For as long as Hay River’s fire chief Ross Potter can remember, the department has trained its crew to deal with both fire and emergency services, but until the new $6.1-million fire hall was built, resources were scattered throughout town, creating an inefficient emergency response system.
Since moving into the facility in January and having all their equipment stored under one roof, the 37-year veteran said the crew is increasing its efficiency and cutting down arrival times to emergency sites – a factor that can mean the difference between life and death.
“At one time, we had to respond with an ambulance to a highway accident, and then we had to go all the way out to Old Town to get our rescue truck to follow the ambulance, so the two were never arriving on scene at the same time,” Potter said. “Now when we respond, the trucks roll at the same time, so you’ve got effective extrication going on as soon as you arrive on-scene, plus medical help happening.”
This is especially important for the team to consider, as it provides ground ambulance highway rescue services along an 800-km stretch of road.
The new facility has helped the hard-working team in other ways. For example, a new 50-foot tall tower allows firefighters to effectively dry their hoses after use, while providing an indoor space for member training.
“It gives us an opportunity to practice our vertical rescue and that kind of stuff in the winter time,” Potter said. “We used to do it at the training facility. Working rollups at -40C isn’t really conducive to affecting really positive training, whereas now we can tie off inside the tower and repel or whatever we need to do to maintain the vertical rescue skills.”
Currently, there are about 30 members on the crew, 20 per cent of whom are women. Overall, they have one of the highest enrollments in the territory.
“We haven’t had any challenges so far; we’ve always had enough people to take both roles on,” Potter said, “though it’s probably a little bit harder on the guys because they are doing that many more responses, so there’s always the possibility of having a bit more burnout than there is if it was just a single role.”
With its 10 emergency vehicles, including three water pumpers, one tanker, two ambulances and a mass casualty trailer, the Hay River fire department is well stocked to take on almost any emergency that arises in town and around the area.
Between fire and ambulance training, weekly meetings, community demonstrations, recruiting initiatives and, of course, emergency calls, members of Hay River’s fire department have accrued a total of 3,576 hours since January, equivalent to 149 full days of work, all on a volunteer basis.
“Probably about 75 per cent of our members are EMR (emergency medical responders) and we find it works really well for our department,” Ross said. The crew is one of three outfits, including Yellowknife and Fort Simpson, that operate this way in the NWT.
“It would be very quiet if all we had to deal with was fires. We find that having the ambulance working both we have enough calls where we’re staying current and the guys stay interested because they have lots to do.”