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.

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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

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