Canada is recognizing Fire Prevention Week from Oct. 8-14 and that’s given the West Coast a chance to celebrate local lifesavers like Ahousaht firefighter Kurt John, pictured here battling a large structure fire in 2016. (Marcie Callewaert - Photo)

Ahousaht First Nation’s fire crew operating out of new Emergency Operations Centre

The new Emergency Coordination Centre marks the start of a new era for Ahousaht fire fighting.

Marcie Callewaert

Special to the Westerly

The Ahousaht Fire Department was started in the 1970’s by Ahousaht member Alec Dick. This was the first-time fire fighting equipment was brought to the village and a formal team was identified to fight structure and brush fires in the village.

The Ahousaht Fire Department operates out of the brand-new Emergency Operations Centre. This is the base for all emergency services in the village, including first responders and search and rescue teams. Dick explained how Ahousaht’s new “central siren system with speakers, and VHF radios” alerts the community to emergencies as they happen. Without cell phone service, this is one of the fastest ways to call responders to a fire and the reason why he feels the Fire Department works so harmoniously.

A large structure fire in December 2016 demonstrated how well Ahousaht comes together, even when everything that can go wrong, does. The fire coincided with a water line break, that shut down all running water to the village. Bucket brigades started up, with vehicles running containers to the dock to be filled, and community members pouring them on the fire. Others worked to wet the roof of a nearby home. The one tanker/pumper truck the village does have, had to drive around the harbour to the water tank to be filled and took over half an hour on each round trip.

This fire helped Dick and others to identify weaknesses in the current emergency plan. Several key members of the Department were out of town that weekend and the lack of water complicated things. As a result, new measures were put in place and back up systems are being developed. Ahousaht has put in a funding request for a second truck with faster capabilities. The current truck is 20 years old, and would have been retired by now in most other situations.

Dick is also hoping a centrally located water tower can be located in the village as a back up to the water system bypass, which can bring untreated water into the village’s water lines in the case of a break in the water line to the treatment plant again. Though these plans are “already in the works”, Dick says it’s important that they “keep pressure” on officials to make sure the plans are followed through.

Currently the Ahousaht Fire Department is working with the First Nations Emergency Service Society to bring training for community members and students on fire safety in the home. Smoke detector installations, home fire inspections and wood stove safety will all be discussed during FNESS’s upcoming visit. New and younger members are being encouraged to come out and join the Fire Department and opportunities like FNESS’s annual fire fighting competition are touted as exciting opportunities to take advantage of along the way.

The new Emergency Coordination Centre marks the start of a new era for Ahousaht fire fighting and emergency response.

Dick is hoping the new truck and Emergency Operations Centre will inspire more members to join and begin training with the veteran fire fighters. Community emergency training is also being planned, as without fail, when there’s an emergency, all of Ahousaht will come out to help in whatever way they can.

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