In 2018, Edmonton's fire chief has sights set on being ready for a major emergency

A state of civic emergency can take many forms - from fires to floods - but Fire Chief Ken Block says the city needs to be prepared to handle an increasingly common kind of emergency: acts of terrorism.

Edmonton is not immune from potential acts of terrorism, says Fire Chief Ken Block

Edmonton is part of a global community that's experiencing a different type of "civil unrest", said Fire Chief Ken Block during a year-end interview with CBC. (CBC)

A state of civic emergency can take many forms, from fires to floods to tornadoes. But Edmonton's fire chief says the city needs to brush up on how it handles an increasingly common kind of emergency: acts of terrorism.

"We're a part of a global community that's experiencing a very different type of civil unrest experience, the terrorism experience," Fire Chief Ken Block said Friday during a year-end interview with CBC.

"And sadly, I think there's a need for Edmonton to up our game in that area."

In late September, horrified Edmontonians watched the unfolding drama after a man stabbed a police officer near Commonwealth Stadium, then took off in a white U-Haul, leading police on a high-speed chase through downtown. During the chase, he deliberately plowed into pedestrians on the city's busiest strip.

A black ISIS flag was seized from a car where the police officer was attacked. No terror-related charges have been laid in the case. However, Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, 30, faces numerous charges including five counts of attempted murder.

While that was handled "very well," Block pointed to this as an example of what the city needs to prepare for, and said there are lessons to be learned from the emergency response to that event.

A rented U-Haul truck is tipped over, marking the end of a police pursuit in late September. (CBC News )

Emergency planning and preparedness fall under Fire Rescue Services and a review of the municipal emergency plan is already underway, Block said.

"Whatever comes around the corner," Block said, the city will be "better prepared than we ever have been before."

As part of the review, the fire department is working with the Edmonton Police Service, RCMP and other agencies, reviewing what other municipalities are doing and ensuring the right plans are in place, he said.

Block also wants the review to be practical — such as mock drills — as well as on paper.

"We need to practice exercising that plan on a more regular basis, said Block. "You play as you practise."

No 'plateau' on overdoses

Edmonton firefighters were equipped with naloxone kits in early March, and since then they've administered the medication 95 times, said Block.

The life-saving medication is used as an overdose antidote to opioids such as fentanyl. In 2017, there were 482 accidental overdose deaths in Alberta related to opioid use by the end of September, compared to 346 such deaths during the same period in 2016..

"We're waiting for this to plateau and it doesn't seem like we're at that plateau yet," he said. "Let's hope that there's better things around the corner."

Typically in overdose cases, the patient is not breathing and having a medication on hand that may immediately improve the patients' outcome has helped to reduce the stress on firefighters, added Block.

New rescue unit

The March 2014 fire destroyed the condo complex under construction and caused more than $6 million damage. (Courtesy of Jason Cruse)

In budget discussions this fall, city councillors approved the purchase of a new rescue unit, at a cost of about $610,000 US, plus money to hire a crew of 20 firefighters. Block said this will relieve a gap in service in the rapidly growing southwest parts of the city.

"That rescue unit and crew will be deployed out of the southwest and it will serve to improve the response times to the Windermere area," Block said.

The city has budgeted $2.75 million for 2018-19 for the 20 fire crew positions.

Edmonton's southwest has seen several arsons this year, prompting community groups and residents in Windermere to publicly express their concern about the lack of fire services in the area.

A new fire hall has already been approved for that community but it won't be ready until 2020. Block said the hope is this additional unit and crew will help meet the need and improve response times.

The new fire truck will be delivered and ready for service in May and will likely be located at Edmonton Fire Station 19.

Block said that station, at 6210 178 Street, is "strategically close to the Anthony Henday so it does provide good access into the south and southwest."