Collaboration can help towns prepare for emergency

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Barbara Dean-Simmons
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Municipal leaders learn from others at MNL symposium

Arnold’s Cove Mayor Basil Daley had some advice for his municipal government peers.

“Look for common interests between communities, draw on expertise from your area and get people trained,” he told delegates to an emergency management and response conference last week.

Daley was among the over 200 delegates in Gander for the two-day conference, followed by a two-day Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) symposium.

The emergency management conference April 30-May 1 featured presentations and panel discussions, with representatives from Fire and Emergency Services (FES) and the Canadian Red Cross offering information and advice.

During the panel discussion on Thursday, Mayor Daley outlined how towns in the Arnold’s Cove area built the Isthmus of Avalon Emergency Plan and how they co-operate and collaborate to ensure it works.

In the past few months, the emergency plan has been put to work.

When a transformer caught fire at a Newfoundland Hydro substation at Sunnyside, the local fire departments were called to assist.

Working in shifts, he said, the local Fire Department members were on standby at the site, after the fire, to ensure safety.

Last fall a power outage at the refinery in Come By Chance put their emergency plan to the test as well.

When the power went the refinery had to flare out to reduce pressure in its processing unit. The local Fire Departments were called out to ensure safety in the vicinity of the refinery.

Mayor Daley noted they had practiced for such a scenario in a “table top” exercise — a practice session that is part of ongoing training in the emergency plan.

So they were prepared for what had to be done and who to do it.

He said there were some lessons learned as well, through that emergency situation at the refinery.

“What we didn’t realize until later was that someone had posted on Facebook that the refinery was on fire, which wasn’t the case,” said Mayor Daley. “And of course that news travelled faster than you can imagine.”

The lesson for the Fire Department and the local towns, he said, is to ensure they use their own Facebook pages as a communication tool, to make sure the right message gets out regarding emergency situations.

The spirit of co-operation can also mean cost-savings for fire departments in neighbouring communities, said Daley.

He explained there is one Jaws of Life in the area served by the departments in the four major towns on the isthmus — Sunnyside, Come By Chance, Arnold’s Cove and Southern Harbour. Rather than have a jaws of life situated at each department, the equipment is shared among the departments and there’s a schedule in place for each department to have the Jaws of Life and respond to highway emergencies that occur during that time frame.

Fire Chief Vince Mackenzie applauded the example being set by the Isthmus towns, and other towns in the province that have started on the path of collaboration.

“When you put the services of small communities together, you can be big,” he told delegates, adding, “We’re seeing many communities talking to each other and going with regional fire fighting services.”

In central Newfoundland, he noted, four volunteer fire departments have a combined service agreement to help each other in cases of emergency.

The benefit for the region, said Mackenzie, is that among the four departments there are 110 firefighters available to assist in the event of any emergency within that region.

In addition to the benefit of having, collectively, a large number of volunteer firefighters, Mackenzie says regional co-operation can ensure more training and at less cost.

Instead of one fire department having to send their members to a training session in another part of the province, he said, and struggling to cover the costs of travel and accommodations, the fire departments can collaborate to bring a trainer to them. That means savings for all departments, and the ability to train more members.

In addition to planning for reaction to emergencies, municipal delegates were encouraged to take a look around their towns and think about ways they can work to prevent emergencies; especially weather-related emergencies.

Robert Keenan, Community Cooperation officer with MNL, in a session on “mitigating natural disasters” said climate-change related emergencies would continue to be issues for towns.

“Pre-emptive actions might always be popular,” he said, in terms of laying down the rules on where and how people can build, but he said it’s important to consider things like at risk areas for flooding when developing town plans or handing out development permits.

The key message, however, centered on the benefits of working together.

Mayor Daley encouraged towns to look to their neighbours to help create strong emergency preparedness plans. He also advised them to seek the help of Fire and Emergency Services for assistance, noting the organization was a great help in the building of the emergency plan for his region.

bsimmons@thepacket.ca

Organizations: Fire and Emergency Services, Fire Department, Canadian Red Cross Isthmus of Avalon Emergency Plan

Geographic location: Gander, Southern Harbour, Newfoundland

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