The union representing 911 call takers at E-Comm says five-minute wait times for emergency services are now “the new normal”.
“Five minutes might not seem very long. But when you’re having a heart attack, tending to a badly injured child, comforting a dying car accident victim, or witnessing a senior in distress during a heat dome, you need help fast. Each second that passes can feel like a lifetime,” CUPE 8911 president Donald Grant wrote.
In an open letter addressed to all British Columbians, the union warned that the emergency call system is “broken” and needs more “consistent and stable funding” to be fixed.
The union cited a 2021 Price Waterhouse Coopers report that found the current roster of 153 full-time call takers needs to increase by 125 to meet operational demands.
“By April this year, we had lost another 20 per cent of that team, and an unprecedented 28 per cent of staff are on leave. Those of us who remain are working more overtime—and, more frequently, forced overtime—to meet minimum staffing levels.”
E-Comm’s funding formula is often described as “complex” by those familiar with it. The organization does not receive any funding from the provincial government. E-Comm’s 911 services are contracted by 25 regional districts across B.C. and are funded primarily by property taxes.
E-Comm also operates non-emergency lines for a number of police and fire departments. The funding forumla accounts for the number of radio channels required by an agency, the volume of emergency calls and non-emergency calls received on their behalf and many other factors, such as call complexity and population changes.
” Communities of all sizes and varying needs pay into the system, but because many have other priorities, the funding bounces based on need, responding to cyclical catastrophes,” Grant wrote. “The other problem is that we are losing some of our most skilled operators to agencies that pay better – sometimes significantly better – or have manageable workloads.”
Grant called for a new funding model with funding from all levels of government based on a system of ongoing support.
“What the system needs is a stable funding model: a system of ongoing support in which funding doesn’t ebb and flow based on news headlines, but is there all the time to ensure this core service can be delivered in a manner that British Columbians need and deserve—especially on the worst days of our lives.”