Closed meeting documents show abrupt about-face by PRRD board on fire dispatch issue

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Documents released today by the Peace River Regional District show that Board directors back-pedalled before they ultimately decided to sign a five year agreement with the North Island 9-1-1 Corporation to provide fire dispatch services for the Regional District, though they don’t indicate why.

According to the documents, the Board originally defeated a motion that the District sign a five-year agreement with North Island 9-1-1 during an in-camera Board meeting in Fort St. John on November 10th. During that meeting, the Board voted in favour of two resolutions:

  1. “That the Fire Dispatch Service Request for Proposals process be started over; Further, that a process be initiated by bringing all fire services across the Peace River region together to discuss the best approach for a new Fire Dispatch Service Request for Proposals.”
  2. “That once staff have met with all fire services within the Regional District to discuss a Fire Dispatch Service Request for Proposals, a report be brought forward for the Board’s consideration, informing of the results of that meeting.”

According to documents, three proponents submitted proposals to the Regional District in the original RFP: The City of Fort St. John, North Island 9-1-1 Corp., and E-Comm. Over the term of five years, North Island 9-1-1’s bid was $635,477, Fort St. John’s was $1,282,195, while E-Comm’s totalled $1,351,290. According to recommendations from a consulting firm hired by the District to analyse the documents, North Island 9-1-1’s bid scored the highest in a comparison, with a 92.5/100. E-Comm’s proposal scored a 90.5/100, while Fort St. John’s scored 79/100. The consultants’ analysis shows that Fort St. John’s bid was inferior to the two others in the areas of staff resources, backup capability, and standards compliance and quality assurance.

Documents show that of some the Board members had expressed a number of concerns with North Island 9-1-1’s proposal. The physical distance between Vancouver Island and the Peace Region was a concern, as well as the island’s location in an active seismic zone. Board members’ concerns about the Campbell River Fire Department’s unfamiliarity with the region’s landscape and unique hazards was also a factor, along with their lack of established relationships with regional fire departments.

During the subsequent closed Regional District Board meeting on November 24th, the Board reconsidered their previous decision to begin a new RFP process. Directors Lori Ackerman, Byron Stewart, and Rob Fraser voted against that reconsideration.

At the following Board meeting on December 9th, the original resolutions to hold discussions with regional fire services and begin a new RFP process were both defeated. A third motion that would authorize PRRD staff to negotiate with the City of Fort St. John for the provision of fire dispatch services for the region was also defeated. However, the Board voted in favour of the original resolution to sign an agreement with North Island 9-1-1. There is currently no indication as to what caused the Board to reconsider and ultimately vote in favour of the agreement that they had voted down one month prior.

Dawson Creek Mayor and Board Director Dale Bumstead spoke with this afternoon about the Board’s reconsideration. The Dawson Creek Fire Department is currently one of two fire dispatch providers in the Peace Region, along with the Fort St. John Fire Department. Bumstead says that his city’s fire department did not submit a bid in the RFP because of equipment improvement requirements that would have cost the city roughly $400,000. He added that the city did not also want to take on the liability of continuing to provide dispatch services.

When asked about why the Board reconsidered, Bumstead stated,“I can’t speak for everybody else in terms of what they, or why would support or not support the initiative, issue, resolution or motion. I can only speak to it from my perspective.” When it came to deciding on a proposal, Bumstead says that he was in favour of North Island 9-1-1’s bid because of the decreased cost to taxpayers, especially since his city is facing a decrease in revenue due to no longer providing fire dispatch in the South Peace. “With the loss of that funding, that means that our taxpayers are going to face a shortfall of $200,000 or $250,000. We’ve got to find a way to make that up,” said Bumstead. “And then I’m asked to say we’re going to go for the more expensive of the two between The North Island and Fort St. John for our taxpayers, and they’re going to pay more to go to Fort St. John. I chose the latter and supported the North Island because it’s a more reasonable cost for the taxpayers.”

According to Bumstead, another factor that weighed in his decision had to do with his jurisdiction seeing more fire calls than elsewhere in the region. “55 to 60 percent of the calls historically for fire dispatch are for Dawson Creek residents,” he said.

When asked for comment, neither Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman nor PRRD Chief Administrative Officer Chris Cvik replied by press time.

The entire list of documents that were released by the Peace River Regional District can be found here:

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