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Posted on: July 11, 2019

New firefighting team part of provincial response to wildfire emergencies

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SprinklersThe Town of High Level Fire Department’s expertise in home and building protection during a wildfire is being further boosted with a new team of specialists who will add even more protection and training for other communities.

The Town of High Level has been selected by the Province to host a Wildland Urban Interface Structural Protection Team. This fulltime, four-person team will be created by hiring firefighters from both within and outside the High Level Fire Department.

At its regular meeting on July 8, Council accepted the proposed budget for the team based on a successful grant application. There is a short timeline to get the team up and running – it must be made available by Aug. 1.

“We have a few short weeks to get going,” said Rodney Schmidt, Fire Chief and Director of Protective Services. “But we have a game plan and we are going to be advertising immediately.

“We will be doing a lot of quick shuffling.”

Funding from the Province through the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association in the amount of $580,000 has been supplied to cover wages, operations and maintenance. The team will be made up of four firefighters who will work here at home and answer the call as they are needed in provincial emergencies.

In addition to assisting with structure protection efforts, the team will be providing training to communities around the province as needed.

“They will be spending time with community fire departments and show them sprinkling and engine operations in that kind of event,” said Schmidt. “Including how to protect homes with various methods.”

At home, when they are not training or assisting in structural protection, the team will be fulfilling a number of tasks. One of their jobs will be teaching the community about FireSmart practices, and helping local homeowners learn more about self protection in the event of a wildfire. Additionally, the team will be helping with wildfire mitigation and assisting with emergency planning.

“We’re going to keep them pretty busy for 18 months,” said Schmidt. “Our hope is we prove the concept enough to the Province that they provide sustained, longterm funding for the teams.”

Should these teams prove worthwhile for the provincial government, there is a hope the program could be expanded to six or possible 10 teams around the province.

The final three communities in the running to host one of the two available teams were High Level, Lac La Biche, and Clearwater County. The fire department in Clearwater County was also selected to build a team.

“High Level has significant experience,” said Schmidt. “Not just from this year, but in the past few years with many deployments across the province – as well as assisting our neighbours in the Mackenzie region with structural protection and wildland urban interface.”

Currently, the only fulltime team in the province is in Slave Lake, who was involved in the decision-making process. The High Level program will be modelled after the Slave Lake program.

In the past, the province has provided ad-hoc support for wildfire emergencies. A fulltime team could be ready and on the road in under an hour, as opposed to several hours or even days which can be a reality for communities with volunteer fire departments.

“The concept we’re trying to prove is these teams of four firefighters with a sprinkler trailer, wildland engine, and some other equipment, to be able to go to these communities quickly and begin assisting them setting up wildfire protection systems,” said Schmidt.

The teams would be able to work alongside the ad hoc crews and provide leadership, expertise, and training.

“The fulltime team in Slave Lake was on the road within 45 minutes when we called them, and they stayed for two weeks,” Schmidt said. “That’s the kind of service we are trying to build for the province. When a community is in threat, you know there is immediately going to be help on the way.”

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