By Ray Martin
For the Post
Waterloo Region could soon have an amalgamated emergency dispatch service to handle police and fire calls.
Former police chief Larry Gravill, chair of the emergency services dispatch working group, unveiled plans to local mayors and councillors Wednesday at a special all councils’ meeting at Waterloo Region Museum.
The move would merge dispatch services of Waterloo Region Police with fire services in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo, explained Gravill.
Currently 911 calls in the region’s three cities are routed to a police dispatcher or a Kitchener/Waterloo fire dispatcher or a fire dispatcher in Cambridge. Ambulance calls are also handled separately.
Gravill said the dispatch working group started looking at a potential merger in 2008. However, the need to consolidate was amplified in November 2011, following the helicopter crash at Waterloo Region Airport — various emergency responders weren’t getting the timely information they needed.
“Consolidation of these services will reduce duplication and provide faster emergency services response times,” Gravill said. “It will provide more consistency and standardize call handling.”
While the amalgamation of emergency dispatch services is now moving forward, Cambridge fire chief Bill Chesney was quick to point out this is not the first step in creating a regional fire service.
“That’s not even being considered,” he said. “Our council was quite definite on that when I first asked permission to be part of the working group and brought this back to them.”
With the decision to merge fire and police services, the working group will now be examining several different models for the amalgamated emergency dispatch service.
It will also have to work out the human relations aspect of the merger, and set up cross training of personnel for the fire and police services.
“There are still a lot of things that will have to be worked out,” Chesney said. “The one big thing here is no one is going to be losing their job with this enhanced service.”
Although the region’s police and fire services have agreed to the merger, the Ontario Ministry of Health has stated it is not interested in having the local ambulance service participate.
“They may not want to do it now, but we are making room in our plans for them to eventually join us,” Gravill said.
Gravill and the working group will continue their work on selecting a model for the new organization, working with unions and hammering out administrative aspects before bringing the project back to the councils for approval.
Gravill anticipates the working groups will be approaching council prior to the 2014 budget.