Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership (GPREP) is developing new partnerships while prepping for another wildfire season.

The pilot projects rolled out this year may include the Canadian Red Cross and Team Rubicon. 

“They’re very skilled when it comes to emergency social services,” said city Chief Public and Protective Services Officer Dan Lemieux.

He said partnering with volunteer organizations could help minimize the impact on local municipalities’ staff time spent on emergency tasks.

Last year, GPREP supported local evacuees from the Dunes West fire in May and then again to NWT evacuees in August.

GPREP is a partnership between the city, County of Grande Prairie and towns of Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, and Wembley, which co-ordinates resources and personnel in response to large-scale emergencies. 

Lemieux said agreements with partners such as Technical Search and Rescue and private sector organizations are being made. 

“There are also some private sector organizations that have Incident Command System (ICS) training,” said Lemieux.

He noted that organizations in the oil and gas industry have reached out to offer help and have even participated in joint exercises. 

“We’ve conducted a debrief of GP 911 to identify operational dispatch requirements during activations the local fire departments have met to make sure that their response plans are aligned.”

He noted plans have also been aligned with Alberta Agricultural and Forestry and Alberta Wildfire.

Coun. Chris Thiessen said some residents were frustrated last year that they couldn’t help with fire prevention and fighting.

“There’s a resources section where we keep track of what’s available in the community in terms of resources, and certainly if people have offered resources during a major incident and we keep track of those individuals and if they have the skill set if they have the training, we may access those resources,” said Lemieux. 

“One thing you have to understand is that accountability is absolutely critical on an incident site. “We cannot have people freelance and just show up and start doing activities that may not align with our incident action plan.”

Coun. Dylan Bressey said he understands the need for firefighting training but would like to see more training for volunteers in emergency social services instead of municipal staff performing those tasks. 

“My wife got deployed as a volunteer for the Salvation Army last year for a couple of weeks to cook for evacuees up near Slave Lake. It was a really meaningful experience for her and made our family really proud of her, and I would love other people in our community to have that experience if they’re needed,” said Bressey.

“I also know that I saw a lot of hostility and upset from the public last year just seeking to understand how these emergencies work and if we train some people in our community to be volunteers, even if they never showed up because of whatever they’d understand was going on.” 

GPREP changes

After last year’s GPREP activations, debriefs with all the local fire departments were conducted, which resulted in some changes to the organization. 

The organization will begin classifying and announcing the incident type, with five types of incidents, and then determine the incident commander if incidents change.

Lemieux said that announcement didn’t happen last year when the Dunes West Fire changed from a type four fire to a type three.

 “We had people out in the field that were calling themselves incident commanders (and) we have people in the incident command post that were calling themselves incident commander; it caused a little bit of confusion,” he said.

Lemieux said the Dunes West fire moved so quickly that a decision was made to make an incident command post and an emergency co-ordination centre. Now, he said, those two will be together and work together to share resources.

Recovery is also part of the advanced planning done during an emergency, which includes what is to be done when the fire is extinguished and how to help the people after an incident.

“We really learned during COVID because of how businesses were affected that we couldn’t ignore recovery as GPREP,” said Lemieux. He noted the Dunes West fire recovery was a large portion on how to reintegrate people and help those who lost their homes.

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 04, 2024 at 08:53

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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