Pembroke – The dispatch system for fire departments within the County of Renfrew, City of Pembroke and for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan is at the end of its life and needed upgrades are expected to come at a cost of just over $318,000.

“What happens if the system goes down? Is there an ability to ensure calls are answered?” questioned Warden Peter Emon last Wednesday morning at Renfrew County council.

“There is a back-up system; it is a cell phone system,” Director of Public Works and Engineering Lee Perkins reassured him.

“It is a back door,” he added. “It is not a solution. It is a back door way that they do have a back-up.”

The Fire Dispatch System for the County of Renfrew is located at the Central Ambulance Communications Centre (CACC) in the Town of Renfrew and council has been aware for some time there was a need to replace the system. Last week, councillors were told the system is at its end of life and requires upgrading. The system is used to dispatch 18 fire departments within the County of Renfrew (with the exception of Arnprior) and includes the City of Pembroke and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation.

According to the report from the operations committee, the equipment for fire dispatch was purchased by the County of Renfrew to support the municipal partner’s fire services. Originally, the equipment was the County of Renfrew consoles (Roads Department) and was supported on the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) radio network inclusive of UHF and VHF repeaters located in Foymount. In 2009, the radio, tower and equipment were all switched over to the county and they had the full contract with Christie and Walther, now BearCom to maintain the equipment.

The report noted a service contract for equipment was supported through the County of Renfrew and CACC was the operator only. A Break and Fix contract was supported by CACC in reporting the issues directly to the vendor and ensuring the county was informed of any repairs for their equipment. Reprogramming of paging functions for the fire departments or changings in operational protocols would be billed back to the CACC/MOH. BearCom has provided a quote in the amount of $318,710 plus taxes to replace the equipment.

Since the county had not budgetted to spend over $300,000 to replace the aging equipment in 2023, the committee directed staff to develop a business case and explore options for the County of Renfrew’s Fire Dispatch System for council consideration.

“The concern at the committee is this has dragged on for some time,” Warden Emon said. “The equipment is older.”

There is new equipment at various departments and the compatibility is a concern, he said.

“This is going to be an issue we need to resolve rather quickly. We need to offer reassurance to the public we are on top of this.”

He noted the issue of fire dispatch has been on the discussion table since at least 2009 and definitely in 2014. It is an issue which needs to be solved, he said.

“There was an examination of fire departments across the county in 2016, investigating some of the options,” Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue recalled.

The issue was whether to go with analog or digital and the network was also discussed with the hardware and repeater stations, he said.

“Is this a separate system than that which is dispatching ambulances?” questioned Mayor Donohue.

This is just the hardware and software at the dispatch. He noted he saw it is the XP system and quipped he thought that was only used in museums currently.

“I can’t imagine there are too many XP specialists in supporting roles,” he said.

“The fire dispatch system is a separate entity from what CACC uses for ambulances,” Mr. Perkins said.

It is a unit which sits on the desk separately, he said.

“Very antiquated,” he added.

The radio systems are separate as well, he said.

“We are looking at replacing what is at the CACC,” he said.

“The larger system for the 17 municipalities which use it and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan will be a much tougher nut to crack,” Mr. Perkins said. “Some fire chiefs want digital, some want analog.”

This new system they are looking at for the CACC centre will handle both digital and analog.

A full report will come to council in May, he said.