Fire chiefs re issue call for Yukon wide 911

Yukon's top fire chief is re-issuing a call for territory-wide 911 service after what he says are unacceptable delays from the Yukon government. "We have to keep harping back to the association's stance that 911 saves lives.

Yukon’s top fire chief is re-issuing a call for territory-wide 911 service after what he says are unacceptable delays from the Yukon government.

“We have to keep harping back to the association’s stance that 911 saves lives. It has to be Yukon-wide. This has been going on since 2009,” said Jim Regimbal, president of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs.

“It’s been in Whitehorse for 17 years. It works. There’s a reason that it works. If it’s good enough for Whitehorse for 17 years, why hasn’t it been rolled out across the territory?

There have been technological issues in the past that prevented a Yukon-wide system, but Regimbal said those roadblocks no longer exist.

“The technology is there. The want is there. The need is there.”

Regimbal met with then-Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor in February to discuss moving forward on a plan, but little has happened since then, he said.

“The next meeting wasn’t until the middle of August. Fire Chief (Clive) Sparks was there representing the Yukon Fire Chiefs. It was a presentation by NorthwesTel, more or less coming out saying the technology is there, and coming out with some pricing. The thing is, they need a customer. That customer has to be the Yukon government,” he said.

While enhanced 911 with computer-assisted dispatch and automatic location notification would be best, Regimbal acknowledged that there is still work to be done before the territory is ready.

The first hurdle is getting a better addressing system in place for the communities, which means those towns will have to step up themselves, Regimbal said.

In the meantime, however, he said there is no reason why Yukon communities couldn’t have basic 911 services.

Even something as simple as an automatic switchboard that reroutes a 911 call from outside Whitehorse directly to the city’s dispatch, or to the communities’ police detachments, would be better than the collection of varying numbers that currently exist for each town, he said.

“That’s what they have in Richmond,” Regimbal said. “There, a call goes to some call centre in Vancouver and they take it from there. When I pick up the phone and dial 911, it almost doesn’t matter who picks up, as long as there is someone on the other end of the line. I just want to hear someone’s voice, and know that help is on the way,” he said.

One major concern for Regimbal is that tourists from Outside often don’t realize that 911 doesn’t work outside of Whitehorse. He recounted one story about a European group that got stranded near the top of the Dome outside Dawson City in the winter.

“They had to walk almost an hour and a half back to town. They kept dialing 911 the whole way because they didn’t know we don’t have it,” Regimbal said.

In warm weather, such a situation is likely frustrating at best. If the temperature had been colder, it could easily have been deadly.

Regimbal said he would like to see the Yukon make the same commitment as Newfoundland and Labrador, which has promised province-wide 911 service by 2014.

“It cannot sit on the side of someone’s desk. There has to be a project manager to look after this, and it has to be their only responsibility. That’s where things often seem to fall apart a bit. It cannot sit on the corner of the table; it’s got to be the prime responsibility of someone. It’s not rocket science,” he said.

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