The dispatch dilemma

The North Okanagan is home to a vast array of distinct communities, but even within those boundaries there are individual areas with strong identities. Geographical and historical names abound, as do some names that only a handful of people may know.

The North Okanagan is home to a vast array of distinct communities, but even within those boundaries there are individual areas with strong identities. Geographical and historical names abound, as do some names that only a handful of people may know.

That’s why there should be a concern about operators in the Fraser Valley taking over dispatch of fire emergency calls for virtually every jurisdiction outside of the City of Vernon.

Sure a map will show Coldstream, Lumby, Enderby and Armstrong but how will they do with Trinity Valley, Springbend, Keddleston or Hullcar? Will they know that the Armstrong-Spallumcheen department should be called out to Stepping Stones and not the BX-Swan Lake or Vernon halls which are closer? And just what is a Spallumcheen?

Will there be any confusion about boundaries between Vernon and the BX? They are separate jurisdictions but they have a common mailing address and when asked, most BX residents state they live in Vernon, B.C. Based on experience, I expect the inner workings of Greater Vernon’s fiefdoms will give dispatchers migraines.

Which Pleasant Valley Road do you want — the one in Armstrong, Spallumcheen or the BX (not to mention the stretch in Vernon)?

Addresses can be punched into computers that will pump out detailed directions and maps, but there are times when nothing beats first-hand local knowledge of an area. As someone who listens to a scanner every day, I know that a dispatcher can be critical to emergency crews getting to where they need to be.

But that aside, the North Okanagan Regional District should not be faulted for considering another way to provide fire dispatch.

After all, it was Vernon that triggered the process when it decided to leave the regional service so it could focus on equipment upgrades to the dispatch function it had contracted to NORD for years.

NORD could have just blindly continued with the city contract, but as Vernon politicians are frequently known for saying, there is nothing wrong with reviewing a service to ensure it still meets the needs of residents, or to see if other options exist.

It should be pointed out that Vernon did not submit a formal bid when NORD issued a request for proposals.

“Everyone knows the costs and the information has been given to them,” said Coun. Jack Gilroy last February of why the other communities should simply accept Vernon’s terms.

But spending public money requires transparency and the only way North Okanagan taxpayers would know they got the best deal from Vernon would have been a comparison with other proposals in an open bidding process.

If Vernon was so confident with its dispatch proposal and ability to serve the North Okanagan, an official bid should have been put forward. Instead, this comes across as another case of political games dictating public policy.

One also has to wonder why if the city wasn’t satisfied with the regional service, it didn’t consider going to tender for dispatch instead of just pumping huge dollars into equipment and staff. Yes that would have meant layoffs at the fire hall, but is local government’s focus providing a cost-effective use of taxes or creating employment?

Ultimately, Vernon was the only one among the municipalities and electoral areas that didn’t endorse shifting dispatch to the Fraser Valley.

That either means Vernon has more foresight than the other jurisdictions, or it’s made a big mistake. Only time will tell.