Mark Gotell

Georgetown Fire Chief Mark Gotell addressed Three Rivers Council Monday evening. Georgetown is one of 13 fire departments left in a lurch when Bell Canada pulled the plug on an Island-wide pager system. Charlotte MacAulay photo

Three eastern PEI volunteer fire departments are among 13 Island-wide left in a lurch on July 2 when Bell Canada shut off their tip-to-tip pager system.

“We hoped we wouldn’t get to this point. We’d hoped the government would intervene with the millions of dollars taxpayers have put into Bell over the years,” Georgetown Fire Chief Mark Gotell said, explaining the 13 departments were notified in January the service would be discontinued.

“We will get our calls, but that’s not saying there wouldn’t be a delay,” Mr Gotell said, taking into account spotty cell service and firefighters who don’t have data on their mobile phones.

Twenty-three other PEI fire departments have used their own individual systems for years and that isn’t a route the remaining departments want to take, Mr Gotell said.

“We agreed to go after another Island-wide system because when you are tied to your own, you are limited to as far as your VHF radios will reach,” Mr Gotell explained to Three Rivers Councillors during a presentation Monday night.

Mr Gotell asked council to write a letter to the Ministers of Communities and Public Safety as well as the premier in support of an Island-wide system.

He also wanted to clear up any misconceptions as to the chain of events leading up to the shutoff.

Since February, the 13 departments which includes Georgetown, Central Kings and Vernon River have been taking their own steps to bring back an Island-wide pager system, but government involvement up to now hasn’t helped.

The first step was to get the PEI Firefighters Association to back them in a pitch to the then Liberal government.

Initially they wanted an extension to the shutoff to give them time to build their own network because “you can’t build a pager system overnight.”

With the provincial election looming there was no minister to speak to Bell on the firefighter's behalf and talks stalled.

When the new government came into power the departments lobbying for the change were advised to go back where they had orginially started - to the PEI Firefighters Association.

The 13 departments are now in negotiations with a PEI company to provide the service.

In the meantime the affected departments are dependent on cell service, which is far removed from Island-wide pager service.

Shutting down the system also affects provincial forestry workers and Pat & The Elephant, a nonprofit transportation service for the physically disabled.

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