Confusion reporting fires

Southside Burnaby, Southside Chilliwack, and Southside Vancouver, are all places that will pop up with a search for ‘Southside B.C.”

Southside Burnaby, Southside Chilliwack, and Southside Vancouver, are all places that will pop up with a search for ‘Southside B.C.” on Google.

‘Francis Lake, B.C.’ refers to several different bodies of water in B.C., none of which are even remotely located near our own Francois Lake.

This might explain why it’s possible to create confusion when you punch *5555 on your cell phone to alert B.C. Wildfire Management Branch that you have spotted a fire.

The call centre that receives your call is located in Victoria, and staffed by wildfire management branch employees.

All information taken down at the time of a fire report phone call is recorded and dispersed to regional fire centres. Multiple phone calls for the same fire can help dispatchers and fire officers more quickly fix a fires location.

“Multiple phone calls are more common than not,” said Suzanne Pearce, Northwest fire centre communications officer. “Having more than one description of the location enables both the folks in Victoria as well as us here in the fire centre to guide our crews in to a reported fire.”

Information collected at the call centre in Victoria is digitized and instantly relayed to the appropriate fire zone. Every time ‘Burns Lake’ is punched into the system, Nadina Fire Zone officer Rob Krause’s phone lights up.

But staff answering the phone don’t necessarily know the colloquial names for locations, or local landmarks, province-wide. Saying that you can see a fire ‘across Francis [sic.] Lake from the milkshake place by the ferry,’ will likely slow down the communication process.

But if you don’t know where you are and you can’t say something clear like, ‘I’m south of Burns Lake, at the north side ferry loading on Francois Lake,’ make the call anyway. Dispatchers will record all information and local fire officers will take it from there.

The key thing is to get that information relayed quickly.

Here’s what Suzanne Pearce, information officer with B.C. Wildfire Management, recommends callers do to ensure the efficient relay of information:

Pull over and report your fire sighting right away, if you have cell service. If you don’t have cell service, reset your odometer to zero so that when you have service again, you can say how far down the highway you were when you spotted the fire.

Let the person on the other end of the line ask you questions, listen to those questions, and answer them. The questions are meant to not only locate the fire, but assess its size, current and potential immediate danger to life or property.

You will be asked for a call-back number in case more information is needed.


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