RDEK board spars over fire dispatch services

Five-year contract with Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services set to expire in December.

Board directors sparred over fire dispatching services and the option renewing a contract with the City of Cranbrook at last week’s Regional District meeting.

The contract, which is handled by the Cranbrook emergency services and dispatches fire services to 14 areas within the RDEK, is set to expire in December.

The board directors discussed the merits of renewing the five-year contract, which would come with a significant cost increase, or going to a ‘Request for Proposal’ (RFP) from other service providers.

Though the RDEK hasn’t moved to the RFP process, there have been expressions of interest from outside dispatching service providers such as North Island 9-1-1, E-Comm 9-1-1 and the City of Surrey Fire Service.

Rob Gay, the chair of the RDEK board, said the intent is to balance the level of service with the cost. While extending the contract with the Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services makes sense, the goal is getting the best service for the best price, he added.

“We understand it’s a new contract, prices have gone up so we expect to pay more—that’s probably natural—but if we don’t reach an agreement with them, I think a fallback position is then we go to the broader market,” Gay said.

The board voted 8-5 in favour of pursing a re-negotiation with Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services. It was a weighted vote, meaning that Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt and Cranbrook City Councillor Tom Shypitka were not able to participate.

Some of the pushback was from board directors who felt that the RDEK should go directly into an RFP process.

“I believe that moving directly to an RFP will save time and give us an idea of what the cost is from other outside providers before we’ve just negotiated directly with our current provider,” said Mike Sosnowski, the Area A director.

He also noted that with quotes gathered from an RFP, the RDEK board will have an idea of what the cost will be when Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services comes to the negotiating table.

The renewal of the term-length will be a part of the contract negotiations, according to Wayne Price, the Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services director. When it comes to what is driving the cost increases, Price cites staffing and technology as the main reasons.

“We staff our dispatch with unionized firefighters, so I would say the staffing rate is high and compared to a conventional dispatch service, we’d be using non-unionized employees at a CUPE rate or something like that,” said Price.

“…As well, we’ve seen a significant increase in hardware costs, the technology is changing all the time. As the hardware costs go up, our software and support costs and our IT costs go up. So it’s kind of across the board increases we’re seeing.”

Price added that the department is in the middle of doing a service review to assess their capabilities and what they can provide to the RDEK.

Over the last five years, the relationship between the two organizations has been without any major conflict, he added.

“I think we have a very good working relationship,” Price said. “I think we’re very transparent—both sides are. We have had some issues, I would say the issues we’ve had haven’t been serious in nature but anytime you are dealing with this type of system, there’s going to be a few issues.”

Hardware and technology was a concern brought up by the RDEK board as a few board directors were concerned that should the Regional District move to an outside provider, it may cause municipalities and rural areas to upgrade equipment.

The RDEK uses a digital system for their dispatching services, while many municipalities and areas within RDEK jurisdiction use analog systems.