YARMOUTH, N.S. – The Town of Yarmouth is making the switch to Digby dispatch for its fire dispatch services, with the change taking effect Wednesday, Jan. 30.
Town council voted for the change following a Jan. 23 committee of the whole meeting. The vote to contract emergency dispatch services to the Municipality of the District of Digby Emergency Dispatch Centre was unanimous by those in attendance. Councillors Sandy Dennis and Wade Cleveland were not present.
The town says the move to Digby dispatch will cost it around $5,600 (or less) annually, compared to the net cost of $160,000 it spent on its dispatch services last year. The service cost provided by Digby dispatch will be based on call volume.
The move means all fire departments in Yarmouth County will receive their dispatch services from Digby. The municipalities of Argyle and Yarmouth made their switchovers earlier in January.
In a Jan. 23 media release the town says after efforts to find a “fair and effective cost-sharing model were exhausted,” the goal was “to find a dispatch centre that could deliver a comparable level of service, at a lower cost to taxpayers.”
The Town of Yarmouth received two proposals for dispatch services – the other one coming from Valley Communications. The proposals were reviewed by Yarmouth Fire Department Chief John Verrall, who also visited the centres. After a detailed review he recommended that the town go with the Digby option.
During the Jan. 23 committee of the whole meeting – as he presented Verrall’s report to council – CAO Jeff Gushue noted that having all Yarmouth County fire departments dispatched from the same centre provided consistency and was the “most efficient” from a mutual aid perspective.
"We were pleased with all of the proposals put forward, but in the end, the offer from Digby checked off every single box,” said Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood in the town’s media release.
"We chose carefully. Our fire chief engaged with them on all potential issues and visited the centre to ensure a suitable fit,” the mayor said. “We're comfortable that Digby will provide us with a dependable dispatch service that will work closely with our fire department to ensure smooth communication, and most importantly, the safety of our residents and businesses."
It was last April that the town first gave notice that it was looking to outsource fire dispatch services when it served the four dispatchers in Yarmouth with layoff notices during fire service contract negotiations, saying, at the time, that the town was paying a disproportionate part of the dispatch service being used by 24 departments.
The town says there will be no disruption in service when the change takes place on Jan. 30. Residents and businesses who rely on private security companies for fire alarm monitoring are being reminded they must contact their providers to advise them that they cannot contact Yarmouth dispatch for emergency response as of Jan. 30.
ABOUT DIGBY DISPATCH
Digby dispatch is owned and operated by the Municipality of the District of Digby. The centre started operating in 1989 and is located at the Digby-Annapolis Regional Airport. Its dispatch services are purely for fire departments.
"Digby Dispatch has a highly trained staff with excellent infrastructure dedicated to timely and accurate dispatch of fire departments,” said Digby dispatch supervisor Bruce Snell. “Once a fire department is dispatched, we closely support them until they are back at their hall. We look forward to working with the Yarmouth Fire Department and providing a high level of emergency dispatch services.”
Interviewed by phone, Snell said the centre has five full-time staff and up to eight part-time staff. He said they are looking to hire more staff in the spring. The number of departments Digby Dispatch will now be responsible for is 32, which is up from 16, he said.
There has been a lot of discussion – particularly on social media – about the Town of Yarmouth’s decision to outsource dispatch services. Those expressing concern worry the loss of local geographic knowledge could add extra minutes to response times. Asked about the concerns people have raised, Snell said he doesn’t foresee any issues.
“All the calls basically come from 911, EHS or RCMP, they've already got the location and they know what fire department goes to which location. That’s the information they give us straight away,” he said. “We also have a mapping system within our Computer Aided Dispatch System, and it’s the exact same one Yarmouth had. As soon as we put the address in it comes up and it tells you which fire department goes to which location and it gives you the address, who owns the property, we have all that.
“We’ve been dispatching since Jan. 10 for the rest of the fire departments (which have made the switch). There’s been no problems,” he said.
Asked what happens if someone calls in and gives a localized nickname to a road or area as opposed to the proper name, Snell said the proper information is still coming through their systems and that info accompanies the calls.
Snell added that he understands the concerns people have regarding the change.
“I’ve been going to the fire association meetings with all the chiefs to make sure everything goes right,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re passionate about fire dispatch. I fully understand about losing their dispatchers because they’re comrades to us too.”
A rally and march took place in Yarmouth Jan. 19 to give people a chance to show their support and give thanks to the Yarmouth dispatchers. At the rally Peter Poirier, one of the dispatchers who is losing his job, said the support was very much appreciated. He said having the layoffs hanging over their head for so long had been “brutal” and that up until that time they hadn't been given any information on when their last day of work would be.
On social media this week the dispatchers said they learned of when their final day would finally be by reading about it first in the media.
In a Jan. 25 media release, the town says it met with the three remaining dispatchers that day to issue formal layoff notices. The town says the last day of work for the dispatchers will be Jan. 30, which coincides with the change of dispatch service to Digby Dispatch.
At the Jan. 19 rally, Poirier had expressed concern over added delays in fire response times by going to an outside source, saying when fire dispatch calls come into the Yarmouth fire hall the dispatchers are already alerting firefighters before all of the information has been gathered. This quickens the response time, he said, when seconds and minutes matter.
In its Jan. 23 media release the town said it “wishes to thank its current dispatchers for their many years of dedication and service to their community.”