New fire dispatch agreement to improve service in Perth County

·5 min read

NORTH PERTH – Although it means a significant increase in cost for the municipality, North Perth Fire Chief Edward Smith brought forward a recommendation on March 15 for council to enter into a fire dispatch agreement with the Owen Sound Emergency Communications Centre.

In late 2020, a team was assembled to undertake a request for proposal (RFP) for fire radio dispatch services. The objectives of the RFP were to secure a service provider for fire dispatch which would meet legislative requirements for dispatching under National Fire Prevention Association and the Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), as well as a suitable service level agreement to protect the respective municipal interests.

The team consisted of representatives from fire services in Perth East, West Perth, St. Marys, North Perth and Perth County.

The RFP closed on Feb. 5 and following evaluation of the proposals, team members agreed to make the recommendation to their respective councils to award the RFP to the Owen Sound Emergency Communications Centre.

“When we went through the process with the two vendors that bid on the RFP it was found that Owen Sound had really… done their homework… in regards to what type of connections were going to be required to meet what we need to have the system up and operating,” said Smith. “In saying that the other bidder had left a lot of areas open that we were not sure of and there was going to be additional costs that we were not able to determine what they were going to be where Owen Sound had put the additional costs in and provided us with a lot closer pricing to have this system up and operational.”

One of the considerations in this process was whether Perth County should assume the administration aspects of the fire dispatch agreement with the new vendor. Following consideration by county council, which included a legal review, it was determined that it was not appropriate for the county to be involved in the provision of fire services.

The service level agreement with Owen Sound is being prepared as a joint agreement without Perth County as a party. One service agreement will provide consistency in the program and renewal dates.

The county will also be transitioning clerical tasks associated with fire radio communications and infrastructure back to the local fire departments over the next year. It’s anticipated the county will no longer be involved in fire services by January 2022.

Upon an in-depth review, it was concluded that the capabilities of the Owen Sound Emergency Communications Centre were able to reduce and mitigate undue risk to the municipalities because they can provide a robust staffing option that includes operators with fire specialization. The number of staff available throughout daylight hours was also considered and the capacity of Owen Sound was greater, and their NG911 readiness far surpassed that of the other proponent.

“The big issue for council’s concern is liability,” said Smith. “Under our contract with our current supplier we sit in a very vulnerable position with liability… This agreement isn’t coming cheaply compared to what we had been paying but the big issue is what we had been paying in one sense was not a great deal because it hadn’t kept up to the requirements that are met today within the communications world under NG9-1-1.”

Smith said he was bringing forward the recommendation to enter into an agreement with the Owen Sound Emergency Communications Centre and it is a time-sensitive situation.

“My recommendation to council is we do not have a whole lot of options because of the liability that the current system is putting on the municipality by not keeping up to the requirements,” he said.

The contract is for five years and is based on the population of the four local Perth County municipalities, including the Town of St. Marys. Each municipality would pay its respective share of the service agreement on an annual basis.

The current population for the Municipality of North Perth used for the agreement is from the 2016 census and does not represent the portion of North Perth currently covered by the Minto Fire Department. The 2016 census indicated a population of 13,130, with 562 of that being covered by Minto, leaving a population of 12,568 to be used for the share of the new proposed agreement.

The budget figure for dispatching in 2021 in the current agreement has been set at $17,275.91, with the new proposed agreement for dispatching coming in at $44,993.44. Smith emphasized to council that the significant increase in the cost of dispatching does not represent a matched comparison in service. The new proposed agreement takes a huge liability off of the municipality.

The new agreement is for full dispatch service, meaning fire services within Perth County will no longer need to have their own dispatcher at the stations during an incident; this job will be done through the new dispatch centre which also is meeting the NG911 requirements.

“Hopefully the rest of the players in this will go ahead… so that the fire service in the county can go ahead and have a proper dispatching centre,” said Smith.

Coun. Allan Rothwell asked if the section of North Perth in the Wallace Ward that is served by the Minto Fire Department has the NG9-1-1 capabilities.

“Yes, Coun. Rothwell, they are dispatched out of Guelph and Guelph is to my understanding meeting the requirements for NG9-1-1,” said Smith.

“If you are not getting what you need it’s not considered to be a great deal,” said Rothwell. “I think it’s important for our public safety that we do move forward on a dispatch system which is going to address the issues.”

Coun. Julie Behrns said she is in full support and is glad to see the entire county moving ahead to get the best service it can.

Council voted unanimously in favour of entering into an agreement with the Owen Sound Emergency Communications Centre.

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner