English-only fire service dispatch troubles Iqaluit councillor

Municipal pay packet making it hard to recruit bilingual staff to dispatch ambulances, police and fire trucks, fire chief says


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — The Town of Iqaluit has no full-time Inuktitut-speaking emergency services dispatcher and is having trouble finding one because it can’t compete with territorial government salaries.

“The package being offered by the town just isn’t as good as the salaries and benefits being offered by the territories,” said Wheaton.

Right now the standard procedure on a unilingual call is to try to get a house number and send out all of the troops — firefighters, ambulance and police and then send back the services that aren’t needed.

But Coun. Linda Gunn said Iqaluit needs a full time bilingual dispatcher.

“It surprises me we don’t have a full time person on each shift,” she said. “We live in a town where half of the populace speaks Inuktitut as a first language.”

Gunn said that young children and elders can often only speak Inuktitut.

No problem so far

“It’s never been an operational problem,” said Wheaton. Most callers can give a house number in English if nothing else, he said.

The municipality’s emergency services are looking at having part-time bilingual dispatchers on call Wheaton told the Town’s Public Works and Safety Committee on Wednesday night, but he said later this week the plan still hasn’t happened.

As suggested by Coun. John Matthews, Wheaton also asked local translating firms if they could be hired to provide a bilingual dispatching service.

“There’s been no response on that so far,” he said. “We recognize it’s a problem and we are trying to do something about it.

Complicating the recruitment is lengthy three-month security clearance process so dispatchers can handle RCMP calls. One fluently bilingual dispatcher was almost ready to begin working, but decided to go back to college by the time she got her clearance.

A new part time bilingual worker should soon be cleared to dispatch, but that still leaves two other shifts. Wheaton said the shift work it self can discourage potential recruits.

“A lot of people don’t like shift work,” Wheaton said.

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