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P.E.I. Green leader questions why 13 fire departments without non-cellular communications system

Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says he has been pleased to see all three parties sharing details of government and private members bills. But he cautions that a minority government without a formal agreement could be unstable.
Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker works in his office in this Guardian file photo. - Stu Neatby
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is questioning why 13 fire districts have been left without a functioning communications system beyond cellphone networks.
On July 1, telecommunications company Bell discontinued a pager service on Prince Edward Island. The service has been in use by 13 fire departments.
During question period on Wednesday, Bevan-Baker asked Justice and Public Safety Minister Bloyce Thompson about the province’s plans for reliable communications equipment between emergency response personnel. 
"Why has this vital part of the emergency protective system been allowed to lapse without a suitable replacement?" Bevan-Baker asked.
In response, Thompson said fire departments across P.E.I. were notified by Bell the system would be phased out last November. He said 23 fire departments have found other communications systems but 13 have not. 
The 13 remaining volunteer fire departments do not have a communications system beyond cellphone networks.
“I met with the fire marshal this morning, and he assured me that all firefighters are able to get called to fires today. He assured me that all fires would be taken care of," Thompson said.
In an interview, Thompson said the Bell pager system was discontinued because it was out-of-date and no longer supported by the network. He also said the 23 departments that have updated their communications system have been using a combination of localized radio, other communications systems and cell network apps. The 13 remaining are relying solely on cell networks, often using IamResponding, an emergency response app. 
"They all have cellphones, of course, and most fire departments are using the IamResponding app and they seem to like that app quite well," Thompson said.
But Bevan-Baker suggested cell networks may not be adequately reliable for volunteer fire personnel.
"We all know how very easy it is to accidentally disable your cellphone or leave it unattended or some other incident," Bevan-Baker said during question period.
Thompson said the responsibility for upgrading communications equipment falls on municipalities and local fire departments.     
He said municipalities can apply for provincial assistance to upgrade these systems through the Growth Initiative Fund. He said costs for upgrades may vary, but he noted that the community of Wellington recently obtained $25,000 in provincial funding to upgrade their system.
"We gave them plenty of notice and the fire marshal was in contact with them regularly,” Thompson said.

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