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

Sidney to remember ‘dog whisperer’ Terry Westcott

Terry Westcott has been meeting and greeting dogs in Beacon Park for years

Resident mistakes screaming teens’ late-night plunge for an emergency

Big week for Oak Bay Police who respond to rampant theft in Oak Bay, host Polar Plunge

Trees Cannabis director fined $1.5 million for selling marijuana

Fine follows provincial crackdown on popular dispensary

2020 Budget: ICBC ‘dumpster fire’ to turn into $86M surplus, NDP say

ICBC operating with $91-million deficit for 2019-2020 fiscal year

Victims tell of abuse at hands of Victoria substitute teacher

Harry Charles Sadd pleaded guilty to eight charges that took place between 1970 to 1982

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

POLL: Do you support the proposed changes for ICBC?

Tuesday’s provincial budget predicted a shift from shortfall to surplus in wake… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 18

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

World Cup skier from Okanagan dies suddenly at 19

Kuroda, who made his World Cup debut earlier this year, passed away suddenly Monday night.

Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

What’s in a name? The story of Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie

It’s likely the iconic peak had several Indigenous peoples’ names before settlers arrived

Budget 2020: B.C. Liberals blast ‘Netflix tax,’ lack of economic plan

ICBC rates still go up, except in election year, Shirley Bond says

Budget 2020: B.C. adds tax to sweet drinks and sodas

All soda, vending machine drinks will be subject to higher PST

Most Read