9-1-1 Operators say, “We are more than just a number”.
RICHMOND—B.C.’s 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers play a critical role in emergency response for communities throughout the province, but they remain invisible to the public — a situation the Emergency Dispatchers of B.C. (EDBC) CUPE Local 873-02 hopes to change this week with a new awareness campaign.
With its main message, “9-1-1 Operators—We’re more than just a number,” the union is shining a light on the “first, first responders” who respond to emergency calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 99 per cent of the province. And the upcoming weeks are some of the busiest of the year with a number of seasonal events taking place throughout the province. One of these being Vancouver’s Celebration of Light, the annual fireworks show which attracts approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people to English Bay and surrounding areas, resulting in an increase in calls.
According to EDBC Union Chairperson Matthew Bordewick, members take the initial 9-1-1 emergency calls for 25 regional districts from the Peace River District to Southern Vancouver Island. We dispatch 40 fire departments and 33 police agencies, he says, and this system, which employs more than 400 9-1-1 operators and 80 support workers, is being stretched to the limit.
“We know our work is important — we help save lives every day. But we’re experiencing a much higher volume of calls, many involving traumatic events, and that has resulted in more burnout, exhaustion and the mental and physical health issues that come with it,” he says. “Those of us who remain truly love our jobs. But we need more of us in the service.”