EDITORIAL: Fire dispatch needs broader thinking

Upgrading dispatch centres should be done with the big picture in mind

It might seem like a no-brainer to have a single fire dispatch centre for all of Greater Victoria, but there is merit to having at least two facilities for the region.

Right now the 13 municipalities that make up our metropolitan home are served by three centres dispatching firefighters to select municipalities.

The issue is making news as Colwood and View Royal’s fire dispatch is relocated to the Saanich dispatch centre, which the departments say can better serve their needs than Langford, their former service provider.

The switch means that Saanich, which recently upgraded its facility’s technology to ensure state-of-the-art reliability, now takes calls and sends them out to eight fire departments ranging from Oak Bay to North Saanich.

Langford, which also boasts current technology, serves 16 jurisdictions, though most of those have relatively small fire departments.

Clients include the Gulf Islands of Saturna Island and Salt Spring, as well as rural communities such as Shirley and Otter Point.

A main reason why those departments chose Langford is due to the lower cost than Saanich. Both Colwood and View Royal will pay slightly more to contract Saanich, which is the largest municipality on the Island and requires a top-end facility to meet its own needs.

The move raises the question of whether the region is better served by moving all departments to a single dispatch centre. It’s a timely question too as the Capital Regional District proposes spending $100,000 to upgrade Langford dispatch service.

It’s a worthwhile discussion, but one that needs to be considered over the long term.

The Victoria dispatch centre, which just serves Victoria, is showing its age. In time, it makes sense for the city’s fire department to look to Saanich, which is the logical centre of the region and has the mass to best serve larger municipalities.

But for the immediate future, it also makes sense to maintain Langford’s service so that it can provide an affordable alternative to smaller communities.