Move toward amalgamation creating anxiety: fire chiefs

The planned consolidation of ambulance dispatch services in the province could have collateral impacts on all emergency services, says the president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association.

The planned consolidation of ambulance dispatch services in the province could have collateral impacts on all emergency services, says the president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association.

Gathering in Red Deer for their annual conference, approximately 200 fire chiefs from across Alberta heard Tuesday that the government is seeking their input on how the centralizing of ambulance dispatch into three centres will impact their work. Consultations with municipalities and emergency personnel are ongoing, said Ivan Moore, assistant deputy minister in the public safety division of Municipal Affairs, with concerns expressed to go into a report to be presented to the Municipal Affairs minister in September.

Speaking to the Advocate, AFCA president Brian Cornforth said fire departments across the province are concerned that a move is being made away from a system he says is working reasonably well.

“Dispatch amalgamation has caused some anxiety because of the fact that today we’re very fluidly integrated in the way we do the transmission of data between one dispatch centre . . . that might dispatch police, fire and EMS simultaneously,” he said.

The province announced earlier this year that it would be moving to a system where all ambulance dispatches will be made from centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Peace River by the end of the year. Currently there are 14 dispatch systems in the province.

Right now, all emergency personnel are often in the same centre, working on the same software and database, said Cornforth. “In the new world,” he said, ambulance dispatchers will be on their own database, and the possibility for errors in forwarding vital information to fire departments will exist.

“If you miss an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ on a street, or a ‘north’ or a ‘south,’ or even one number on a rural address — or a city address for that matter — you could be sending resources all over the community or the region.”

The move is effectively a step backwards, he said, and he expects some fire dispatch centres will have to close once the ambulance dispatchers move out. Cornforth said there needs to be significant work done between the Health and Municipal Affairs ministries to ensure the change is handled properly.

“The train has left the station, we understand that. But it doesn’t mean the train has to get there breaking the sound barrier.”

Associate Municipal Affairs Minister Greg Weadick was initially scheduled to host a town hall meeting discussing the changes in Red Deer Tuesday, but scheduling conflicts and low pre-registration for the event led to it being postponed to early July.

Moore said the summer will be spent consulting with affected municipalities and emergency services, with the goal to produce “regional collaboration between municipalities and have them identify what they need to make this work.”

The province’s fire commissioner, Trent West, said the changes will produce a “dynamic response model” that will result in improvements. He said while there will be impacts on rural municipalities and fire services, the service standard for Albertans will not be adversely affected by the dispatch consolidation.

“I would suspect . . . the people won’t even notice the difference. It’ll be behind-the-scenes cost efficiencies and the ability to talk to one another as allied first response services coming together,” said West.

The AFCA conference wraps up today at the Sheraton Hotel.

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