(BC Wildfire Service)

(BC Wildfire Service)

Greater Victoria emergency services volunteers pitch in to help wildfire evacuees

Volunteers trained to answer questions, man the phones at Emergency Management BC hotline

  • Jul. 24, 2017 1:00 p.m.

While Oak Bay doesn’t have any registered wildfire evacuees staying here, our emergency program is ready should that happen. There are evacuees registered in the South Island, and all municipality emergency program volunteers are helping man the phones for the province.

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Eileen Grant, Oak Bay’s emergency programs manager and a pair of volunteers manned the phones for Emergency Management BC last week. EMBC dealt with an overload of calls as evacuees hit a high in the interior, they sought the help of emergency support service volunteers and staff who have the training required answer the myriad questions.

Related: 327,000 hectares burned across B.C.

“The three of us were there from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and we were talking with people who had been evacuated from various (areas). They needed support, accommodation … they’ve been out for a while so they were needing extensions and where to go next,” Grant said. “We answered about 140 calls during the day. Some are from suppliers who get the paper and have never seen them before and are not really sure what’s going on, what they have to do or are expected to.”

Related: EMBC to deliver satellite phones to wildfire-affected areas

Related: CRD and 100 Mile begin evaluating safe return for evacuated residents

Grant, who is at the ready in her office tucked in Oak Bay’s police and fire building, is ready should any evacuees come calling to make Oak Bay home.

She’s already directed a handful of guests in other CRD municipalities, but none yet for this community. The process for evacuees, she explains, is the same as for anyone evacuated for any emergency covered under legislation.

She uses the example of a house fire.

“We would be called out, the Oak Bay ESS level one team. We would meet with you and determine what your needs are,” she said.

They can can supply food or meals, accommodation, clothing and incidentals such as toiletries for a specified amount of time ranging from 72 hours to a week or two and an ESS volunteer would fill out the paperwork that becomes a permanent record. In the case of the wildfires, that might follow someone from Williams Lake to Prince George to Victoria.

“Then we can determine what type of accommodation would be most appropriate and we can determine whether you needed chits for meals, or whether you and access to a small kitchen and could do your own meals and supply you with a chit for groceries. These are quite specific, it tells you what day it starts and what day it ends,” she said. “You go back to the reception centre and ask for an extension and that’s when we marry up your file and see what your entitled to. … It’s complicated this time, there are no real end dates known. People have to keep going back for extensions.”

Local municipal ESS are offering volunteers to man the phones at an EMBC office in Victoria Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“You can just imaging what it’s like for someone who has two little kiddies hanging on to their skirt, they’ve stood in line for two hours and the don’t know where they’re going to sleep. They don’t know if their house is standing. … The general public is brilliant because most of them, the muscle their way through and it all works. But then for some, they just get to a point and say ‘I cannot figure this out,’ that’s when they would call,” Grant said.

While there were no profane rants, they did have those “at their wits end.”

“They were annoyed and they let us know. That’s OK because they needed somebody to be annoyed at and we expected it, said Grant, who fielded 40 to 50 calls. “Not one of those people left that phone without thanking me for the work I was doing. It didn’t matter how frustrated they were at the beginning.”

Other calls come from suppliers, such as grocers.

“If they don’t understand ow to get paid that’s a lot of money going out the door,” Grant said.

“It’s a brilliant service for the people of B.C., but it has its complexities and they’re necessary complexities. Everybody has to understand how to get paid, how to access, how to be accountable. EMBC is part of the government so the government in the end pays these bills.”

Oak Bay fire hall also continues to be a gathering place for donations to Disaster Aid Canada

“We’re only taking toiletries, sheets and towels and everything must be brand new,” Grant said.

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Items can be dropped off at the fire hall on Monterey Avenue between 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. any day.

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