Assistance dog joins B.C.’s largest 9-1-1 team

Lynn Gifford and Koltan are now part of E-Comm’s public safety team.
Lynn Gifford and Koltan are now part of E-Comm’s public safety team.

In what’s believed to be a first for a 9-1-1 emergency call centre in Canada, E-Comm has added a registered clinical counsellor and certified assistance dog to its public safety team.

“Working behind the scenes, emergency call takers and dispatchers are the first, first responders and are on the frontlines of incredibly serious situations,” said Oliver Grüter-Andrew, E-Comm President and CEO. “We see this mental health and wellness initiative as an important way to help our staff cope with the day-to-day challenges of the job, especially in the aftermath of emotionally-wrought calls and events.”

Lynn Gifford, a specialist in trauma stewardship, has joined E-Comm as its full-time Workplace Wellness Manager along with certified assistance dog Koltan, a four-year-old Yellow Labrador Retriever.

“We are honoured to be able to work directly with this team of dedicated emergency communications professionals,” said Gifford. “Whether they are answering or dispatching emergency calls or maintaining critical technology that are lifelines for first responders, the work of E-Comm staff is essential to public safety.”

Before joining E-Comm, Gifford and Koltan had been focused on supporting police, paramedics, nurses and social workers, who have also experienced various trauma in their line of work while caring for others.

Koltan was trained by the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society—known as PADS.  It breeds, raises and trains fully certified assistance dogs. PADS’ accredited facility dogs work with community professionals, such as teachers, RCMP and psychologists to help support healthy communities.

Research shows emergency call takers and dispatchers experience an elevated level of emotional distress doing their work compared to other professions and their exposure to duty-related trauma can lead to occupational stress injuries including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As part of E-Comm’s Critical Incident Stress Team program, therapy dogs have visited E-Comm in the past, providing comfort and support following serious events.

Koltan with E-Comm Training Specialist Jordan Robitaille.
Koltan with E-Comm Training Specialist Jordan Robitaille.

E-Comm Training Specialist Jordan Robitaille, who is also a call taker and dispatcher, says Koltan will provide extra support and comfort for staff. “There are some days when you are going to have rough calls and will think about them at home. When you have a big call your adrenaline can be through the roof.” But when Koltan is at your side, “he essentially forces cuddles upon you. How can you say no to that? It’s amazing.”

“Combined with peer support, and other health and well-being initiatives, we are focused on making sure our staff remain healthy both mentally and physically,” added Grüter-Andrew. “I liken it to being on an airplane. You need to put your own oxygen mask on first if you want to help others.”