Labrador West 911 service is changing

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Dispatching service can be sought by communities: minister

Wabush Mayor Colin Vardy does not like the look of the new provincewide 911 service, saying it will cost more and provide less for Labrador West residents than the system in place.

Wabush Mayor Colin Vardy

Under the advancing plan for provincewide 911, there will be no support for a 911 call centre run by the RNC in Labrador West. Calls currently handled there will, instead, go to a call centre in Corner Brook.

Today’s Labrador West service is paid for through a seven-way partnership, including municipalities and industry, with Wabush chipping in about $21,000 a year, Vardy explained in an interview.

The yearly payments will not continue once the provincewide 911 service kicks in, he said. Instead, Labrador West residents will be charged $1 on every monthly phone bill beginning Jan. 1, 2015 — like everyone else in the province.

And their 911 calls, as with all 911 calls outside of the Avalon Peninsula, will be answered in Corner Brook.

“911 being answered in Corner Brook will not be a reliable service in Labrador West,” he argued.

As opposed to statements made by Liberal and NDP critics, the mayor’s concerns are not focused on potential confusion over place names and locations.  

His concern is having the support of regional dispatchers, as opposed to “telephone operators” relaying callers to local service providers. He used the example of the Wabush fire department. There, he said, the chief is the only non-volunteer staff and works standard business hours, Monday to Friday. Calls to the department are taken 24-7, but through a pager system.

Under the existing 911 service, a caller would reach a local dispatcher, who could deal with that fire department pager system and offer support to the caller. Vardy said the new system will be more challenging.

“They’re going to forward your call to the (fire department) paging system. They’re not going to collect any information,” he said.

“It is not good enough that we are going to be going from a system where so many calls gets a live voice to do the dispatching, to where we’re only (ultimately) dealing with an answering machine or a paging system to put out the pages,” he said.

As minister responsible for the implementation of provincewide 911, Dan Crummell said he believes calls from Labrador West will be managed effectively.

“The trained caller, the 911 call taker in Corner Brook, will not be forwarding on calls unless all the right information is had and they’re comfortable in doing that,” he added, in response to Vardy’s example.

And the province has committed to more advanced dispatch services in the future.

“Saying that, there is also an ability for Labrador West, if they want to enter into an agreement with the call centre in Corner Brook (under the new NL 911 Bureau) ... that the 911 service provided in Corner Brook could actually do the dispatching for that community. So they could enter into a relationship, that would be a monetary relationship, with the town or region, so that the call-taking centre in Corner Brook could actually do the dispatching for the towns in particular.”

A study completed in 2012 by Pomax Inc. placed the total call volume to 911 services in Labrador City and Wabush at 204 calls per year, from a population at just under 9,000 people.

Crummell said the provincewide service is not about tailoring to the status quo, but standardizing a 911 service for everyone.

“And the other thing is, with benefits to the people in the province, the people in Labrador West, is that they will see benefits in participating in a provincewide system. The 911 service will follow them wherever they go in the province,” he said.

Organizations: RNC, Pomax

Geographic location: Labrador West, Corner Brook, Wabush Labrador

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