Dispatcher at Campbell River fire dispatch centre during wind storms on Dec. 20. Photo courtesy Campbell River Fire Department

Toppled power lines trap people in B.C. dispatcher’s record-breaking day

Wind storm generated roughly 500 emergency calls, mostly from central Vancouver Island

Intense winds led to record-breaking call volumes for fire dispatchers on Thursday, as toppled hydro lines trapped residents in their homes and falling trees blocked roads and destroyed property.

That’s according to Stephanie Bremer, who manages the fire dispatch centre in Campbell River. The centre handles emergency calls for 61 fire departments.

By the time Bremer finished work at 9:30 p.m., the dispatch centre had received nearly 500 calls, mostly from the central Island.

READ MORE: Highway 4 reopens between Qualicum and west coast

The dispatch centre processes about 12,000 files per year. If Thursday’s calls were the norm, that number would be closer to 180,000, she said.

“That was a significant amount of calls for our centre,” said Bremer. “(Thursday) was actually the busiest day that we’ve ever had in the history of our dispatch centre.”

The centre, which was established in 1995, fields calls for 50 fire departments on northern and central Vancouver Island and 11 in northeastern B.C.

As high winds caused power lines to fall under the weight of trees, many people were trapped inside their homes.

“They were feeling that they weren’t actually able to safely leave their residence,” she said. “A lot of these hydro lines were actually still live.”

Falling trees also blocked roads, smashed into homes, broke windows and damaged vehicles.

PHOTOS: Local resident captures images of waves battering the coast in Campbell River

The wild weather led to several car crashes, and four structure fires were potentially caused by fallen power lines.

“We had a few instances where hydro poles were actually snapped,” Bremer said. “Hydro poles were coming down (and) transformers were coming down, creating very unsafe situations.”

Up to six dispatchers were on duty, compared to the usual two, she said. The influx of calls prompted staff to activate the backup centre, which is normally reserved in case the main centre is evacuated.

On Friday, the centre was still receiving reports of people waking up or coming home to damaged power lines and fallen trees, but overall the situation had calmed considerably.

Bremer said Thursday’s effort was a good opportunity to test the resources of the dispatch centre, and a great example of teamwork by emergency personnel.

READ MORE: Man rescued after B.C. city’s pier breaks up in wind storm

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Salmon Arm mayor supports parking solution for hungry truckers

Alternative to Highway 1 suggested for drivers wanting access to McDonald’s

Column: Keeping distance, working together and readying for rebound

Council Report by Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

Shuswap food bank gives away three months of food in one week

High demand in face of COVID-19, Eagle Valley Community Support Society appeals for donations

Second Vernon-area high school exposed to COVID-19

Kalamalka Secondary School staff, students urged to self-isolate if showing symptoms

Okanagan woman baking for those in need amid COVID-19

Vernon’s Crystal Hedlund launched a GoFundMe page to generate funds for baking materials

Okanagan distillery hands out thousands of sanitizer bottles, needs help in COVID-19 fight

Okanagan Springs is donating hand sanitizer to help fill COVID-induced shortages

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

‘Tremendous’ response from blood donors has supply keeping pace with demand

About 400,000 of Canada’s 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis

Morning world update: Cases surge past 600,000; positive news in Germany

Spain suffers its deadliest day as Germany considers April 20 to possibly loosen restrictions

Most Read