As a former ambulance dispatcher and a person trained in both emergency medical dispatch and emergency fire dispatch I will take the opportunity to weigh in on the 911 service for the entire Yukon issue.
I live in Whitehorse and I am able in an emergency to dial 911 and speak to either a professional police, fire or ambulance dispatcher highly trained in what they do. An emergency dispatcher can provide me with instructions on how to help a person choking, how to do CPR, get someplace safe if someone has broken into my home or what to do if I am trapped in a burning building.
More importantly, these dispatchers are the eyes and ears of the police officers, firefighters and paramedics until they get there. Dispatchers provide for the safety of these first responders by asking questions like, “Is the assailant still there?” “Do they have a weapon?” “Are there any chemicals in the building?”
In the world of emergency response the dispatcher is referred to as the first, first responder.
If I had a medical emergency or a fire at my house in Whitehorse I would pick up a phone and call 911. The expectation is that an ambulance or a fire truck will show up in around eight minutes and the emergency dispatcher will help me until paramedics or firefighters arrive. If I live in Haines Junction or Mayo that eight minutes will most likely be at least doubled to 16 minutes, because ambulance and fire service is provided by volunteers who will be responding from their home or place of work.
More importantly, am I talking to a trained dispatcher until help arrives? The answer is no.
For an ambulance dispatch in a community I will be talking to a nurse in the local clinic who could be up to her elbows with another patient or patients in her care. For a fire dispatch I will be talking to a volunteer firefighter who needs to hang up as quickly as possible as they will most likely be coming on the fire truck.
Neither a nurse nor a volunteer firefighter is trained in emergency dispatch with a computerized call taking system on a screen in front of them. Are these people asking the right questions to ensure the safety of the emergency crews they are dispatching? The answer again is no.
The emergency dispatcher’s role is doubly important for rural Yukon responses because of the long waiting times for help to arrive.
During my career as a paramedic and EMS dispatcher I had the opportunity to visit dispatch centres in Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and California. An enhanced 911 system will triangulate cell phone calls, give a map grid location of my house, show a Google Earth picture of my house and identify the closest emergency vehicle to my location automatically if I were to place a 911 call.
An enhanced 911 system is something all Yukoners deserve and have a right to!