Another consultant has backed a plan to upgrade the regional fire dispatch system, and now voters will get their say.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen will next week open the alternate approval process to obtain the electorate’s consent to borrow the necessary $1.6 million.
At its meeting Thursday, the board unanimously agreed to begin advertising the AAP next week with responses due in by July 2. A full referendum on the borrowing would be triggered if more than 10 per cent of 68,635 eligible voters register opposition. The money is needed to follow through on a consulting engineer’s November 2012 recommendation to upgrade regional fire dispatch equipment.
The centrepiece of the plan is a new radio repeater on Okanagan Mountain that will combine with two existing units to group 16 fire departments into three zones, each of which will share a radio link to dispatchers in Kelowna. Penticton would maintain its separate direct line since it receives 70 per cent of the area’s calls.
RDOS directors have struggled with the engineer’s complex report and had difficulty countering opposition in Summerland and Osoyoos, so a second consultant was hired to review the upgrade plan and answer questions.
That consultant, Doug Joinson, appeared at a board committee meeting Thursday and told directors that he could “fully support and recommend” the plan as proposed.
But Joinson, the former manager of information and technology services for the Fraser Valley Regional District, noted the importance of establishing a working group of fire chiefs to help them understand and shape the new system.
“It’s something that the fire chiefs (and) fire departments have to buy into, and that’s probably the first, most critical step,” he said.
RDOS directors for Summerland are concerned that because the upgrade calls for the elimination of their department’s direct line to dispatch in favour of a radio link it will share with four other departments, it will amount to a reduction in service.
“While it sounds self-serving, I don’t want to hear Naramata’s calls on the operational channel,” said Summerland Fire Chief Glenn Noble, who also attended the meeting.
Joinson acknowledged that concern, but said the shared radio link could provide a benefit in that it will allow neighbouring fire departments to monitor what’s going on around them.
Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino is also concerned that taxpayers who already paid to upgrade the local system are being asked to pay again to update other systems in the region that didn’t budget adequately.
But RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell said individual departments will have to pay for whatever equipment they need for their fire halls, and that Summerland could be reimbursed for what it’s purchased if it’s part of the recommended upgrade package.
Perrino’s concerns were allayed further when the RDOS board agreed to have the fire chiefs examine the feasibility of adding a fifth zone to the new system that would maintain Summerland’s direct link.
Joinson also warned against a second, more costly upgrade option that would connect all departments to dispatch using separate land lines.
“That is definitely an accident waiting to happen from a dispatch point of view,” Joinson said.
Newell said if the upgrade goes ahead as planned, it will be at least two years before enough ground work is complete to move forward with actual improvements.