Fire in Colwood, Sidney? Calls will be dispatched from Surrey

Emergency vehicles from five Greater Victoria fire departments will soon be dispatched from Surrey instead of Saanich.

Colwood, Esquimalt, North Saanich and Sidney have all rejected new fees proposed by Saanich and opted to have emergency fire-dispatch services handled in Surrey. View Royal was expected to follow suit Tuesday evening.

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The five municipalities, which put out a joint request for proposals for fire-dispatch services, are expected to collectively save $1.5 million over five years compared with rates Saanich proposed.

The Surrey bid was also lower than that offered by CRD Fire Dispatch based in Langford.

“The proposal that came from Surrey was significantly more cost effective,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. “It was almost a half a percentage of tax increase for us.”

Desjardins said there’s no safety concerns about having dispatch handled off Vancouver Island.

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton and View Royal Mayor David Screech agreed.

“With today’s technology … it’s not really much of a difference between Saanich, or if it had been Sidney doing the dispatch, or if it had been right at home in Colwood,” Hamilton said.

“It doesn’t affect service in any way, shape or form,” Screech said. “All the fire chiefs are 100 per cent that it’s just as good a service and just as safe for residents as having it done in Saanich.”

Local politicians expressed alarm last year after Saanich notified clients of the proposed new rate structure. That proposal came after an independent financial review of Saanich’s dispatch services estimated it was subsidizing municipal clients between 29 and 56 per cent.

“We expressed concern to Saanich about what they were charging and we really wanted to try to work through it, but we couldn’t. And the savings are just so astonishing,” Screech said.

Screech expected his council to endorse moving fire dispatch to Surrey on Tuesday night.

The decision has no impact on the new $16-million Capital Regional District 911 call centre being built on Commerce Circle in Saanich which is focused on police dispatch.

Both Screech and Sidney Mayor and CRD Chair Steve Price said the hope is still to have regional fire dispatch housed in the new 911 Centre.

“The bottom line is we still want to use the new centre [for fire dispatch as well]. It just might take five years to get there,” Price said.

The estimated cost for all five municipalities for the five years was $3.5 million from Saanich, $1.94 million from Surrey and $3.17 million from CRD Fire Dispatch.

Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Central Saanich, North Saanich, Sidney, View Royal and Colwood all have been contracting with Saanich for their fire dispatch.

The municipalities had received various extensions to contracts with Saanich with most expiring at the end of March. Oak Bay’s contract is not due for renewal for another year.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said his municipality will monitor the situation.

While costs are important, Jensen said he wants more information about potential additional costs and what impact the Surrey dispatch might have on mutual aid co-ordination between municipalities.

CRD Fire Dispatch handles emergency fire dispatch for the Juan de Fuca, Salt Spring Island and Southern Gulf Island electoral areas and Highlands, Langford, Metchosin and Sooke.

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell did not return a call for comment.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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