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Opening lines of communication

November 15, 2012
Raina Delisle
Dustine and Pascal Rodier

If you watch CSI or Hawaii Five-0 you may have some misconceptions about how Canadian emergency responders communicate.

Many people wrongly assume that police, fire and EMS agencies have the ability to immediately and directly communicate with each other during joint responses to emergencies. While this is not usually the case, MA Leadership, Health Specialization alumnus and EMS veteran Pascal Rodier is trying to change that.

For his significant commitment and contribution to improving public safety nationally by promoting communications interoperability – the ability of public safety agencies to exchange voice and/or data with one another on demand and in real time – Rodier received a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in October.

“Interoperability is a fairly unknown thing,” says Rodier, who spent 24 years with the B.C. Ambulance Service, progressing from paramedic to superintendent, before joining Ambulance New Brunswick as an operations manager in March. “It’s tough to argue for something that agencies may or may not put as a priority. It’s a difficult political and public fight because people haven’t heard of it. Taxpayers expect that we can do all this stuff you see on TV.”

In reality, for example, if firefighters are first on the scene on a car crash, the only way they can correspond with police and ambulance responders is to go through their dispatch centre. To get an update to police, firefighters would have to contact the fire dispatcher, who would take the information and call the police dispatcher, who would relay the information to the police officers.

“It’s much like a parlour game where I whisper to you and then it goes around the circle and the message comes back to me,” Rodier says. “Nine times out of 10, the message has changed somewhat based on people’s interpretations and delivery.”

While interoperability may not be top of mind for most Canadians, Rodier has significantly contributed to moving the issue forward. He is a founding member of the Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group, which was established in 2007, and he was part of the national working group that wrote the Communications Interoperability Strategy and Action Plan for Canada.

More recently, he represented all EMS chiefs across Canada in an effort to secure government-owned bandwidth dedicated to emergency responders’ communications. With two colleagues from the national fire and police chiefs associations, Rodier was successful in applying to the government and securing some of the bandwidth with efforts continuing to get more. Dedicated bandwidth will also bring Canada in line with the United States so information can be shared across the border.

Rodier has also led interoperability initiatives on a smaller scale. He was part of the team that brought voice interoperability to Richmond, B.C., in 2003, making it the first Canadian city where responders were able to speak to each other on a shared digital frequency. Other agencies across the Lower Mainland have since adopted similar technology.

School of Leadership associate faculty member Barbara Stoddard says Rodier is a dedicated and accomplished community leader and a credit to Royal Roads.

“Pascal is a thoughtful and passionate scholar with a sincere desire to apply his learning to his professional practice,” Stoddard says. “In doing so, he models the way and engages wholeheartedly in activities that further the health and well-being of his community. In his professional practice, Pascal models values-based leadership, commitment to community, dedication to workplace and an engaging joie de vivre.”

While advocating for interoperability may have its challenges, Rodier says the benefits are far reaching.

“When we look at traumatic events like 9-11 when messages for whatever reason didn’t get to the people they needed to get to, lots of people died who didn’t have to die,” he says. “Yes, we take risk every day, but we can take controlled risks and with the right information we can save some of our responders. If our work in interoperability saves one responder and also helps improve our service delivery that makes it worthwhile for me.”

Photo: Pascal Rodier and his wife, Dustine, at a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal celebratory dinner in Montreal in October.