The campaign led by Thompson residents Geri Dixon and Alicia Bedford, who appeared as a delegation before city council at their last meeting of the year Dec. 10, to get 911 service in Thompson is admirable, but ultimately may not prove to be successful for reasons that don’t have anything to do with its merits or sensibility.
It would be great if all residents of Thompson, not only those calling from cell phones, could simply dial three digits instead of 10, for no reason other than how much easier it is to remember 911 the separate numbers for the RCMP and fire and ambulance services that Thompsonites have to remember right now. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t do anything to alleviate the situation that Dixon found herself in a few months ago when she was put on hold while someone was trying to break into her daughter’s house. Even if Thompson had 911 service, which is operated out of the Brandon fire hall, the only difference would be that she would have been on hold with a 911 dispatcher instead of just waiting for an RCMP operator to take her call. 911 dispatchers connect callers to the police service they are trying to reach and stay on the line until the call is picked up. However, when there are high call volumes, it is still possible that callers will have to wait to speak to anyone who can actually send an RCMP officer out.
Inquiries from this newspaper as to what the reasons are that the city doesn’t currently participate in Manitoba’s 911 emergency calling system have not been answered as of the time of this writing, though perhaps it is just because the mayor and council of 20 years ago decided not to. It seems unlikely that it will be a move the city would make, despite the fact that it would probably be cheaper to join 911 than to continue paying local dispatchers, if only because they don’t want to cut jobs here and because having local dispatchers at the Thompson fire hall probably means a faster response time to calls about fires and medical emergencies, though ambulance drivers are then put in touch with the Medical Transportation Co-ordination Centre, also in Brandon, while en route to their destinations.
Similarly, the provincial government doesn’t seem like it will be overly keen on trying to convince the RCMP to establish a northern dispatch facility, given that, in 2006, it provided $3.6 million for the RCMP to establish their centralized dispatch centre and apparently had no problem that there was only one for the entire province, headquartered in Winnipeg.
As for the RCMP themselves, it seems logical to assume that they had their reasons for not wanting to establish a northern dispatch centre, which the late former mayor of Thompson Bill Comaskey lobbied for. Those reasons could be operational or maybe just practical in nature, being based on, perhaps, the notion that it would be easier to find people to fill jobs at the dispatch centre in Winnipeg than it would be in Thompson.
Unfortunately, for people who would like to be able to just call 911 from their home phones in the case of an emergency in Thompson, it being a good and sensible idea may not be enough to convince any level of government or any other organization involved in emergency services to change the way that things are currently done, whether it’s because of cost, or the insistence on conditions that can never, or will not, be met. One of the features of democracy is that just because a majority of people want something to happen doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be so. In cases like this, that can be a bad thing, but in other instances it may not.