With spring on the horizon, emergency services organizations are beginning to prep for the upcoming potential flood and wildfire seasons. And that’s exactly what the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society (FNESS) is doing in Kamloops, B.C., this week — practical training for what’s to come.
They’re running their first-ever boot camp aimed at changing the way British Columbia deals with climate disasters by fostering capacity among community members. The event is slated to have over 80 both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants.
Last year, while historic in its length, the 2022 fire season was significantly quieter than the devastation of 2021.
Many natural disasters happen on First Nations territory and the hope is that this boot camp will give community members the knowledge and tools to save their own land and people.
“Our biggest goal with FNESS right now is getting in and training the First Nations and developing teams within communities,” said Jamie Svendsen FNESS preparedness and response manager.
Originally established to help reduce the number of fire-related deaths in First Nations communities, FNESS now provides a variety of emergency services and aims to be the organization communities reach out to for “support and delivery of essential emergency and forest fuel management programs and services.”
Fire services manager Nathan Combs said early preparation is key to making sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to what a response will look like.
“During this week in Kamloops is how we best prepare ourselves so we’re all trained and all running off the same page so when emergencies do come we know how to respond quickly and efficiently together,” said Combs.
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In 2021, the Canadian Journal of Forest research published a study that highlighted how First Nations living on reserve were three times more likely (32.1 per cent) to deal with dangers brought on by the climate crisis — 12.3 per cent of Canadians will have to deal with the same.
But this threat is only expected to increase and creative ways of mitigating natural disasters are being explored. Many researchers suggest looking to Indigenous fire stewardship and Indigenous ways of knowing.
Svendsen says the team’s goal is to train people to train people. “We go around the province, teach structure protection and tiger dam. And its just about building the capacity and using knowledge we have from First Nations communities to protect (each other).”,,
And that’s one of the things FNESS tries to highlight and emphasize — the importance of Indigenous knowledge and incorporating it into emergency services.
“When we’re (in community) it’s the elders that provide the information, they know the land and weather patterns better than anybody,” said Svendsen. “Its vital for us as responders.”
This learning goes two ways. Not only is FNESS arming community members with the training and tools they need to combat and recover from climate disasters, but FNESS is also there to help First Nations by learning to rely on them.
Vic Upshaw, FNESS cultural and prescribed fire specialist, said, “From an emergency response agency perspective, one of the key things we need to do is actively listen to our Nations instead of walking in, telling them we know best and this is how we’re going to handle the situation.”
“It’s thinking about ‘braiding’ the two sources (western and Indigenous knowledge), the two languages together, to come to the best information to make the best decision possible.”
These partnerships also empower First Nations to take charge in the event of a natural disaster.
“When someone from the community rolls up in a truck, they may not have the weather station readings but they’re like, ‘Everyday the wind does this,’ or, ‘Between the hours of 1 and 2 the wind will shift,’ or, ‘There’s a cloud band at this level of the mountain,’” said Upshaw.
“Why does this matter during a fire?,” he continued. “Well that band of clouds may have a higher RH which means it might be wetter and can help us contain the fire.”
The boot camp continues for the rest of the week in Kamloops and at the end hopes to leave community members and emergency responders more equipped for the upcoming flood and wildfire seasons.
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