Response without Borders: Helping responders working near Canada-US Border

A cross-border conference hopes to make it easier for emergency responders to help those in need on both sides of the Canada - US Border.

Nearly 100 people in emergency services gather at conference

Michael Morton is the Director of Emergency Management with the Office of the Fire Marshal in Ontario. He attended the Response Without Barriers conference in Grand Portage, Minnesota. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

A cross-border conference is talking about how to make it easier for emergency responders to help those in need on both sides of the Canada - US Border.

Response Without Barriers features a number of speakers from both Canada and the United States, including a talk about the Northern Emergency Management Assistance Compact (NEMAC). The group is comprised of states and provinces that have formalized agreements on how to share resources in times of emergency. Ontario is currently working on finalizing an agreement with Minnesota.

"We want to work that out in advance so that all sorts of situations can be resolved by the closest responders, regardless of what country they may be based in," said Michael Morton, with the Ontario Fire Marshall's Office.

Once example is if a person is injured in Minnesota, and is being transported back to Ontario. Currently, an ambulance, if it were to come from Ontario to bring a person back to Canada, cannot cross the border into the US. The NEMAC could change that, and allow emergency workers to cross the border, when needed.
US Customs and Border Protection's operations along the Canada - US Border were central to the discussion at the Response Without Barriers conference in Grand Portage, Minnesota. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

The compact could also help emergency response times, which can be slow, as the border between Ontario and Minnesota is remote, unpopulated, and difficult to travel.

"We're at Pigeon River, we're in the middle of nowhere," said Erin Morton, a Canada Border Services Agency Officer to the crowd of nearly 100 people. 

"Who's going to respond to us?"

The Minnesota side of the border has a number of US Border Patrol officers who are based out of Grand Marais, MN. Those agents are frequently in remote areas, but are also able to help in an emergency situation, such as a fire.

"In the wintertime, we're on snowmobiles, we're winter camping. In the summer, we're canoeing within the Boundary Waters, we're backpacking on the border route trail," said Matthew Curran with the US Border Patrol.

RCMP Detachment Commander Normand Roy, who is based in Thunder Bay, Ont., said his officers are responsible for the area from Lake Superior to Northwest Angle, MN.

He said law enforcement officials need to work with those who travel throughout the remote area, to help determine how to best respond to emergencies, while also keeping both countries safe.

"We have to address these isolated communities. They are on the border, they are our eyes and ears. So, they are partners to us."

About the Author

Jeff Walters


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.


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