Langford’s 32 years of emergency fire dispatching could be on its way out when the contract expires at the end of the year.
Standards have changed since the contract was signed, and if the CRD Fire Dispatch were to upgrade, it could cost as much as $1 million.
That’s probably too much to shoulder for the small municipalities who use the service, said Langford Mayor Stew Young.
He said the decision is still in camera with the Capital Regional District committee, adding it’s likely Langford will join Colwood and View Royal, who have used Surrey Fire Regional Dispatch since 2016. The other option would be the facility in Saanich, run by private contractor E-Comm 9-1-1.
CRD Fire Dispatch operates out of Langford’s main fire hall and serves Langford, Highlands, Metchosin, Sooke, the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, and the southern Gulf Islands including Salt Spring Island. It offers what’s called Emergency 911, but the new requirement is Next Generation 911.
The CRD manages the contract on behalf of the municipalities.
Langford, View Royal and Colwood have mutual aid agreements and the municipalities have worked well together while on separate back-end systems, but Young expects dispatching from the same place could make those joint responses even more efficient.
Colwood and View Royal previously used the Langford-based dispatch service, but left for Saanich in 2012 and subsequently transferred to Surrey, where the cost was approximately half of what Saanich was charging.
The CRD will issue a call for proposals on behalf of the communities it manages fire dispatch for and expects to get proposals from E-Comm and Surrey.
Initially, when some municipalities moved their dispatching off the Island, there was some nervousness that call operators wouldn’t know where to send emergency services, but Colwood’s Fire Chief John Cassidy said they’ve had a great experience, and after the first few months of technology upgrades, the system works well.
Technology has changed so much in the last 30 years, emergency call operators see a lot of location data when a person calls 911, so it’s not hard to narrow down where the emergency is, even for someone unfamiliar with the neighbourhood.
In the old days, small towns could operate more casually – “There’s smoke at Neil’s chicken coop” – but now especially with mutual aid agreements, a Colwood firefighter won’t be familiar enough with Langford to go to the right chicken coop. So the hard addresses are needed whether a dispatcher is answering from Langford, Surrey or even Kamloops, Cassidy said.
As for the other two emergency options when calling 911, E-Comm operators answer all 911 calls in the province and then direct to the appropriate dispatcher. All ambulance calls are handled by B.C. Emergency Health Services’ in-house staff, who are trained in emergency medical response, in Victoria, Vancouver and Kamloops.
All the Greater Victoria police departments are routed through E-Comm’s Saanich office.