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Smiths Falls Fire Department to upgrade dispatch system following ice storm


The Smiths Falls Fire Department is getting a long-awaited upgrade to its dispatch system, after the recent ice storm highlighted its flaws.

When it is a matter of life and death, the command centre needs to work flawlessly, but the ice storm at the beginning of April caused a ripple in that critical communication flow.

"A power fluctuation within our dispatch centre made the emergency generator kick in, and between the kick in time and the fluctuation of power, one of the systems went down, one of the consoles went down," Smiths Falls Fire Chief Rick Chesebrough said. 

"We were able to bring that console up quite quickly and continue on with the number of dispatch calls we had," Chesebrough said, noting the screens went black for a few seconds. 

"Certainly, the ice storm elevated this to show that our system is an older system and the upgrade was truly needed."

Chesebrough said the system upgrade had been planned for the past couple of years, but the department had waited to make sure it would be compatible with the next generation 911 service that the government has proposed. 

The dispatch centre not only covers the town of Smiths Falls, but a wide rural area in Lanark County and beyond, communicating with 18 other fire departments.

"It's critical that that equipment in there has a reliability and the function ability to ensure we are going to get the vehicles and staff out to a scene," Chesebrough said. 

Smiths Falls Fire Department dispatcher Tammy Hardy takes an emergency call. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Chesebrough recommended the system replacement to a town committee on April 11 at a cost of just over $400,000, which council approved on April 17.

"We asked a lot of questions, but in the end we determined that, yeah, this has to move forward because it's a very important piece of equipment for the fire department," Smith Falls Coun. Stepehen Robinson said.

"They need to expand their capabilities and be prepared for next generation 911. You have to be available 24 hours a day 7 days a week," he added. 

Robinson said budgeting for a new system had come up the last two years but had been deferred each time, saying now is the time for the upgrades, even with the high price tag.

"$400,000 is a lot of money. However, the fire chief was able to hold off on purchasing or making an agreement long enough, that grants were available, so it's really not going to cost the taxpayers of Smiths Falls anything and that's a good thing," Robinson noted. 

During the height of the ice storm, the fire department received more than 400 emergency and non-emergency calls between an 8-10 hour period. 

They were dispatched to 106 calls, and notified hydro 70 times. 

The department also saw an increase of calls in 2022.

A communications tower at the Smiths Falls Fire Department. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

"Approximately 35 per cent increase in call volume, so we're getting close to 2,000 calls that we are dispatching on an annual basis, so it's getting to be a very busy centre," Chesebrough said. 

Meaning when seconds count, the system has to work.

"(The residents) know what they are getting and it also provides a piece of mind for those individuals that when they are experiencing and emergency and they pick up the phone and they dial, they know there's going to be continuity at our dispatch centre and the ability to get the people out there to assist them, whatever the emergency will be," the chief said. 

"You have to do it," added Robinson. "Its essential equipment, the money's got to be spent."

Chesebrough says meetings are planned next week to find out how long the new equipment will take to arrive, and a timeline of installation, with the upgrades expected to be fully in place by October. Top Stories

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