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As heat wave approaches B.C., 911 dispatchers warn of spike in calls, wait times

Warning of 911 wait times

B.C.’s largest 911 communications network is warning of a massive uptick in emergency calls only hours before the expected arrival of another heat wave.

E-Comm 911 handles 99 per cent of all emergency calls in the province. Those usually spike in the summer. But this year, gang-related shootings, the ongoing opioid crisis, an early wildfire season and last month's record-breaking heat wave have all led to increasing emergency call volumes, said the emergency communications centre in a press release Wednesday.

In a written statement, president and CEO of E-Comm, Oliver Grüter-Andrew, described the current strain on emergency services, including 911, as “extraordinary.”

E-Comm says staffing shortages and a rise in non-emergency calls to dispatchers has only made the situation worse, with 36 per cent of police non-emergency calls tying up vital resources.

As COVID-19 restrictions loosen and with another heat wave expected to arrive Thursday, E-Comm says it anticipates “continued challenges,” including long wait times on non-emergency calls.

Environment Canada has issued seven heat warnings and 14 special weather statements as a strengthening ridge of high pressure is expected to drive temperatures above 30 C across inland areas of Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island.

“British Columbians should be vigilant, watch for warnings and take steps to stay safe during extreme heat,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth in a written statement late Tuesday.

In several regions of B.C.’s southern Interior, the unseasonable temperatures could bring daytime highs into the high 30s.

The hottest weather is expected to hit the region from Thursday, July 28, to Sunday, August 1, with nighttime temperatures offering little relief.

Such conditions can quickly turn deadly.

The BC Coroners Service now says that 815 sudden deaths have been reported during June's heat dome. That’s 617 more sudden deaths across British Columbia when compared to the five-year average over the same seven-day period, according to preliminary data updated Tuesday.

None of the deaths have been confirmed as heat-related and investigators are still working to establish how and why so many more people died.

As rising temperatures push back into B.C., E-Comm is calling on residents to reserve emergency dispatchers for emergencies.

Several alternative hotlines and websites are available to report everything from power outages and landlord/tenant disputes to concerns around wildfire.



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