911 dispatch company pitches central fire and 911 dispatch services to MMA

MINDEMOYA—Officials from Northern911, the company that supplies 911 dispatch services to Manitoulin Island, came to the January 10 meeting of the Manitoulin Municipal Association at the Mindemoya Community Centre to pitch an Island-wide fire dispatch service—but some procedural and liability issues remain to be sorted out.

Angele Spears, business development professional with Northern911, a division of Northern Communications, and Northern911 President Mike Shantz took the MMA representatives through a profile of their company and its expertise in the 911 dispatch services it currently provides to the Island, as well as fire dispatch services it provides to some (but not all) Island municipalities.

Mr. Shantz noted that Northern Communications currently has four divisions: an answering service (out of which the other services grew); True Steel Security; Connected Care (the “help I have fallen and can’t get up” alarm system company); and Northern911, the 911 dispatch service. He explained that the company’s 911 service involvement came about following the 2002 decision by Bell to get out of the 911 dispatch business.

“At Northern911 we achieve our mission by providing reliable, efficient, and accurate services in the areas of Enhanced 911 (E911), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) 911, alarm monitoring, fire dispatch, vehicular telematics and GPS monitoring,” noted Mr. Shantz. “With coverage across North America our monitoring centre responds swiftly to emergency situations to help protect life and property. Our emergency response specialists are APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials) certified and undergo extensive training and quality control to ensure the highest quality customer experience.”

He went on to explain that his company’s certified emergency response specialists “deliver the highest quality customer experience available 24/7/365. We are inclusive and with a translation service for over 170 languages (including Indigenous language speakers in the region) it allows callers to communicate in their language of choice in their time of need. As well, our specialists also provide TTY/TTD and “Text with 911” services for the hearing and speech impaired community.”

Mr. Shantz noted that Northern911 pioneered VoIP 911 call transfer and emergency dispatch services in Canada and are “now the number one choice of VoIP providers across the nation.”

Mr. Shantz pointed out that in an emergency “seconds count” and cited his company’s record of responding with an 95 percent average answer time of three rings or less.

In responding to a question about a recent test drill in Western Manitoulin where the response had taken more than 10 minutes, MMA Chair Ken Noland noted that it had been determined during investigation that the cause of that delay was unrelated to the dispatch service.

Northern911 is the Primary PSAP for many communities across the province, continued Mr. Shantz. “We are also the secondary PSAP and perform fire dispatch in approximately 60 communities. We strive to never have a single point of failure. Our technology platforms use multiple redundancies to ensure reliable service when it counts.” Mr. Shantz stressed this point a number of times, pointing out that no part of their system did not have backups.

“Our entire office in Sudbury could burn to the ground and we could transfer everything to our backup office in North Bay,” he noted.

“Our Continuous Operations Plan ensures continuity of coverage in the event of a disaster,” he said. “Disaster planning is part of our culture and we analyze ways to serve our clients better on a regular basis.”

The Nortern911 representatives said that they hoped that the MMA could act as a single point of contact for a unified fire dispatch service for Manitoulin.

Mayor Al MacNevin noted that there were some challenges inherent in the MMA acting in that capacity and expressed concerns about the dispatch of neighbouring fire departments to cover a fire in a neighbouring community if no mutual aid agreement is in place, or if the there is an agreement, if he responsible fire department had not made a request. “We don’t want to leave our people in the position of not being covered by compensation or insurance,” he said, noting that the proper agreements would have to be negotiated and put in place before such a plan could move forward.

Assiginack Mayor Paul Moffat noted that “it would be the worst possible thing if nobody shows up.”

Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens suggested that with the mutual aid agreements in place, the fire department responsible did not have to be the ones initiating the call. A concept that the Manitoulin Fire Chief Association representative agreed with, but to which there was some dissent.

“That isn’t what the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office has told us,” said Mayor MacNevin, “and we have a tendency to go with what the OFM office tells us is the case. We have had discussions with our lawyers and they suggest that we would be liable.”

There was a suggestion made that both the fire chiefs and the OFM office should be invited to the MMA to hash out the definitive answer.

“That’s the argument for having the extra agreements in place,” said Mayor MacNevin.

MMA representatives will be taking the proposal for a unified fire dispatch service back to their respective councils for discussion.

The next MMA meeting was set for March 21.