Edmonton

Fort McMurray region acts on lessons learned from 2016 wildfire

Wood Buffalo municipality implements recommendations from critical wildfire reviews

David Thurton - CBC News

November 15, 2017

Energency services in Wood Buffalo said it is taking action to ensure the municipality is better prepared for the next disaster. (Scott Olsen/Getty Images)

A year and a half after a wildfire devastated several Fort McMurray communities, emergency services said it is taking action to ensure the municipality is better prepared for the next disaster.

The recommendations of three investigations into the municipality's handling of the fire are not sitting on a shelf collecting dust, said fire chief Jody Butz.

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The municipality is committed to implementing all 14 recommendations and has identified 67 action items, he said.

"We are committed to seeing this through" Butz said. "It's a big document. There's a lot of collaboration that has to take place. Understanding this isn't a quick check box and move on. This is something that will be with this community for the next couple of years."

The Regional Emergency Services has conducted training across the municipality and is now reviewing the emergency management by-law and will unveil a new emergency management plan by May 2018, around the second anniversary of the wildfire.

Updates are on the way to the regional emergency operations centre that includes revamping a mobile operations unit and the possible use of drones to improve communications.

Jody Butz, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo's fire chief, said the municipality is taking action on the lessons learned during the 2016 wildfire. (Marion Warnica/CBC)

Emergency services is also preparing to implement the Alberta First Responders Radio Communication System. The department has identified the number of radios needed, who will require them and the cost. It will submit a funding proposal to municipal council in 2018.

Butz hopes adopting the system will bring Alberta Health services, Alberta Forestry and mutual aid partners, like oilsands emergency crews, under one radio system.

"I think the value of that interoperability that the system provides is immeasurable." Butz said. "Thinking back to our incident with the wildfire, it would've been priceless."

The three investigations criticized the province's and municipality's roles during the disaster. A municipal report released in July said firefighters, politicians, municipal staff and residents received "mixed messages" during the emergency response.

The reports also found that responder radios weren't operating on the same frequency, there were several communication breakdowns, key staff only learned that the fire breached the city on social media, the evacuation was chaotic, recommended emergency management protocols and management weren't fully implemented.

The 2016 wildfire is the costliest insured disaster in Canadian history. With over 80,000 people fleeing a wall of flames, it's also considered one of Canada's largest evacuations.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Thurton

David Thurton is CBC's mobile journalist in Fort McMurray. He's worked for CBC in the Maritimes & in Canada's Arctic. Email: david.thurton@cbc.ca

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