Emergency response times suffer from bad directions

By Rhonda Cooper

In the case of an emergency, time is of the essence. But sometimes, precious minutes can be lost when incorrect locations or poor directions are given to the responding emergency units.

Such was the case June 23 when the Meadow Lake Fire and Rescue department received a call regarding a car on fire in the Meadow Lake Provincial Park. The truck was misdirected by 10 km one way.

“It is a very common thing,” said Meadow Lake Fire Chief Neil Marsh. “In town it’s good, they can give an address but in the rural, it’s a bit sketchy.”

Emergency 911 calls to Meadow Lake Fire and Rescue are handled by a dispatcher in Prince Albert, who then directly contacts the department, providing a brief description of the situation.

“The officer in command will contact dispatch for further information,” said Marsh. It is at this point, the details provided by the caller become an integral part of the response.

“The initial caller can make all the difference in the world,” indicated Marsh. Details regarding the situation and scene helps determine the type of vehicles and personnel dispatched. He cautioned, callers first need to make sure they don’t put themselves in any danger and when possible, control the scene to the best of their ability.

“Now the more important question for them to answer is ‘How do we get there?,’” stated Marsh. Direction from town, number of miles (kilometres), landmarks, name or number of the road or highway, directions past a landmark, and even GPS coordinates can be given.

“Dispatch says GPS information is very useful and they are trained to instruct people on how to get the information off the GPS. There are people who use them simply for driving purposes and do not know how to retrieve the latitude and longitude information,” said Marsh.

“There is no way to know where a cell phone is calling from. It can’t be traced like a land line,” he said. According to dispatch, cell phones are getting easier to trace. However, that does not yet apply to this area or in the North.

Marsh said it would be good if the caller could remain on scene.

“That way the dispatcher could call them back for more information if needed and afterwards there may be some questions they may be able to provide answers for.”

The Town of Nipawin, located in northeast Saskatchewan, is situated in a similar geographical location as Meadow Lake. The fire department there  services not only the town, but also the Resort Village of Tobin Lake approximately 21miles northeast and a 12 mile radius from the community.

“We have not had a problem when it comes to directions for rural calls,” stated Nipawin fire chief Brian Starkell. “That’s not to say people don’t make mistakes, we’ve been very, very fortunate.”

Whereas Nipawin has a radius of 12 miles, Meadow Lake Fire and Rescue services an area that goes approximately 60 miles north to Keeley Lake and south 40 miles to Moose Country Service and, also has a provincial park within its boundaries.

Marsh noted this area has a lot of through traffic and that may contribute to the incomplete information.

The type of call, whether in the city or in the rural area determines the size of crew and types of trucks sent. In the case of a rural call, Marsh says the officer in charge deploys the correct equipment and complement of men while at the same time ensures there is equipment and manpower available should a second call be received within the same time period.

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