Dodie Lindley responds to a call at the new dispatch centre at the Vernon Fire Department Tuesday.

Dodie Lindley responds to a call at the new dispatch centre at the Vernon Fire Department Tuesday.

New dispatch unveiled

Vernon insists it made the right move by going it alone for emergency calls

Vernon insists it made the right move by going it alone for emergency calls.

The city has unveiled a $540,000 dispatch service at the fire hall while other North Okanagan communities contract Chilliwack for the service and South Okanagan towns are using Kelowna.

“No matter the technology, you can never replace local knowledge,” said Brent Watson, emergency manager.

He added that staff are familiar with road names and geographical features unique to Vernon.

“We can send firefighters up the hose tower and say, ‘It’s on Becker Mountain.’”

Watson says Vernon’s dispatch has a higher volume of calls than other agencies (3,600 last year).

“We’re providing the best service possible to the citizens of Vernon.”

The city used to provide fire dispatch to the entire North Okanagan for 20 years but the Regional District of North Okanagan shifted the service to the Fraser Valley Regional District in 2010.

As a result, Vernon moved ahead with technological changes, including a new phone system, a computer-assisted dispatch program and an overhauled radio system.

“This is truly state-of-the-art,” said Watson.

“This is what Kelowna uses. This is what Kamloops uses.”

Call information once placed manually on a clip board is now handled digitally. Detailed information is available as crews head out of the hall.

Next steps moving ahead are mobile mapping in the fire trucks and automated messaging.

Besides handling Vernon, the dispatch centre could provide services to other communities.

“We’re in a position to start doing that,” said Watson, adding there is no immediate plan for aggressive marketing.

“That’s something the chief will get guidance from council on.”

It is a concept supported by Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

“If you have a system with built-in capacity why wouldn’t you want to generate extra revenue,” he said, adding that he supports having dispatch here instead of relying on another community.

“There’s a benefit to local knowledge. How do you put a price on that when looking at the incidents dispatch deals with?”