When local residents call for the Chilliwack Fire Department and talk to a fire dispatcher, that person is a member of the community, someone who lives and works in the area.
But not for long, as the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) is moving the fire dispatch department to E-Comm in Vancouver.
In a surprise move, four full-time employees and six part-time employees were told last week about the move to E-Comm on East Pender Street, which comes with a reduction in the six part-time jobs.
FVRD spokesperson Jennifer Kinneman confirmed the board’s decision, which won’t come into effect until fall 2018 at the soonest.
The FVRD’s fire dispatch services cover Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Harrison Hot Springs, Hope, the District of Kent and the eight electoral areas.
“This decision was not made lightly,” Kinneman said via email. “Dispatch services require a sustained investment in technology and infrastructure to ensure public safety. As the province moves toward Next Generation 911, these investments are going to significantly increase.”
E-Comm has 18 years of experience dispatching, and is leading emergency communications centre in North America.
“Its large workforce and operating model provide enhanced security, back up provisions, and economies of scale,” she said. “As difficult as this decision was, the FVRD knew that this transition was necessary and we will be working to support and assist those employees who will be affected.”
But CUPE president Bryan Bickley said he is yet to find out if the move to E-Comm will have an impact on emergency service dispatching here in Chilliwack.
“Moving to a more big-box model is concerning,” Bickley told The Progress on Friday. “But we haven’t been able to flesh that out yet.”
Bickley said the local dispatchers — who are a tight-knit group of people who live, work and play in the community — knew that next generation 911 was coming, but they thought the FVRD would keep it in house.
“I think the dispatchers were pretty blindsided by this,” he said. “They really had no idea.”
The four full-time employees will be offered the four jobs in Vancouver, and if any of them don’t take the jobs, they will be offered to the part-time employees being laid off.
And while the job loss could be 12 months off, being told your job is disappearing from the community two weeks before Christmas is hard.
“The timing is really unfortunate,” Bickley said, adding that the FVRD had concerns the information was going to be leaked out and didn’t want misinformation spread.
“They felt it was better to rip the Band-Aid and at least get accurate information out.”
Bickley said his members offer that personal touch being local to the community, and he wonders what a move to E-Comm will do in that regard.
“Is the service going to be affected because of the loss of that? It’s fairly early and we don’t have as much information as we’d like to have yet.”