YARMOUTH, N.S. – The Yarmouth Firefighters Association has burning questions about the future of dispatch services in this region.
The association says it wants and needs more information on what the level of dispatch service will be in the future now that the Town of Yarmouth has decided to go ahead with the layoffs of the four dispatchers who provide local service in the tri-counties.
What Yarmouth’s professional firefighters are urging citizens to do is to contact the mayor and councillors to voice their opposition to the town’s plan to outsource its dispatch services.
Other departments and municipalities previously served by the Yarmouth dispatch service will also have to find a dispatch alternative. Seven fire departments – four in Shelburne County and three in Digby County – had already done so before the town’s confirmation of the direction it is moving in.
The town made its announcement in a Nov. 13 media release, saying efforts to find a new funding formula had been exhausted without a solution found to lessen the uneven financial burden of the system for the town’s taxpayers.
But the Yarmouth Firefighters Associations says the town’s media release contained “zero details” about the level of service of a new dispatch service, who will be providing the services for the town, where the dispatch services will be located and what the cost will be.
“The lack of information should be a concern to anyone who values public safety and good, local public services,” said Lynn Seeley, president of the Yarmouth Firefighters Association. “There is no substitute for our four local dispatchers – they know us, and they know the area. They do much more than answer the phone, they are a vital communication link that firefighters and the public rely on for safety during emergencies.”
A media release from the firefighters’ association said the town’s media release focused solely on the financial aspect, with no acknowledgement of dispatch as a “vital public safety service,” where “every second counts.” The association calls the planned move “risky.”
“The reason we’re calling this risky, basically, is because we’re unable to attain any information. They won’t tell us where they are going, what level of service they’re providing to us,” Seeley said, noting the town said months ago the level of service will be the same. He said the community can only judge this when it knows what the level of service will be.
“As of yet we don’t know what level of service will be,” said Seeley last week.
Asked if other municipalities and departments that now also have to find an alternative service should also release details of what their level of service should be, he said they should.
In its Nov. 13 media release, the town said it had received two proposals from dispatch services that had not yet been fully evaluated. It said it would be receiving dispatch services from a provider in western Nova Scotia and said last week the timeframe for the change had not yet been determined.
The Yarmouth Firefighters Association says it has laid out its concerns to the town about private dispatch services, which it says typically operate from distant call centres and are staffed with people who may not be familiar with the geography of the area they are servicing.
Seeley said people from outside the area won’t have the geographical knowledge the local dispatchers had. He gives the example of firefighters being given the fastest route to get to a fire by the local dispatchers and being told which roads are good ones to take for faster response time and which ones to avoid.
The town’s plan also takes four good jobs with benefits out of the community, the association says.
Seeley said the firefighters’ association offered to help the town look at ways to alleviate the costs of the dispatch service by finding savings within the collective agreement, but this didn’t go anywhere.
“We were looking within the collective agreement and maybe some compromise on behalf of that,” he said.
Seeley said it’s hard to fathom not having local dispatchers aiding firefighters. “What I can say is since 1969, or at least 1969 onward, there’s always been somebody in the Yarmouth fire station monitoring what’s happening on our fire scenes.”
YARMOUTH COUNTY MUTUAL AID ASSOCIATION WEIGHS IN ON DISPATCH ISSUE:
The Yarmouth County Mutual Aid Association delivered the following letter to Yarmouth town council on Nov. 16.
The Yarmouth County Mutual Aid Association met this evening, Nov. 15, to discuss the matter of termination of services form the Yarmouth Dispatch Centre.
After considerable discussion, it was determined that:
- No proposal from the Town of Yarmouth was ever rejected by the Fire Service for the one cent on the hundred per assessment tax increase.
- This proposal of a tax increase did not allow for the fire departments serviced by Yarmouth Dispatch to present the increase to the rate payers of their respective districts. The date in which the increase was presented was in the middle of the tax year and made it impossible to be presented to the rate payers.
- The Fire Service has not been given any date from the Town of Yarmouth for termination of services by Yarmouth Dispatch.
- The town made no attempt to hold a meeting with all affected parties.
The fire departments’ decision after this meeting is to have a Plan B for dispatch services in place, while remaining with Yarmouth Dispatch until formal notice is given by the town
All Yarmouth County Fire Services would like the public to know that all decisions are being made with public safety as a top priority.
Acting President, Yarmouth County Mutual Aid Association