Disparities in emergency response services for off-road activities

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Allyson Beauregard


Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC TNO – Each year in Quebec, about 1,000 people are injured while participating in off-road activities, with 25 deaths, on average. Unfortunately, the public is often unaware of the dangers associated with off-road activities. This past spring, the Quebec Ombudsman released a report concerning the organization of off-road emergency services, stating there is often confusion and a lack of coordination in responding to emergency calls from areas that are not covered by 9-1-1 services, which make up about 75% of Quebec, and that ambulances and fire fighters are not obligated to respond to the calls. The MRC Pontiac’s Territoire Non-Organisé falls within this 75%.
When a distress call originates from the Pontiac TNO, the emergency dispatch centre informs the closest municipality. Although many of them do respond, municipal emergency response personnel are not obligated to do so and they often lack the proper equipment to provide adequate service. “Municipalities are responding to the calls by their own desire to help people out, but they are not required to do so,” said Jacques Piché, MRC Pontiac’s Fire Safety and Civil Security Coordinator. 
“The MRC is waiting on the Quebec government to answer the Ombudsman Report and devise a clear plan as to how the issues are to be dealt with,” he       continued. According to Piché, there is      currently some confusion in the municipalities as to who responds to the calls placed from the TNO, how they will respond, and who will foot the bill for the services rendered.
Although large insurance companies such as La Capitale offer coverage to individuals engaging in off-road activities in case of an emergency, local insurance companies such as Promutuel La Vallée, do not. Òff-road interventions lack organization, and communication is a big issue,” said Piché. As an interim measure, the TNO’s budget is responsible for reimbursing the responding municipality for the costs. Those neighbouring the TNO, such as Mansfield, Otter Lake and Waltham, are mainly affected.
Piché also explained the issue of calling for help using a cell phone. “When dialing *4141, the Quebec Police Service can be reached. However, if the cell phone is picking up a signal from an Ontario tower, *4141 doesn’t work and you must dial 911. Depending on where they are, people are better off to dial 911,” he concluded.