Tofino’s elementary school students met their local heroes at an Emergency Preparedness Fair last week.
Organizations like West Coast Inland Search and Rescue, the Tofino Volunteer Fire Department, Canadian Red Cross and Canadian Coast Guard set up booths inside the Wickaninnish Community School gym to wrap up the students’ Great British Columbian Shakeout participation on Oct. 19. The event took place roughly a week after a 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck roughly 170 kilometres off Tofino’s coast on Oct. 11.
“We’re meeting with the kids, letting them know who we are, what we do, how to get a hold of us and just, kind of, normalizing the conversation around emergencies,” the District of Tofino’s Emergency Program Coordinator Keith Orchiston told the Westerly at the event.
The school’s principal Drew Ryan said connecting students with their local first responders is key to helping kids feel safe in emergency situations.
“In the event of an emergency, whether it’s BC Ambulance, RCMP or the Coast Guard, these are the people that are going to be coming to help them and we want to make sure that they feel safe and comfortable and not nervous about that,” he said.
He said the Fair would be an annual event moving forward and that he and Orchiston planned to discuss potential collaborations moving forward.
“I will talk to my staff, students and families and get some feedback as far as how the day went and the information that went home. Keith will do that with the first responders and we’ll get back and build on it for next year so, we’re pretty excited.”
West Coast Inland Search and Rescue volunteer Garth Cameron said West Coast kids are adventurous and need to know how to safely explore their exciting surroundings.
“We want to be part of the community and we want to inform kids of how to adventure smart. Be prepared. Be prepared for adventure. Be prepared for camping. Be prepared for water activities. Be prepared for outdoor activities,” he said. “We need to learn to protect our kids and look after our kids in outdoor activities because the last thing you want to do is call SAR.”
WISAR welcomed its first search dog in training this year.
“A lot of people don’t really understand what it is that we do, other than drive the ambulance and take them to the hospital, but there’s a lot of treatments we can provide to patients that can be lifesaving, in the case of anaphylaxis or the case of drug overdose,” he said.
“It’s important for the community at large to have that knowledge so, should they encounter medical emergencies like that, they’ll know who to call and that that person can help them.”
Cameron Weir of the Canadian Red Cross explained the Red Cross offers emergency social services “anytime anybody needs humanitarian support in the community.”
“The Canadian Red Cross is a volunteer organization and in Tofino we’re here to help with basic needs if a disaster arrives and people are misplaced from their home,” added Weir’s colleague Elysha Skipper.
“We’re excited to familiarize the kids with what we do and give them a little bit of extra information and knowledge. Knowledge is power so, if an emergency does come up, they’ll be better prepared to deal with it and a little bit more familiar with all the services in Tofino.”
Sgt. Todd Pebernat of the Tofino RCMP said familiarizing local youth with their police is vital.
“I’m excited, first of all, just to meet the students here. It’s always good to get out in the community and make contact with the people you’re serving. But, it’s also just really important just for young people to recognize me as a police officer, know what the police do, how we’re here to help them and assist them,” he said. “If people don’t know you, particularly young people, they’re not going to trust you and if there’s no trust they’re not going to come to you if they’re afraid or if they have something to report…We want all people, especially young people, to feel comfortable approaching us as police officers and asking us or talking to us about anything.”
John Forde of the Tofino Volunteer Fire Department said the event provided a great opportunity to help kids get prepared.
“As we all know, at any given time there could be an emergency in the home or in the Clayoquot area and all these kids need to know that the fire department is there for them and what they need to do to be safe during an emergency,” he said.
Tofino and Ucluelet both participated in an Island-wide emergency communications drill earlier this year.