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Messy roommate, mixed-up coffee order among ‘nuisance’ 911 calls made in B.C. in 2021

An E-Comm operator fields a 911 call from a centre in B.C.'s Lower Mainland. Courtesy: E-Comm

British Columbia’s largest 911 dispatch service has released its top 10 list of “nuisance” calls in 2021.

E-Comm responded to more than 1.9 million calls last year, including countless inquiries that don’t belong on 911.

The non-urgent inquiries strained the system as it dealt with “record-setting influxes” of calls from people experiencing real emergencies, according to E-Comm.

Despite its efforts to direct the public to appropriate resources for their concerns, many of last year’s time-wasting calls are “repeat offenders,” it said in a news release.

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Topping the chart is the person who called 911 about a barista who mixed up their coffee order, followed by the pedestrian who was splashed on the sidewalk.

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Another caller dialled 911 to request a COVID-19 test, while someone else called to inquire about becoming a 911 operator.

Someone else wanted to know where they could vote during the federal election.

Operators also took calls from British Columbians looking for directions and updates about the weather, or wondering why their bus wasn’t coming.

Others inquired about COVID-19 restrictions, and one caller complained to a dispatcher about their messy roommate.

“Our staff worked tirelessly throughout the heat dome, wildfires and flooding emergencies to support our first responder partners and get help to those who needed it as quickly as possible,” said Jasmine Bradley, E-Comm’s executive director of communications.

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“It was disheartening to learn that we continued to receive 9-1-1 calls from people looking for information or trying to make general service complaints when so many communities were experiencing critical emergency situations.”

Click to play video: '911 dispatchers blast temporary solution to call delays'
911 dispatchers blast temporary solution to call delays

Bradley said call-takers are trained to treat every call that comes through as an emergency until they can determine otherwise.

“Every second that they spend speaking with someone who is upset about a mixed-up coffee order or wanting to report a messy roommate, is time they could have been helping someone in a life-threatening situation.”

E-Comm fields 99 per cent of 911 calls from British Columbians, and in 2021, reported several record-setting days for call volume.

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Last month, it implemented a temporary policy change that would allow its call-takers to hang up on people waiting for an ambulance, in order to free up operators to take more calls. Previously, they were required to wait on the line until the caller was connected to BC Emergency Health Services.

In a written statement on Wednesday, E-Comm said its 911 services had improved since then and the average time it took callers to connect with a 911 dispatcher was three seconds.

Bradley said Friday, “9-1-1 is the first point of contact for someone experiencing a life or death emergency, it is critical these lines are free from non-urgent situations so our call takers can get people the help they need, as quickly as possible.”

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