/Minden considers new fire department dispatch service

Minden considers new fire department dispatch service

by James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Minden Hills may single-source emergency fire dispatching from a Smith Falls service.

Township council decided Feb. 29 to consider an agreement with the Smith Falls Fire Dispatch Centre. That’s the service used by Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands for fire department dispatch.

The cost of Smith Falls Dispatch Center is $26,141.25 and an additional first-year start-up cost of $12,000 for a total of $38,141.25 plus HST. The 2024 budget has $13,000, based on past contracts. That means a difference of $25,200.

Robert Thibert, the acting fire chief in Minden Hills, said the current dispatch service pages firefighters when they receive an emergency call for assistance. If other help is required from neighbouring fire departments, police, or Hydro crews, Thibert said those calls for made by the local fire department.

“We have to pick up our cellphone and phone those folks to get those services out to us,” he said. “It’s very difficult sometimes to manage a fire scene and actually pick up a phone and call, to find the time to orchestrate an emergency scene and notify our dispatch.”

He said the current service is deemed to be unreliable. Not having a live dispatch services puts firefighters, the community, and the municipality at risk.

The Smith Falls company will be an improvement, he said, and it helps that it’s the same one used by neighbouring communities.

“It’s going to have many benefits,” he said.

The departments can share information and call for assistance faster.

Logs and reports from the Smith Falls Fire Dispatch Centre can be used for the department’s compliance reporting. The centre will provide recordings and mandatory documentation for legal and liability coverage for the department and township.

Minden Fire will have access to the same mapping as the neighbouring departments, which will enhance adherence to automatic aid agreements.

Personnel can communicate directly with the Dispatch Service via radio and stay

in constant communication if necessary. Communication with the current dispatch provider occurs via cell phone.

Colleague fire departments will be aware of incidents in Minden Hills sooner and can respond quicker if additional aid is needed.

Smith Falls Fire Dispatch Center is a fire-only dispatch service. They do not have to focus on answering redundant 911 calls, nor do they dispatch police or ambulance priorities.

The costing formulas primarily used by fire dispatch services are a per capita billing model. However, there appears to be no standard as to how much each service charges per resident.

Through past research and inquiries made during this current process, it was determined there is a varied range, while the average currently hovers at just under $4 per capita.

Smith Falls will cost $3.75 per capita based on Minden’s 2021 census, plus HST, per year. The population in 2021 was 6,971. The cost will be adjusted to population changes indicated in the next federal census.

There also exists a fluctuation in contractual obligations expected by certain dispatching centers. Some offer a year-to-year contract while others require a 15-year contract to be signed.

Thibert said the department wanted to secure reliable, consistent, and long-standing dispatch services with the ability to achieve flexibility in its service contracts.

“We wanted to save some money and have a reliable contract,” he said. “Smith Falls offers that.”

The shorter five-year contractual option offered by Smith Falls Fire Dispatch Center coupled with a comparable per capita cost model is the best option for staff to recommend.

“There’s absolutely no doubt this is a better system for being out on a fire call,” Councillor Tammy McKelvey said.

The Smith Falls proposal indicates the start-up cost as an “approximate” amount. McKelvey said the municipality should insist on a concrete dollar amount before a contract is signed.

“What if it’s $20,000?” she said.

“The set-up costs, I’ve confirmed that it’s going to be $12,000,” Thibert said. “It shouldn’t be any more because that’s what we agreed on.”

McKelvey said she’s concerned that the contract is a sole-sourced procurement. She said she’d rather it was the result of a request for proposals that had been issued by the township.

Cynthia Fletcher, the municipality’s CAO, said an RFP can be issued if it’s council’s wish.

“I’m really eager to get going to a live dispatching service,” Fletcher said. “I think we see huge benefit that two of our member municipalities also use this service.”

“I’m not really certain that we will see a significant improvement if we went out for an RFP,” Mayor Bob Carter said. “It just delays something that we need.”

“Are we going to at least look at this agreement terms?” McKelvey said. “I’ve outlined some concerns I have with some of this.”

Fletcher said she’s noted the areas of concern for McKelvey and she offered to review them and make changes before an agreement is signed.