911 toronto

The 911 call centre in Toronto is so understaffed it sometimes has fewer than 10 dispatchers

People in urgent situations in Toronto may be finding it terrifyingly difficult to access emergency services lately as the city struggles with a dearth of first responders and, as it was just revealed, 911 dispatchers.

Many were shocked when paramedic services tweeted that there were absolutely no units available to respond to calls one Saturday evening earlier this month, the result of what the union says have been ongoing problems with understaffing and underfunding.

"In the event of a major crisis or disaster, [we're] screwed because they have no surge capacity in the system," the paramedic union chair for CUPE Local 416 told reporters at the time.

But that's not the only issue impacting response times: A recent CBC investigation showed that residents calling 911 may be left on hold for up to a staggering 10 minutes, a period that could be the difference between life and death in some circumstances.

There have been days when there are less than 10 dispatchers working at a time to respond to emergencies for the entire city, which one operator told the news outlet is clearly not enough to fulfill their duty to the public and respond to the hundreds of calls that come in each hour.

Work shortages due to burnout, vaccine mandates and more have meant very inconsistent staffing and hold times for those who call in, even prior to the pandemic

The issue is so prevalent that the Toronto Auditor General launched an audit of the city's 911 public safety answering point in fall 2020, which is due to be completed sometime in 2022.

In the meantime, workers are being brought over from police dispatch to fill voids and the service is putting a huge emphasis on hiring and training more staff ASAP.

Lead photo by

Jack Landau

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