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More saves than losses in Slave Lake

Fire services exist to help people on the worst days of their lives. That’s why the men and women of Canada’s fire services are so highly regarded in their communities. Communities like Slave Lake.

July 6, 2011
By Laura King


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Fire services exist to help people on the worst days of their lives. That’s why the men and women of Canada’s fire services are so highly regarded in their communities. Communities like Slave Lake.

Buckets of ink have been emptied about the wildfires that burned a third of the northern Alberta town to the ground. In the case of Slave Lake, the finger pointing started while the fires were still burning.

Chief Jamie Coutts of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service reviews the mind-boggling and emotional events of mid-May in a narrative starting on page 8. Coutts’ words were so powerful when we spoke by phone on June 21 that instead of weaving bits and pieces of his quotes into a story about the fire, the politics behind timing of evacuation orders and the role of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, we opted to run Coutts’ narrative verbatim. The story is a candid exposé on the limitations of any fire service in the face of natural disaster, and the pride and determination of Slave Lake’s 60-plus volunteers to save what they could in a perfect storm of fire, wind and heat.

There are two overriding themes. First, there was no stopping this fire. Whipped by record winds, forestry experts said the wildfire was the fastest moving in recorded Canadian history. Secondly, when firefighters – who had worked around the clock for days in Armageddon-like conditions – heard about the hand-wringing in the media over the devastation, they made a pact to change the negative tone of the coverage and started telling the real story on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube – the story of what had been saved.

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By Day 5 – Wednesday, May 18 – the men and women of Slave Lake’s fire service – aided immeasurably by equipment and personnel from Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, St. Albert, Peace River, the County of Parkland, and beyond – took a stand. Weary to the bone, they said there would be no more losses from this fire. They stood their ground and protected what was left in what is regarded as one of the largest co-operative firefighting efforts in Canadian history.

Slave Lake is still there. A third of the town burned, but two-thirds did not. There was not a single civilian injury or fatality in the fires.

The Slave Lake fire of 2011 is a case study of excellence in the face of the anarchy of wildfire.

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As mentioned here numerous times, we at Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly, Fire Fighting in Canada, and our websites – firefightingincanada.com and firehall.com – along with the Firehall Bookstore, are working to serve our readers and viewers better. With our newly launched firehallmall.com – a one-stop-shopping marketplace for the fire service – departments will be able to find everything from apparatus to Zodiacs and order online.

Don’t worry, we’re not replacing the usual fire-service manufacturers or suppliers; in fact, the vendors you rely on for your equipment are working with firehallmall.com to offer a fully stocked shopping experience through which you can access their products and have them delivered by the supplier or distributor nearest you.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to help our advertisers market their products and it gives our readers one-stop-shopping,” said publisher Martin McAnulty. “It’s like Amazon meets Costco – our bookstore combined with everything your department needs, in one place, online.”

You can access the Firehall Mall through the Firehall Bookstore at www.firehallbookstore.com.


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