J.W. Schnarr and Trevor Busch
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Southern Alberta first responders are answering the call and stand ready as wildfires have devastated the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray.
A number of southern Alberta communities are on standby or are actively sending emergency workers to the region to assist the battle to contain a blaze that has caused more than 80,000 people to be ordered from their homes.
Taber town council called a special meeting on May 4 to discuss the issue. The Taber Fire Department has made available a volunteer contingent of four firefighters and a wildland fire vehicle to deploy if ordered.
“Nobody has been shipped from Taber yet,” said fire chief Steve Munshaw on Thursday. “We’re on standby and awaiting deployment if needed, and we have approval from council to support that direction. We’re just waiting for deployment. It may or may not happen. Weather conditions are one of the situations that we’re waiting on.”
Town of Taber CAO Greg Birch indicated the municipality is likely to be reimbursed by the province for the expense of any operations they might become involved.
“We had a special council meeting. The bottom line was what we are able to provide, and what council approved, was that we could send a wildland unit, with wildland grass fire fighting capability. That, and four firefighters. There will be a cost, but the province is likely to reimburse that.”
Munshaw explained that in the event of a province-wide emergency situation, available resources are collated and marshalled for potential deployment to crisis areas.
“In southern Alberta because of the wildfires in the north, they were asking for a resource list. The ECC (Emegency Co-ordination Centre) in Lethbridge, is working together to build a resource list, from basically Nanton south to the U.S. border, and the B.C. border to the Saskatchewan border. So they’re trying to get all those reources available, between fire departments, work departments, administration departments, so they know who is available to deploy north. They’re in conversation with the POC (Provincial Operations Centre).”
“They’ve declared a provincial state of emergency, and they’re in charge of the province right now for what goes where, when, and how.”
The Municipal District of Taber and Taber/Vauxhall RCMP will be sending Municipal Enhanced Policing Officer Cst. Melanie Schefter for a two-week period in order to assist with policing duties in Fort McMurray.
As of last week, the Coaldale Fire Department was committed to contributing to the Provincial Operations Centre, and are currently on standby and waiting to hear if they will be needed. Lethbridge County fire departments are on standby, and have forwarded a resource list including five emergency personnel, six public works personnel and one piece of equipment to the POC.
A crew of five firefighters, including MD of Willow Creek Emergency Services Manager Travis Coleman, left for Fort McMurray May 4, according to their Facebook page.
“So we’ve gotten permission from council to send a truck, a wildland unit with four personnel, to Fort McMurray, if needed, or wherever the Provincial Operations Centre needs us for suppression activities,” said Munshaw on Friday. “We have not deployed or sent anybody out.”
As of Monday evening’s council meeting, no Town of Taber firefighters have been deployed to the north, and they remain on standby.