Peace River Regional District officials have approved a contentious plan to outsource fire dispatch services to a Vancouver Island-based company.
At a meeting Jan. 12, PRRD board members voted 7-5 to enter a five-year agreement with Courtenay-based North Island 9-1-1. The agreement, which will see North Island 9-1-1 provide fire dispatching to the entire region, is expected to cost $635,477.
The PRRD approved the contract in a closed meeting Dec. 9 after the cost of its existing contract was set to spike. The board publicly endorsed the deal Thursday.
Representatives from Fort St. John, Tumbler Ridge, Taylor, and Pouce Coupe voted against going with North Island.
Opponents of the decision were apprehensive about outsourcing emergency services to a far away region without knowledge of local roads and geography.
Regional district directors from around the region say they were bombarded with phone calls after news of the board’s decision became public this week.
Fort St. John Coun. Byron Stewart spoke against the board’s decision, saying Thursday’s vote was a chance for “sober second thought.”
“This resolution was made in a closed meeting, which meant we as a board of directors could not discuss (this) with our constituents,” Stewart said in a prepared statement. “What I’m asking of the board of directors at this time is to vote and allow the voices of the citizens we represent to be heard and to be considered.”
“I think this was a bad decision by our board,” he added. “I think this was bad politics, and a disservice to the citizens we represent.”
Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said she opposed discussing the deal in the closed meeting—a decision taken because the discussions concerned negotiations with a private company.
Don McPherson, mayor of Tumbler Ridge, said his constituents hadn’t had time to weigh the proposal.
“This is the first chance they’ve had to come out and say something about it, and I think that’s wrong,” he said.
Stewart said the board’s decision puts lives in danger.
“I guarantee a short time down the road it’s going to be a life, and we’re going to hear about it,” he said. “And we’re talking about dollars.”
Decision last step in emergency dispatch plan
The PRRD's move to switch emergency answering services in the region follows on recommendations Pomax consultants made in 2015 to find cost efficiencies in primary 911 answering services and to consider contracting a fire dispatch provider with full-time dispatchers.
The regional district has already approved moving primary 911 answering services to E-Comm based in Vancouver, which was the only company to respond to a request for proposals last year. That service will handle initial 911 calls that are then transferred to fire, police, or ambulance dispatch services depending on the nature of the call.
E-Comm will take over initial 911 calls from Prince George RCMP, who currently forward fire calls to either the Fort St. John or Dawson Creek fire departments, which manage dispatch for 11 fire departments in their respective regions. The PRRD anticipates savings of $1.56 million over five years on that contract, expected to take effect later this year.
The board's decision Thursday means E-Comm will forward fire calls to North Island 9-1-1, which will then dispatch local fire departments.
North Island 9-1-1 is a government entity managed by six regional districts, including Alberni-Clayoquot, Comox Valley, Mt. Waddington, Nanaimo, Powell River, and Strathcona.
BC Ambulance calls are currently forwarded to a secondary answering service in Kamloops.
Around ten people were in the visitor’s gallery at the time of the vote.
—with files from Matt Preprost