Born out of tragedy: Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., at heart of emergency response pilot project

After a string of tragic deaths in 2016, Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., is part of a pilot project designed to increase the capacity of a small community to respond to emergencies.

Community hosting a pilot project to increase emergency preparedness

Albert Ross is Tsiigehtchic’s fire chief, shown here in Yellowknife. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

A new emergency care project is being piloted in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., to help the community better respond to emergency situations.

The community, with a population of 172, has around seven first responders. They are all volunteers with limited training.

In 2016 a string of fatal incidents over several months left four dead.

"As a result of these series of tragedies, the community felt they needed to be more prepared, more trained professionally, to address these types of scenarios without burnout," said Grace Blake, the president of the Gwichya Gwich'in Council.

"They need adequate training [and] a support system that is going to be there on an ongoing basis."

Tsiigehtchic fire Chief Albert Ross has been volunteering as a first responder for 15 years and says this program will be helpful.

"We need it," Ross said.

"It'll be very helpful to the community to have people in there all the time that are fully trained and know what to do," he said. "Take some stress off some of the departments, especially the fire department."

He added the project will "benefit Tsiigehtchic in the long-run."

"Hopefully the project will run really good and hopefully we'll move on from there. Hopefully it'll be for other smaller communities as well."

Project will build capacity

The pilot project will work with the community to identify its needs when it comes to emergency care.

A pilot project in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., is designed to increase the small community's capacity to handle emergency situations. (CBC)

The training will be available to any interested community member, not just those currently volunteering.

"It's about building capacity within the residents and the people that live in Tsiigehtchic to be able to respond to emergency services and emergency situations," said Jo-Anne Hubert, director of territorial health services with the Department of Health and Social Services.

Tsiigehtchic only has a community health representative and resident home care worker. A nurse from Inuvik pays weekly visits, and a doctor comes once a month.

It takes an hour and a half to drive to the nearest hospital in Inuvik, or 45 minutes by helicopter — but sometimes people have to wait 18 to 24 hours for that air ambulance service.

The community hopes to gain a resident nurse through the project, something it's been requesting for years.

Hubert says this pilot project is the first in the territory of this scale, and hopes in the future to run similar programs in other communities without resident health care providers.