Emergency dispatch services in Waterloo Region are a “serious problem” and are in need of an overhaul, says the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.
Michael Harris stressed the need for changes while paying a visit Tuesday night to Wellesley council.
Harris told council he has been trying to address the deficiencies with EMS dispatching, asking what council felt about the EMS response times in the township and whether or not there could be an increase in the times through EMS or the fire department.
“There was an accident in Woolwich where emergency response times where not the best,” said Harris, referring to a helicopter crash at the Breslau airport that saw emergency responders delayed due to dispatching conflicts. “We have to look at another model. In the province of Ontario there are only certain jurisdictions that allow for the local municipality to dispatch locally; those are Toronto, Ottawa and the Niagara Region and the Niagara model is one I feel our region should adopt.”
Wellesley fire chief Andrew Lillico told Harris he currently sits on a regional committee that is investigating dispatch services and they are working on a report that will be presented to regional council very soon.
Currently the regional ambulance service is part of a provincial pilot project that could reduce response times by as much as 30 seconds by dispatching fire and ambulance simultaneously.
“That pilot project has had terrific results for us in respects to us saving almost 20 to 30 seconds on every emergency call, but this is only the first step. I hope to see the Ministry of Health come on board and participate in this venture where the region looks after the dispatching of emergency services,” said Lillico. “If EMS is fragmented and is not part of this position additional time savings may not be achieved and I would encourage our council to support one locally located dispatch centre to increase responses and decrease response times.”
Harris said he has asked for the report that evaluated the Niagara system, but the report has been embargoed and classified. He will, however, continue to pursue the report to prove the model in Niagara works and saves lives.
Four months ago regional Chair Ken Seiling sent a letter to Health Minister Deb Matthews asking her to “entertain discussions” about a council-endorsed recommendation, presented by former police chief Larry Gravill, to bring all emergency dispatching centres under one roof, but that letter was all but dismissed, said Harris as the minister sent a response letter touting the emergency dispatching pilot project.
“The technology they (Niagara) use is something that our region could use to reduce response times, especially in rural areas like Wellesley Township. The model used in Niagara is on a different platform than the one we are using currently. They use a predictive platform and the sooner we can get it the faster it will help in response times across our region. Rural Ontario need to know that when they dial 911 that seconds matter,” said Harris
Lillico said he has viewed the Niagara model and a lot of lessons from the model were rolled into the pilot project in Waterloo Region.
“We are now serving our community better than we have been but we do need to get the Ministry of Health to the table to discuss having a core located centre,” said Lillico.