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July 5, 2014, Winnipeg - Manitoba is declaring a state of emergency, which temporarily allows the provincial government several rights and powers, as well as access to federal assistance and cold, hard cash.

July 5, 2014
By Jay Shaw

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July 5, 2014, Winnipeg – Manitoba is declaring a state of emergency, which temporarily allows the provincial government several rights and powers, as well as access to federal assistance and cold, hard cash.

We’re even calling in the army here, as the record rainfall across the Prairies heads east into the watershed of Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg.

We are expecting higher than 2011 water levels to flow down the Assiniboine River as many western Manitoba communities brace for impact.

In 2011 the flood forecast was so dire I was trained to fly on a helicopter long line to rescue people off rooftops, and now the predictions are calling for even more water.

I’m a big guy and the jokes about helicopter load restrictions are coming my way again, I just know it!

All joking aside, when I hear disaster, or declaration, or EMO, I almost always think about how overworked our fire services become during elongated emergencies.

I wanted to write about what will be an exhausting few weeks for emergency responders in Virden, Brandon, Portage La Prairie, and many other smaller communities across western Manitoba.

What do you do to support those who support us? How do you balance the resources when you’ve started out below your minimum staffing level in the first place? So many fire departments across Canada are still dealing with shortages, as I routinely hear stories of seven, six or even five firefighters showing up a to a working incident when there is no disaster going on. I know you understand the problem, but why have we not been able to get the message across to those who write the cheques?

Everyone seemed to freak out a bit when the fire captain out west asked a civilian to man a line. It might not be long before we grab that guy and throw an SCBA on him if we continue to have disaster after disaster with depleting resources. Isn’t it about time we do something different on this front?

Manitoba firefighter are about to take a whooping of a work load, just the same as every other province when the disaster song starts to play in their region. Oh the music will be fast paced, and the crews will dance for the first few songs, but when the clock strikes 12 and the lights come on, there will be no end to the party, and we’ll have no ride home.

I think we need to change the record on the jukebox if we keep expecting firefighters to dance. We need the conversation to move from “we need more cash and resources” to one that shifts the focus to prevention and education programs that takes a specific and measurable approach. We need to look at legislation, insurance, response agencies, and, basically, climb into the box, destroy it, and then build a triangle and think outside of that for a while, because the model in which we are working is not working for everyone!

In a few weeks or so, I will drive out west to visit some family and I know that the fire halls and departments along my route will be so badly depleted due to this flood, summer time travel, and just regular response volumes that sometimes I wonder if a fire happens and no one is there to respond, would anyone actually notice?

I will be thinking of all of the responders who will be going days without sleep, proper rest and working incredibly hard for their communities.

One word of unsolicited advice is to please make a disaster plan for your family so you can help others. Get you loved ones prepared, get them out of harm’s way early rather than later. Having to be on duty and responding while not knowing if your own family is safe would be bad news for everyone. Don’t put yourself in a disaster situation, stay safe and remember to watch out for each other.

Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Along with multiple fire and emergency services courses and certificates, Jay holds a masters degree in disaster and emergency management from Royal Roads University and is an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Contact him at jayshaw@mts.net and follow him on twitter @disasterbucket


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