911 and fire dispatchers at the Emergency Communication Centre in Red Deer have settled into their new bright and airy dispatch centre after a 10-month renovation project.
This week is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week to recognize emergency dispatchers across Canada, including those Red Deer dispatchers who serve 430,000 people in central and southern Alberta at one of the province’s primary emergency communication centres.
Matt White, assistant deputy chief with Red Deer Emergency Services, said dispatchers need to be able to work under pressure, like last Saturday when there were three fires in Red Deer, including two structure fires at the same time.
“The folks in here were exceptionally busy because it wasn’t just busy with the city of Red Deer. We had multiple wild land and grass fires with agency partners all over so we had to staff up,” White said.
He said when weather conditions are dry and windy there is a greater risk for emergencies, but it’s impossible to predict what will happen or when, and dispatchers have to be ready to answer the calls.
“When you’re calling 911 and you want help, you don’t want to listen to that phone ring and ring. You want somebody to answer so we staff our centre so we can get it in the first or second ring. Once they do answer it, we aim to have that call processed within 90 seconds,” said Matt White, assistant deputy chief with Red Deer Emergency Services.
If it’s a fire-related call, Red Deer dispatchers will take the information and send out fire trucks from among 70 fire departments in central and southern Alberta. If it’s a police or EMS call, they transfer the call to EMS and police dispatch centres.
White said team work is also important at the dispatch centre because when it gets busy, they all have to work together.
“You’ll see an incredible amount of team work out of these folks in here on a day to day basis as they start taking calls. You’ll see a lot of really good communication skills. They all know exactly what’s going on, sharing information as things come in.”
He said a collision on Highway 2, for example, can result in multiple people calling 911 and dispatchers have to put together pieces of information from different callers.
Emergency dispatcher Amy Boult, who has been on the job for almost eight years, said when she had the opportunity to observe dispatchers at work, she knew that was what she was meant to do.
She recommended that anyone interested in dispatch should do the same, on multiple days, to soak in as much as possible.
When it comes to dealing with the stress, she said it’s such a fast-paced job that dispatchers don’t have time to think about it. Having a great team to rely on also helps, and so does the new centre.
“It’s nice to come in here. You have the light. You have the open space. It’s refreshing,” Boult said.
The new dispatch centre replaces one that was set up in 1982, originally for two dispatchers. When the new Fire Station 3 was built near Notre Dame High School, the former Station 3 fire truck bay was renovated to become the new centre.
“We took the space and the opportunity to expand the dispatch centre,” said White about the centre where five to seven dispatchers work together, depending on the time of day.
“We looked at what the future might bring, and where we were going, and tried to build it all now so that we’re ready for whatever comes our way in 10, 15, 20 years.”