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Tips for preventing tragedy

By Kylie-Jane Degeling, training officer, Alberta Emergency Management Agency

If you ask a group of firefighters about their most memorable emergency call, you’re bound to leave the discussion feeling a little bit shaken. The stories they tell are the variety that could give anyone nightmares, yet they seem to have a common theme — human error. The vast majority of the emergencies they respond to are easily preventable. This means that if we were all a bit more prepared, we could substantially reduce the number of injuries, deaths, and losses of property Albertans face each year due to emergencies.

At a recent personal emergency preparedness course, I caught up Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services Regional Fire Chief, Cammie Laird, volunteer firefighter and emergency medical responder, Gennifer Laird, and Travis Bartsch, a peace officer and volunteer firefighter. When asked if they would agree to an interview about tips for preventing tragedy, their enthusiasm was tangible. Firefighters are very passionate about emergency preparedness. Although they each love helping people in the community they’d be much happier if their citizens were safe and didn’t need them at all.

Pullquote: Regional Fire Chief Cammie Laird said, “There’s no honour in going to a call that could have been prevented.”

Gas Stations

“There are signs at every gas station that say, ‘Shut your car off’,” said Cammie. “So shut your car off! It’s so easy for your car’s engine to spark an explosion.”

Travis adds, “Don’t talk on your cell phone while filling up either; few people realize it can actually be an ignition source, and it’s the fuel’s vapors all around you that could ignite and cause an explosion.” He remembers news stories of abductions by car thieves. “Also remember to take your child out and lock the door when you go inside to pay. It takes seconds for someone to drive away with your kid.”

Road Safety

Both Cammie and Gennifer vividly remember a horrific crash involving a minivan and a car. The young female driver of the car was distracted due to simultaneously driving while chatting with her boyfriend on a cell phone. She caused a crash killing two children in the minivan, as well as herself and a passenger in her car. The boyfriend she was talking to was actually two cars in front of her, heard the screams through the cell phone, and ended up witnessing the crash she caused through his rearview mirror.

“He was so distraught, he later attempted suicide,” said Gennifer. On the topic of road safety, all three firefighters have seen more than their fair share of tragedy. Through the many examples they gave, the common theme was clear — pay attention to the road.

Cammie said, “In severe weather, don’t drive unless you absolutely must — drive slowly and give the road your full attention.”

Gennifer said, “We’ve seen way too many drunk driving crashes. Please don’t drink and drive!”

Travis would like people to be prepared in case their car breaks down, or they are in a crash. “Have blankets, a first aid kit, and appropriate weather gear like toques, jackets and mittens in your car.”

Pullquote: Many of the firefighters’ tips seem obvious, yet numerous crashes in Alberta are caused by people not following them. These tips include wearing a seatbelt, wearing a helmet on ATVs and bikes, not texting or chatting on your cell phone while driving, and driving for the road conditions and within the speed limit.

The three firefighters would like people to be aware of exactly where they are driving, incase they need to call 9-1-1, they can give an accurate description.

Travis said, “People frequently call with the wrong directions, so we go the wrong way!”

Gennifer adds, “There’s often a small window of time for us to save lives and prevent a bad situation from getting worse. Inaccurate information can be the difference between life and death.”

Rural Preparedness

All three firefighters live in a rural environment and have some extra tips for anyone on a farm or living in a small community. Their first concern is the time it takes for emergency services to respond.

“Unlike the major cities, where emergency services can often respond in a matter of minutes, rural areas rely largely on volunteers. This means that they need to leave their job or home, drive to the station, get suited up, and pick up the truck. Depending on the time of day, it could take anywhere from seven to 20 minutes for the first unit to roll with additional units responding as needed shortly thereafter. And then we need to find you wherever you are,” said Gennifer. This increases the need for personal preparedness – having a first aid kit handy, being trained in first aid, and knowing your legal land description in case you need to make a call to 911. “So many people try to describe where they live, but having the actual legal land description makes it much easier for us to find you.”

Cammie would like all rural home and farm owners to fill out a copy of the Alberta Rural Emergency Plan, and attach it to the power pole in front of their home. “Many know it as the Emergency Farm Plan, but really, every rural homeowner should use it, as it tells us where the hazards are on your property so that we can do more to protect you and your family during a call-out.”

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Gennifer would like all children in rural areas to take farm safety courses, and for their parents to ensure they have thoroughly discussed all the hazards with them. “So many kids lose limbs and lives on farm equipment, but it can be easily prevented with education and following safety guidelines.”

Whether in the home, car, or workplace, it becomes evident when talking to the three firefighters that preparedness is the key to preventing and surviving emergencies.

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This great information was taken with permission from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Preparedness Week Campaign Kit
Download the brochure in its entirety here.

8 areas of emergency preparedness Water - Vital for Life Food - Sustain Your Health Shelter - Protect Yourself From The Elements First Aid - Saves Lives
8 areas of emergency preparedness Light - Diversification is Key Heat - Maintain Your Core Temperature Communication - Stay In Touch Sanitation - Often Overlooked