs of landmarks and areas in the South Okanagan.
“Those are some of the things that are going to be run through this transition. I’m just afraid, afraid about what is going to happen. That time and experience was the value in the Penticton dispatchers,” said Richards.