Every year, we get stories about someone who called the 9-1-1 emergency line for something that is considerably less than an emergency.
Mixed-up coffee orders, a late bus, or a request for the weather report were some of the staggeringly bad reasons people had for calling the E-Comm emergency lines in B.C. last year.
Beyond that, there are plenty of accidental calls. Very young children, trained to call 9-1-1 in an emergency, may dial the number when no one is looking.
We’re sure the dispatchers have tales of a few pocket-dials too – it doesn’t take much to hit two numbers a few times.
E-Comm is launching a new education campaign this summer about accidental dials.
No doubt we’ll also hear about the legitimate reasons to call the service (Reminder: it’s for emergency calls to fire, police, or ambulance services) but there is a bigger issue facing our 9-1-1 dispatchers this year.
Like many workplaces, the E-Comm centres have seen more people depart during the last two years than have been trained and hired. Illness and burnout can take their toll in any workplace, but must be particularly stressful for those who have to calmly relay messages from people who are dealing with injury, fire, and criminal activity.
The E-Comm service has been warning for months that they are understaffed, with particular alerts just before Canada Day, as holiday long weekends are often busy times for emergencies.
Existing dispatchers are working harder than ever, but without more staff, the system will continue to suffer.
We put a lot of attention on the number of police officers, paramedics, and firefighters in our communities. Every year, local councils debate adding more emergency staff, new firehalls, more Mounties. The lack of sufficient BC Ambulance personnel has been an issue for years, with last year’s heat dome making it even more clear.
Now we’re facing problems with the vital, but invisible crew of people who make the entire emergency response system possible.
Without 9-1-1 dispatchers, lives can easily be lost, especially to medical emergencies and crashes.
It’s easy to overlook a group of people who do necessary, stressful work, entirely out of the sight of the public.
They don’t wear uniforms, they don’t receive enough public praise, but everyone in the system knows that without the E-Comm member on the phone, an emergency can become a tragedy.
So don’t call 9-1-1 because a barista got your order wrong, but do support our E-Comm staff.