Yukon needs 911 now: fire chief

The president of the Yukon Association of Fire Chiefs has renewed calls for territory-wide 911 in the wake of this week's house fire in Dawson City. A Good Samaritan helped pull a 19-year-old man from the blaze.

The president of the Yukon Association of Fire Chiefs has renewed calls for territory-wide 911 in the wake of this week’s house fire in Dawson City.

A Good Samaritan helped pull a 19-year-old man from the blaze. Despite living in Dawson for nearly 30 years, he yelled to other witnesses to call 911, said Jim Regimbal, who is also the Dawson fire chief.

Visitors to Dawson tried dialling 911 on their cellphones but could not get through, said Regimbal. They had no way of knowing that help was already on the way.

“They wouldn’t have risked their lives, possibly, the same way that they did to save this individual.”

Having 911 service probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the fire, which destroyed the house but fortunately left the young man with only minor injuries. But it could have reduced the chaos of the situation.

“It would have changed the outcome of the people phoning in about the fire. It would have reduced their panic. They would have known that someone was coming to the fire.”

Regimbal has been meeting with officials for two years with the goal of getting Yukon-wide 911 service. He has been pushing for it for years before that.

“The time of meeting and thinking about putting 911 in is done. That’s finished. It’s time to do it.”

He wants to know why progress on the issue has ground to a halt.

“I do not understand why it’s not moving forward.”

Last month the Yukon government announced that it is working on an temporary solution to the 911 issue.

Calling 911 from a landline in every Yukon community except Old Crow, you would receive a recorded message allowing you to press “1” to call police, “2” to call an ambulance and “3” for the fire department.

But this option does not meet the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s definition of basic 911 service, which requires a live operator to answer the phone.

Still, the Yukon government has directed NorthwesTel to apply to the CRTC to approve the project.

In the legislature Wednesday, NDP MLA Kevin Barr asked when this system would be in place.

Community Services Minister Brad Cathers said that his department is currently working on the application with NorthwesTel.

Tuesday’s fire in Dawson “does seem like a situation that would be a perfect example of why the interim 911 option would improve public safety,” said Cathers.

But the so-called interim solution is not good enough, said Regimbal.

“That was not the recommendation of either the working group or the 911 committee, at all.”

The auto-select system was to be a stop-gap fix, he said.

“By no means did we want to see a CRTC application be submitted for a short-term fix. It doesn’t make sense.”

The actions of the government show that they believe this will be the end solution, said Regimbal.

And it still leaves those with cellphones outside of Whitehorse and everyone in Old Crow in the dark.

Probably most 911 calls today are made from cellphones, said Regimbal. In fact, every cellphone has an emergency number programmed into it.

It’s not right to have people press that button and not receive help on the other end, he said.

“The phone doesn’t understand that this service does not exist, and it’s more likely that the owner of the phone doesn’t know that either.”

Last month Cathers said that there is concern from some communities about reaching a 911 operator who isn’t familiar with their town.

Those concerns are being overplayed, said Regimbal.

“As a professional firefighter that’s been in the business for 30 plus years, 911 works, it is recognized North America-wide.

“At the end of the day, you want a professional that’s answering the phone, asking the right questions, and they get back to the emergency services provider.”

Ice Wireless submitted a proposal last month to provide 911 service that would serve every landline and cellphone in the territory. That service could be up and running tomorrow, according to Cameron Zubko, the company’s chief operating officer.

The company has not heard back from the government, Zubko said this week.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at