'We need to be prepared': Canada Task Force 1 wraps up fulsome training exercise in Penticton

'We need to be prepared'

Casey Richardson

“Natural disasters are part of the future and we need to be prepared for them.”

Canada Task Force 1 wrapped up their training in Penticton on Thursday, the final day of their three-day exercise for the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team from Vancouver.

Twelve different specialty teams are assembled to support communities when their traditional emergency services are overwhelmed by a natural disaster or major emergency.

Crews underwent multiple drills including the structural collapse of a residential home, a parkade collapse simulation at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, and a water rescue, all managed from a command centre setup.

“What we're doing here is really demonstrating to the public, that we are prepared for major emergencies and disasters. So we deployed a full team of our Heavy Urban Search and Rescue staff to respond to a multitude of worksites here in Penticton,” Canada Task Force 1 Director Justin Mulcahy said.

“So we're very proud and happy with the results that we had. Obviously, we had lessons learned and that's the point of this is that we get better every single time we test ourselves.”

In total, 110 crew members were in town, including 87 members of Task Force 1 from Vancouver, as well as members from Manitoba TF4, the Canadian Armed Forces from Esquimalt, the District of North Van Fire Department and the Penticton Fire Department, with a focus on improving interoperability.

Within the Task Force 1 team are BC EHS staff, Vancouver Police officers, members of city staff, full-time physicians, and engineers, both geotechnical and structural.

“I feel proud to have a team of really competent and capable people, people who are experts in their disciplines. And people who are really highly engaged in terms of developing their craft to be excellent at what they do,” Mulcahy added.

When Canada Task Force 1 is called in to help, Mulcahy said they are completely self-sufficient, so as to not put a further strain on any local resources.

“We have our own accommodations, we set up our own base of operation. We even do things like purify our own water, and provide our own food and lodging.”

Just recently, the team was deployed to support BC wildfire and the office of the Fire Commissioner doing rapid damage assessments to communities affected by wildfire.

“Really, what we're trying to do there is give communities clarity, about the extent of the damage, and try and really expedite the process, to ending evacuation orders, getting people back to their homes, surveying the extent of the damage. [We’re] making communities safe again,” Mulcahy said.

The team arrived in West Kelowna in August to help with McDougall Creek Wildfire.

“It was a very challenging wildfire season and we feel honoured and fortunate to be used that capacity to kind of help people get back to their homes during really stressful and turbulent times.”

The team was also in Kelowna in July 2021 in the aftermath of the downtown crane collapse to help retrieve a body from the rubble. The team has also deployed in the past in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the 2013 Calgary floods, the 2021 Sumas flooding and more.

“We learn small lessons so that we can do things better when people need us most.”

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