Questions in fire dispatch decision

When you are in charge of the public purse, there are always going to be tough decisions to be made.

When you are in charge of the public purse, there are always going to be tough decisions to be made.

Voting to give the contract for 911 fire dispatch services to Kelowna was one such decision, judging by how divided the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board was on the issue. But it shouldn’t have been.

We, like the Regional District board, strongly support keeping not just the jobs local, but also keeping local people, with real world experience of the area behind those microphones dispatching personnel to emergencies.

But not at all costs. If the difference in bids had been in the thousands of dollars range, it would have been no contest. But we’re talking about nearly a $1.8 million difference here.

And though they were strongly divided on the issue, that immense difference in bids really left the RDOS directors only one option if they were to live up to their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of not only Penticton, but the entire Okanagan Similkameen.

There are arguments related to the quality of service, that a dispatcher sitting in Kelowna might be confused about the location of a call, and so put lives at risk.

That’s a good and very real argument in favour of keeping dispatch services localized; however, the integration of mapping technologies with dispatch, combined with the fire fighters own boots on the ground knowledge of the communities makes this much less of a factor than it might have been even five years ago.

However, there is one question unanswered. Kelowna’s bid was the lowest of four, with Surrey and the Fraser Valley Regional District both coming in below Penticton’s $2.8 million bid.

That begs the question of whether Penticton fire dispatch — who have, after all, been providing the service since 1990 — were including factors that the other bids didn’t.

And that leads to the question of whether Kelowna is going to be able to provide the required level of service over the five years that the contract runs?