Helping those who help: Assistance dog joins B.C.’s largest 9-1-1 team

Vancouver, B.C.—In what’s believed to be a first for a 9-1-1 emergency call centre in Canada, E-Comm (Emergency Communications for British Columbia) is adding 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, joins 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,” added 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 were focused on supporting police, paramedics, nurses and social workers, who can also experience trauma in their line of work while caring for others.

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.

“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,” shared 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.”

“PADS has a strong commitment to first responders, whether they are in the field or at the other end of a call to 9-1-1,” said Laura Watamanuk, PADS Executive Director. “We’ve enjoyed providing support to E-Comm in the past through informal de-stress events with our puppies in training, so we’re thrilled that they now have a full-time canine member on their team. The timing of this could not be more fitting, given it’s Emergency Service Dispatchers’ week – a time to acknowledge the critical role of 9-1-1 staff and the unique challenges of the job.” Koltan is purpose bred and trained for his role and his ability to help dissipate stress and increase wellness. “He’s shown us just how brilliant he is at his job, and we know, together with Lynn, they will be of great support to
E-Comm staff,” added Watamanuk.

-30-

Photo/Interview Opportunity
E-Comm invites the media to its Lower Mainland emergency communications centre at 3301 East Pender Street on April 8 between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to meet Lynn Gifford and Koltan, along with PADS Executive Director Laura Watamanuk. An E-Comm call taker/training specialist will also be available to speak with media.

Please confirm your attendance in advance by emailing corpcomm@ecomm911.ca

Note: Photo identification is required to enter the E-Comm building. Photos and video in the Emergency Communications Centre is permitted under specific conditions.

This announcement comes during this year’s Emergency Service Dispatchers’ and 9-1-1 Awareness Week (April 7-13, 2019). Proclaimed by the Province of B.C., the annual week recognizes the critical role of call takers and dispatchers in keeping the public and police, fire and ambulance personnel safe.

About E-Comm
E-Comm is the first point of contact for 9-1-1 callers in 25 regional districts in British Columbia and provides dispatch services for more than 70 police agencies and fire departments. E‐Comm also owns and operates the largest multi‐jurisdictional, tri‐service wide‐area radio network in the province used by police, fire and ambulance personnel throughout Metro Vancouver and parts of the Fraser Valley. For more information visit www.ecomm911.ca.

About PADS
Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) breeds, raises and trains fully certified assistance dogs. Our service (mobility & PTSD) and hearing dogs provide life-changing independence to those with physical disabilities other than blindness. Our accredited facility dogs work with community professionals, such as teachers, RCMP and psychologists to help support healthy communities. PADS is a fully accredited member of Assistance Dogs International.

Media Contacts:
E-Comm
Sam Corea
604-215-4877
sam.corea@ecomm911.ca

Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS)
Tara Doherty
604-527-0556 x.236
tara@pads.ca