Advocacy by Orillia ON Local 1100 and the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) has saved the jobs of four member dispatchers after the city reversed a decision made earlier this year to contract out the service.
In late October, the city agreed to allocate $360,000 in additional funding to upgrade its dispatch system to NextGen 9-11, a digital platform that allows callers to provide text, photos, and video to dispatchers in addition to voice.
“It’s good news to keep those jobs,” Orillia Local 1100 President Brett Eeles said of the decision, adding that keeping local dispatch is better for fire fighter and public safety.
Eeles explains that the union immediately grieved council’s earlier decision, pointing to ‘no contracting out’ language in their collective agreement, and worked with the OPFFA to keep pressure on the city behind the scenes to ensure the collective agreement was followed.
OPFFA Secretary-Treasurer Bob McCutcheon and the NextGen 911 Committee assisted the Local. He explained the city’s dispatch system is unique because fire also dispatches police and ambulance, and those local services would be lost too if dispatch was taken out of the community.
“It’s a win for the community because they maintain their own communications center,” he said, emphasizing the benefits of local dispatch with NextGen 9-11 upgrades. “It avoids delays in dispatch and other reductions in service.”
Changes to emergency dispatch systems across Canada are necessary in response to a mandate from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which requires them to upgrade to NextGen 911. The digital system allows dispatchers to receive texts, photos, and videos in addition to audio.
The decision to fund the dispatch centre updates was the second victory for Orillia fire fighters in recent weeks. In October, the city allocated new funding for overtime and reversed a policy of closing one of the city’s two fire stations during certain staffing shortages, which delayed emergency response and put the public and fire fighters at risk.
The city reversed the station closures in the wake of a focused political action campaign with assistance from IAFF 13th District Vice President Fred LeBlanc and IAFF staff. The initiative included an effective social media campaign, door-to-door canvassing, and a rally outside city hall.