January 20th, 2016 ~ Vol. 86 No. 3
Fire department teams up with Slave Lake firefighters
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
By Mrsramsey (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Slave Lake Alberta June 2011 after wildfire destroyed one third of the town.
Pass Herald Reporter
In 2011, a large fire that burned through the Town of Slave Lake.

The conflagration was quickly pushed past fire barriers designed to protect the town by high winds, forcing the complete evacuation of the town’s 7,000 residents. The fire destroyed roughly one-third of Slave Lake, leaving 732 residents homeless.

The town hall was completely gutted by the fire, as was the library and radio station.

Now in conjunction with the Slave Lake fire department, a four-person team is being assembled to keep the Pass safe from wildfires.

The task force will use methods learned during the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire.

“We know the threat of wildfire in the Pass is our number one threat for a major emergency,” said Steve Debienne, manager of Protective Services/ Fire Chief.
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Council approved an eight-month term of employment starting March 1 for the wildfire task force in December 2015 after meeting with Agricultural Services, Crowsnest Fire/Rescue and representatives from the Town of Slave Lake’s fire services.

It’ll be the second specialized wildfire fighting crew of its kind in Alberta; the other is situated in Slave Lake.

They’ll work with citizens to ensure properties are prepared for a wildfire by enforcing the seven disciplines of FireSmart which are education, vegetation management, legislation and planning, development considerations, interagency cooperation, emergency planning and cross training.

The program is being paid for by grants, said Debienne, including a $60,000 FireSmart grant the Pass received in December.

“There will be no impact on Crowsnest Pass citizens with regards to taxes,” said Debienne.

Twelve men have applied to join the specialized team. They’ll be put through a rigorous selection process including physical fitness training scheduled for Jan. 22.
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Once selected, the team will be outfitted with a specialized trailer carrying structural protection equipment and vegetation management equipment.

In addition to fighting fires, the team will work with the public by assessing properties on their risk for fire.

“Simple things like keeping grass trimmed, trimming back trees, moving your woodpile away from the home,” said Debienne. “All these little things reduce the fuel load from around your house.”

Debienne said last year was a destructive wildfire season in Alberta “and if you look at the forecast for 2016, 2015 was a drop in the bucket.”

“We have low snowpack, El Nino is settling in pretty hard, it’s going to cause problems in the spring if we don’t get some moisture,” he said. “You look at 2015 being the anomaly year but it was the first time in Canadian history that the western provinces were all on fire at the same time. That’s why it’s so important for us to get this team up and functional.”
January 20th ~ Vol. 86 No. 3
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