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'Against every single fibre of our being,' B.C.'s 911 operators union says of new system


B.C.'s emergency call takers union says a decision that says operators don't have to stay on the line with patients until they are transferred to the ambulance service is a stop-gap measure for a system that is on the brink of collapse.

It's supposed to take 911 operators 10 seconds to answer police emergency lines, but in June during B.C.'s heat dome, that wait was more than 47 minutes.

The delay was due to the amount of time it took to hand off calls to the BC Ambulance Service. Operators on hold with 911 callers couldn't hang up. Until now.

A new policy at E-Comm, the non-profit that runs the 911 call centres in the province, means call takers don't have to stay on the line until that call is transferred.

Oliver Grüter-Andrew, president and CEO of E-Comm said the decision means lower risk callers might have to wait on the line alone.

"We're allowing our call taker to judge the situation and to say this call waiting for ambulance to pick up is not a life or death situation for the call," he told CTV News, adding that if they see calls waiting for 911 at the same time, they may choose to hang up.

CUPE Local 8911 President Donald Grant said this is a Band-Aid solution, when what's really needed is a major injection of staff. He pointed to a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report, which recommended an 84 per cent increase in staffing.

"There's nothing worse than wondering what is going to happen to someone," Grant told CTV News. The president of the local representing emergency communications professionals added, "Not knowing that that person is getting the help that they need goes against every single fibre of our being."

Ecomm says 30 per cent of calls to 911 are for ambulance service, and 70 per cent are for police or fire. Grüter-Andrew said while staffing would help, it wasn't practical partly due to a lack of funding and because of the time it takes to hire and train staff.

Grant sees it differently, saying if the report had been acted on "when it came out in march, we would be in an entirely different situation now."

The union is calling on local governments and municipalities to increase funding, which the non-profit admits would help, but without more money, says is simply not practical. Top Stories

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