YARMOUTH - Yarmouth’s professional firefighters are warning that the town’s proposal to terminate four local emergency dispatchers and perhaps eventually privatize the service was made without full regard for its impact on public safety and without knowing exactly how much a private dispatch service will cost now and in the long run.
In a press release received on May 4, the Yarmouth Firefighters Association local 2094 International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) says the town apparently did not consult or even notify the other local municipalities that pay to use Yarmouth’s fire dispatch for 24 rural fire departments, or the firefighters and public whose safety is affected by the critical role local dispatchers play when emergencies occur.
The town says it contacted the union first about its plan because it wanted to be up front and negotiate in good faith. Over the weekend the mayor said afterwards the town did contact other municipal units to let them know about their decision to explore proposals for dispatch services. The Town of Yarmouth issued a statement about the issue on its Facebook page last week. It says no final decisions have been made yet.
The firefighters union is calling on the town to immediately rescind termination notices and to suspend the plan until its full safety and financial implications are known and have been presented to the public.
Lynn Seeley, president of the Yarmouth Firefighters Association, says firefighters were shocked when they were recently confronted with the news. He warns that private dispatch companies typically operate in call centres that could be hundreds of kilometres away, staffed with people who are not familiar with the streets and geography of the local area, which can lead to errors and delays in getting emergency personnel on the scene of fires and other emergencies like car accidents and medical emergencies.
He adds that history shows private companies may bid low for a public service, but increase the price sharply when the initial contract expires because the municipality has lost control of the service and has little choice but to pay what they ask.
“This is an outrageous and ill‐advised idea that will impact safety across the region and could very well wind up costing taxpayers a lot more in the long run,” Seeley said.
“Our four local dispatchers are our lifeline during emergencies. They are dedicated, experienced people who know us and know this area, and there is no substitute for that. And they do more than dispatch, they are an integral part of the incident management system with a very detailed job description.”
IAFF states that a press release issued by the Town of Yarmouth complains about the costs of the service, but doesn’t propose the “reasonable solution of reaching out to the other municipalities to discuss options for maintaining the current arrangement, a seamless system that ensures communication between fire departments during emergencies.
“Breaking up the current system could lead to a patchwork of dispatch systems and erode public safety by diminishing communication between fire departments during large incidents or those that occur near fire department borders.
“With the termination of local dispatch, it’s unknown how much Yarmouth and the other municipalities will end up paying for dispatch service, especially in the future when private companies are calling the shots. In addition, the Town of Yarmouth is getting rid of four good local jobs that support families and support the town’s economy. If those jobs and their salaries are relocated to another region, that economic benefit also leaves.
“The town is going out on a dangerous limb by terminating four dedicated local people and turning over a critical public service to some unknown company located who‐knows‐where that’s in it for the profits. We want the town to rescind those termination notices and halt this plan, and we urge citizens to stand up for our local dispatchers and voice their concerns to the town too.”
There is a meeting for all fire depts that will be affected by the situation with the Yarmouth dispatchers on Wednesday May 9 at 7:30 pm at the Theatre behind the Par-en-Bas in Tusket. All departments are being asked to attend. This is also open to the public.