Sahtu

Norman Wells fire department deals with slew of prank calls


For the past month, the story has been the same. Norman Wells' fire department gets a call to its emergency line. When the dispatcher picks up, the line is silent. Then the caller hangs up.

Fire chief Randy Sinasac says his volunteer fire department has received dozens of these calls over the past month and they show no sign of stopping.

The calls tie up emergency phone lines and discourage the 11 firefighters serving in the community of 800 or so people. With no dedicated dispatch staff, Sinasac and his team are answering the calls themselves.

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"It's hard enough to have a volunteer who has regular family duties and responsibilities, a regular full-time job – to do this above and beyond, to be woken up in the middle of the night to attend emergencies and fire calls," Sinasac told Cabin Radio.

"But to be woken up unnecessarily, over and over and over again, certainly has a tremendous effect. It's very discouraging for my staff."

Sinasac says larger communities, with their own dispatch centres, would simply disregard a so-called "hang-up call." But Norman Wells has no such centre and no bank of multiple phone lines.

The firefighters can only take one call at a time. If the emergency line is active, a second person calling will not be able to get through.

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That's one frustration for Sinasac. The other is "cry wolf syndrome" – the worry that repeated false alarms may eventually lead people to pay less attention if, or when, a real alarm comes along.

"That has far-reaching effects," he said, "not only on the attitude of the department and the ability of the department to function ... but actually speaks to the logistics of the system we have in place.

"We're trying to address it, firstly, by appealing to the community at large to say this is what's going on. It has a tremendous effect on operations, so we're trying to address it."

The fire department is in "active talks" with RCMP about the calls, Sinasac said.

Anyone with information about the calls is asked to contact the Norman Wells RCMP detachment at 867-587-1111, or the town's senior administrative officer at 867-587-3700.

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