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Smiths Falls Fire Dispatch Centre to offer services to Minden Hills

The Smiths Falls Fire Department’s dispatch centre is working on a five-year dispatching contract with the Township of Minden Hills, in Haliburton County. – Laurie Weir photo

Dispatching services for the Township of Minden Hills has been accepted by the Smiths Falls Fire Dispatch Centre (SFFDC).

Fire Chief Rick Chesebrough said the five-year contract would see the SFFDC providing services to the township, which sought a full-communication service.

Minden Hills receives on average, 300 calls per year. Located in Haliburton County, the township has about 6,000 residents.

“With the increase in the hours of our part-time dispatcher position and the new radio consoles, we can handle the additional contract,” Chesbrough told the town’s committee of the whole on April 8.

Prior to jumping into an agreement with this municipality, Minden Hills would have to provide radio infrastructure and capital operating equipment, (at a cost to them from $8,000 to $12,000), digital municipal mapping, a contact list of personnel to be contacted in the event of equipment failure, a contact list of other agencies and municipalities required, an emergency recovery plan, written authorization to share radio frequency with Algonquin Highlands or the use of radio equipment at the back-up site, a back-up means of communication and a detailed response plan.

“All costs associated with the initial setup would be the responsibility of Minden Hills,” the chief said.

It was during the March 5 council meeting that the Smiths Falls council approved the recommendation to execute the agreement.

Revenue generated in the first year (2024) is listed at just over $24,000 with annual increases including the CPI and HST.

At this time, no extra staffing is needed, the chief noted, but they are setting themselves up to have increased personnel at the dispatch centre.

But first they must get the contracts, he noted.

“We have the capability and flexibility right now that if there was a large municipality or county that is willing to commit to Smiths Falls, then we’ll come back to council for staffing to support that contract.”

Chesebrough said that it’s not wise to hire a “whole bunch of people” then hope to get the contracts for dispatching.

The chief noted that Minden Hills is currently paying 2.5 times more for dispatch services.
“They’ve got a substantial investment but they’ve also got the reliability in the service level that we provide, which is critical,” he said.

The only addition to the staffing is that the current part-time position will be receiving full-time hours, the chief said.

This cost for the additional hours for the staff person is in the approved 2024 budget, Malcolm Morris, chief administrative officer, noted.

Chesbrough said he’ll dive more in-depth for long-term planning as they see the system’s capabilities.

Coun. Dawn Quinn said this it’s like a business – slowing and gradually building to meet the demands, and it may put Smiths Falls on the map as to what the fire department is doing.

“It’s difficult on any level to predict what a call volume is going to be,” Chesebrough said. “But our number one priority outside dispatching contracts is the safety and security of the residents of Smiths Falls. That’s paramount. We’re not going to risk the safety of the residents for a $10,000 contract. It’s truly a balancing act – meeting the needs of our own as well as providing the level of service that we’re committing to.”

A long-term goal for the fire service could involve a communications centre with dispatchers and communicators, but the firefighters would be backup to those communicators, the chief said.

Smiths Falls has a new dispatch system in the Next Neneration 911 (NG 911) service. They cover a wide rural area in Lanark County and beyond, offering communications for 18 other fire departments.

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