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Firefighters responded to a house fire in Pinkney's Point, Yarmouth County, the evening of Feb. 11. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Firefighters responded to a 2018 house fire in Yarmouth County. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

YARMOUTH, NS – If you are served by a fire department that is no longer served by Yarmouth dispatch, you’ll want to make certain others know this. Home and business owners who have security systems are encouraged to ensure their service providers know what fire dispatch service to contact.

“Residents are to be advised that volunteer fire departments for the Municipality of Yarmouth are now being serviced by Digby dispatch. Residents and businesses are encouraged to contact their security system service providers (if they have one) to advise of the change in dispatch services,” the Municipality of Yarmouth has told its residents. “It is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure that any security service they purchase has the correct information about emergency dispatch.”

Fire departments in the Municipality of Yarmouth have made the switchover to Digby dispatch. However, Municipality of Yarmouth residents served by the Town of Yarmouth Fire Department are still being dispatched by the Yarmouth service until the town moves its dispatch services. Once the town makes its switchover it will be issuing public notices and PSAs to ensure affected residents and businesses are aware and can make necessary changes at that time. 

Last April the town gave layoff notice to its dispatchers saying it would be outsourcing its fire dispatch needs to save money. The town said it was paying a disproportionate bulk of the service that was used by 24 departments in Yarmouth, Shelburne and Digby counties.

But while there has been a lot of discussion about the dispatch service since the spring – and many efforts to try and save the Yarmouth service – one thing that wasn’t really talked about was the security system side of things.

“Anyone who has one of those systems should get a hold of their service provider and tell them that our dispatch service doesn’t provide for them anymore,” says Yarmouth Fire Department Chief John Verrall. There are departments in parts of the tri-counties that left Yarmouth dispatch in the fall, but Yarmouth dispatch was still getting some calls for these areas.

Jonathan LeBlanc, fire chief of the Eel Brook and District department, is also spreading the message. In the Municipality of Argyle the switchover to Digby dispatch has also taken place.

“They need to be calling Digby dispatch in order for the fire departments to get dispatched,” he said about security/monitoring providers. “Anyone living from Port Maitland to Pubnico, they have to call their monitoring companies and let them know that . . . I’ve contacted the schools in my district, along with some of the businesses, but I have no way of knowing how many homes have alarms and what homes don’t.”

LeBlanc said he was speaking to a dispatcher last week who said they were still getting calls from the Barrington area that should instead be going to Valley dispatch.

In the Municipality of Barrington, the Barrington Port la Tour and Island Barrington Passage fire departments moved to Valley Communications in September.

“We missed the fact that we had to notify home owners and businesses that if they had an alarm system they had to notify the alarm companies that these two departments had changed dispatch companies,” said David Kendrick, Fire Service Coordinator for the Municipality of Barrington. They worked quickly to correct that. 

“I contacted the alarm companies that I knew of, but I did not know all of the alarm companies that our residents used. We decided to do a mail out to all residents in the fire districts of the above mentioned fire departments informing them of this change and we had the notices printed and sent them out to all residents and businesses,” he said. “A few weeks later we were notified by Yarmouth dispatch that they were still getting calls from alarm companies so I contacted the fire chief in Yarmouth asking his advice and he sent me a list of all the alarm companies that he knew of. I called and emailed all of the companies notifying them of the change of dispatch.”

The Woods Harbour/Shag Harbour Fire Department switched from Yarmouth dispatch to Valley Communications last week. Kendrick said the municipality wants to ensure people know about the switchover.

The Municipality of Yarmouth alerted its residents to its changeover to Digby dispatch through its website and social media last week and, along with the Municipality of Argyle, also reached out to security companies as added support for businesses and residents, even though it is the property owners’ responsibility to ensure that any security service they purchase has the correct information about emergency dispatch, said Yarmouth municipal CAO Victoria Brooks.

Historically, the municipality has not been involved in the purchase of dispatch services on behalf of any of the volunteer fire departments – the departments have looked after that cost themselves. But Brooks says the Municipality of Digby indicated that they would not be interested in a contract with the individual fire departments (because it is a large number of contracts to administer) and would rather have a contract with the Municipality of Yarmouth, which is how they’ve proceeded. The Municipality of Argyle has done the same. 

TOWN SAYS IT OFFERED DISPATCHERS OTHER JOBS

The Town of Yarmouth, meanwhile, issued a media release on Jan. 14 saying that it has issued notice to all remaining Yarmouth dispatch customers that shutdown of the service is imminent after negotiations with the International Association of Firefighters Local 294 recently broke off.

“In a final effort that would have gradually phased out the service and kept the dispatchers employed, an offer was issued allowing them to take on new roles as firefighters,” reads the release. “The union rejected the proposal, which included wage increases and mandatory retirement at the age of 65. This offer involved phasing out the service and keeping these individuals employed within the department,” reads the release.

But local union president Lynn Seeley says a main issue hasn’t been about seeing the dispatchers employed in other jobs, it has been about keeping them employed as fire dispatchers as this is believed to be important for firefighter and public safety given their local knowledge of the area.

Seeley says there has been no formal notification given as to when the dispatchers’ jobs will end and the town will make its switch.

On that point both sides are on the same page.

“No specific timeline has been set for the shutdown of the service and layoff notices have yet to be delivered,” the town states in its Jan. 14 media release. “Important work continues this week to ensure all previous customers have new dispatch service safely in place. Work is also underway on a number of key logistical items, including station and equipment upgrades needed to meet the requirements of outside dispatch providers. Once work is completed, the service will be handed over to the new service provider.”
 

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