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

‘Gran’pa grew it, says young Stephen Nahirnick as he maintains a tight grip on one of Steve Nahirnick’s Hallowe’en pumpkins. Stephen is son of Jack and Joan Nahirnick and he took the opportunity last week to enjoy splendid autumn weather while perched on grandfather’s knee while the elder Nahirnick was harvesting luxuriant and large garden.’ (Lake News/Oct. 22, 1980)
Flashback: Halloween night full of activities, crime

Welcome to Lake Flashback. Reporter Sarah Simpson has been combing through old… Continue reading

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Cowichan Valley riding being called for Sonia Furstenau; Nanaimo-North Cowichan for Doug Routley

It’s officially Election Day in B.C.’s 2020 provincial snap election and the… Continue reading

Tanya Kaul, the Liberal candidate for Cowichan Valley, waves with her team on election night. (Submitted photo)
Kaul energized to run again for the Liberals in 4 years

“I have a team already in place so we’ll be ready.”

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Most Read