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After 66 days and thousands of man hours, July 23 marked the first day the High Level Fire Department was not involved in fighting the Chuckegg Creek fire.
While the department is still monitoring the situation and still ready to assist as needed, there are currently no active High Level Fire Department resources on the fire. Additionally, the final out-of-town crews from Clearwater County, Red Deer County, and Saracen Fire and Rescue left High Level on July 26.
“They were helping us take down sprinklers from the Machesis Lake area,” said Director of Protective Services and High Level Fire Chief Rodney Schmidt.
The 66 days spent dealing with the Chuckegg Creek fire mark the single longest incident dealt with by the High Level Fire Department.
“Some of our members served continuously throughout that event,” said Schmidt. “It was really challenging to be part of such a large operation.”
That operation was marked by the successful defence of the community of High Level, and also marked the first time a regional incident command team was used.
Schmidt said the community’s preparedness for the event was one of the biggest factors in the successful defence of the town.
“We had a plan, and we executed the plan,” he said. “And then we tweaked the plan as we felt it needed to be changed, and we successfully evacuated the community.
“It was a full community effort.”
One of the biggest lessons learned from defending the town was the importance of relationships – whether that was the close working relationship between the High Level Fire Department and Alberta Wildfire fire fighters in dealing with the fire itself, or Administrative staff working together and with outside agencies providing vital assistance where it was needed.
“The take-home from that is hopefully that we will set the standard for how other operations should run in the future with other municipalities,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt said he was proud of the department for the commitment they have shown over the past 66 days.
“The dedication they have shown has gone well and above the call of duty,” said Schmidt. “They stayed behind when other people left, and they put their lived on the line in those first few weeks, fighting that fire.
“And they had a ton of success.”
Mayor Crystal McAteer thanked all those who answered the call when High Level needed them.
“On behalf of the Town of High Level and its residents, I want to thank everyone who came together during our time of need and helped save our community,” said Mayor Crystal McAteer. “Whether from here or from across the province, we are so grateful for all your assistance when we needed you.”
“I would also like to thank specifically the efforts of Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu, and Premier Jason Kenney,” she added. “And praise goes to the efforts of those involved with the Unified Command, Canada Task Force II, and the Alberta Municipal Enforcement Association.”
While work may be complete for the fire department, it will continue for Town administrative staff as they work to finalize costs and other administrative work.
The department will now get back to business as usual, and will be available for provincial assignments as needed. Schmidt said both the Town and the fire department will be stronger for this experience.
“This is going to be a historic fire for the fire department,” he added. “And I hope it’s something we never have to repeat.”