The Bulkley Valley will soon be able to replace lists of emergency phone numbers taped to refrigerators with one simple, nationwide phone number. 9-1-1 service is set to begin at the end of October, thanks to funding from the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, and the work of several municipalities in the region.
Smithers Fire Chief Keith Stecko said he’s anticipating the start of the service in Smithers.
“The 911 system has been around for many, many years, it is a proven system, it’s a recognized three digit number that is universally known for the public to access emergency services, and it allows a coordinated response to someone’s emergency, so yes, I’m certainly very much looking forward to it,” he said.
One of the issues with separate emergency numbers is for callers keeping track of which number to call for what emergency, and for the three main agencies – fire department, RCMP and ambulance service – to coordinate responses. Stecko said the 9-1-1 dispatchers will now take care of making sure the right people respond every time, while callers only need to remember the three digit number. For example, all three services would likely respond to a house fire, but the dispatcher will be able to notify them, rather than the services calling each other for a response.
“If someone calls in and says ‘I have a house fire,’ all three, fire police and ambulance, are immediately notified and are now responding. So in that context, the response times are far shorter,” he said.
One of the many issues that had to be dealt with is addressing and mapping. Many people in rural areas and small towns like Smithers provide directions based on well known landmarks, rather than legal street addresses. Thankfully, the 9-1-1 system has been set up to deal with that.
“When a user calls in and describes a location, the old Smith farm, for example, built within the 9-1-1 model there is a listing of common places that are often referred to by a generic name,” said Stecko. “It’s a very important area to deal with, because that’s how people sometimes will actually call in their emergency.”
Of course, that’s not the only challenge for the Regional District and the municipalities within. Bulkley-Nechako is one of the largest land masses in the province, and within that each town needs to go through a series of processes to ensure 9-1-1 will work properly.
“It’s everything from changing out and replacing and upgrading pieces of equipment, to make sure that there’s proper communication links between us and the fire operation centre in Prince George, that’s one component,” said Stecko.
After the service has officially begun, the old 10 digit phone numbers will automatically be forwarded to 9-1-1, which will be dispatched from the existing office in Prince George. Stecko believes all the efforts by all the involved parties will pay off in the long run.
“Although there’s been a lot of work, it’s all been worth it. 911 is going to greatly increase public safety.”