Hundreds of Emergency Support Services volunteers at McArthur Island provided over 30,000 hours of support to wildfire and flood evacuees throughout an “unprecedented” year, according to the City of Kamloops.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Rebecca Cooke, the city’s community development and ESS coordinator, said 2021 saw volunteers respond to a major apartment fire at Cherry Avenue, a number of wildfires and an atmospheric river flooding event, among other callouts.
Cooke told council in total, 250 ESS volunteers provided support to over 8,000 evacuees.
“The volunteers were absolutely phenomenal in their work, ensuring that evacuees were provided with emergency services, a compassionate ear as they began their first steps of recovery and working through an unprecedented year of response, all of this in accordance with pandemic guidelines,” Cooke said.
The purpose of Cooke’s presentation before council was to ask for approval to move forward with a grant application. City staff said they are seeking $25,000 from the Union of BC Municipalities’ Community Preparedness Fund in order to pay for future volunteer training.
Cooke said throughout the year, the city was able to take on over 100 convergent volunteers — people who spontaneously offered to help — during the wildfire and flooding events.
According to Cooke, many more signed up to volunteer, but weren’t able to take the mandatory training last year, as training capacity was limited during times of ESS response.
“Most of the 100-plus convergent volunteers who assisted in 2021 will continue their ESS training to join the ESS team to be able to assist in the future,” Cooke said.
Alongside new volunteers, existing team members also need updated training to make sure they are ready for the coming year.
Cooke said currently, the ESS team is providing in-house training for new members.
“If successful, the 2022 ESS grant funds will be used to provide training to new and existing volunteers to ensure they are ready and comfortable to respond,” Cooke said.
“Funds will also be used to purchase ESS-identifiable clothing to keep up with the growth and team membership.”
Mayor Ken Christian commended the ESS team for their work in the past year.
“Through myself to your volunteers, 30,000 hours of volunteer service to the City of Kamloops is a remarkable achievement,” Christian said.
“Please know that you have my gratitude and the gratitude of council and convey that to the women and men who provided that service. Just absolutely outstanding.”
Coun. Arjun Singh said this volunteer training is a “critical piece of work,” and asked if there were more sustainable funding options available to ensure ESS team members are ready to respond.
“I certainly would like to ask staff around the notion of our own funding for ESS support, making sure we have that [ESS] organizer, not dependent upon the grants coming in from the province or from whoever is going to be providing them,” Singh said.
David Trawin, city CAO, said staff have been in contact with Emergency Management B.C. about ESS funding.
“We're looking at future meetings coming up which helps address some of the concerns that you brought forward,” Trawin said.
Council voted unanimously to approve the grant application.