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This article was published 8/8/2018 (810 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WEST ST. PAUL -- The Pallister government has awarded a $380-million contract to Bell Mobility Inc., to replace Manitoba's crumbling emergency mobile communications service.
The 15-year agreement will see the establishment of a new, digital two-way radio system that will improve coverage over a more secure system, Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said Wednesday.
It replaces the FleetNet system currently used provincewide by fire, ambulance and police services, conservation officers and forest firefighting crews.
The current system has deteriorated to the point where its users are experiencing "frequent service failures," Squires said. Certain equipment parts are no longer being manufactured, and have had to be sourced on eBay, she said, blaming inattention by the former NDP government for the predicament.
The new equipment will include radios with GPS technology, which will track the location of first responders to improve their safety.
"It will enable them to work more effectively together. It will make their jobs safer. And it will save lives," Squires said at one of several simultaneous news conferences held by Premier Brian Pallister and his ministers throughout the province Wednesday to trumpet the new deal.
The BCE Inc. subsidiary is receiving the large tendered contract at a time when questions are being asked about the quality of its cellphone coverage in some parts of Manitoba -- including the Rural Municipality of Alonsa, where an EF-4 tornado Friday evening destroyed homes and killed a 77-year old man.
BCE, via another subsidiary, Bell MTS Inc., has also been asked for an accounting of its commitment two years ago to spend $1 billion in Manitoba over five years on wireless, internet and TV services.
Gary Semplonius, senior vice-president, business and marketing sales with Bell Canada, said the new emergency communications system will also allow Manitoba officials to hookup with counterparts in other parts of Canada, as well as neighbouring states.
He said Bell already provides the same service in several other provinces. Manitoba is believed to be the last province to upgrade its emergency mobile communications system.
Municipalities and first responders welcomed the new service, which is expected to be fully implemented by 2021.
Chris Goertzen, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, said his organization has been pushing for system improvements since devastating wildfires struck the RM of Stuartburn and other southeastern Manitoba communities several years ago.
The FleetNet system failed when emergency responders needed it most, Goertzen said. Firefighters and volunteers were unable to communicate with each other while battling the fires.
"This situation should never have happened. The safety of area residents should never have been jeopardized due to obsolete technology," Goertzen said.
Brent Bekiaris, chairman of the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, said the new system will allow dispatch centres to deploy paramedics more efficiently and effectively provincewide.
The new technology will also allow for various emergency service agencies to communicate with one another during floods, wildfires and other emergencies.
There are times when "critical information" needs to be shared among fire, paramedic and police services to protect citizens, Bekiaris said.
"Historically, there have been barriers in relaying this important information," he said. "But with this new technology, many of these challenges should be eliminated going forward."
He said the GPS data will also be valuable to paramedics in remote areas of the province who face long patient transports, often under adverse road conditions.
Semplonius said Bell Mobility is partnering with Motorola Solutions Canada and Broadband Communications North Inc. in launching the new service. The coverage network consists of 213,000 square kilometres, he said.
Five new towers will be built in the province's north to expand service. The network currently consists of 153 towers.
Semplonius referred questions about the company's promise to invest $1 billion in Manitoba over five years to another subsidiary, Bell Media Inc.
"I don't have the details of where we stand in our total spend on infrastructure in the province," he told reporters Wednesday.
Both he and the province noted the $380-million emergency communications service contract does not count towards the fulfillment of the company's pledge.
Michelle Gazze, a spokeswoman for Bell MTS, sent the Free Press a list of some of the system improvements the company has made in Manitoba over the past two years. But she balked at providing an updated spending estimate.
"We wouldn't provide a competitive figure like that," Gazze said in an email.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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