Northern fires hit home for CDART

New animal emergency rescue organization holding workshops weekend in Wasa, May 14-15

  • May. 11, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Barry Coulter

The devastating events in Northern Alberta have got the attention of the country, and paying particular notice are members of the newly formed East Kootenay chapter of the Canadian Disaster Emergency Response Team (CDART).

CDART provides emergency services for pets, livestock and other animals during wildfires, floods, severe storms, environmental disasters, or anything that requires the evacuation of residents from their homes. Though only two months old, sign-up response has been great, with volunteers joining up in droves.

CDART has planned an education workshop weekend in Wasa, this Saturday and Sunday, May 14-15, and organizer Ron McConnell says the fires of Northern Alberta and Northern B.C. will very much on people’s minds, both those attending and those giving workshops. CDART East Kootenay has offered their services to the responders in Fort McMurray if they feel they are needed, McConnell said.

“We haven’t been called yet; however, a lot of stuff still has to be done before they can even let people into the area,” McConnell told the Townsman. “It’s still a pretty iffy situation. But the offer is out there and our mobile support teams from all over B.C. are on standby.”

The ferocious fire that forced complete evacuation from Fort McMurray and surrounding communities is an object lesson for people living in these parts, McConnell said.

“A lot of people were caught off guard. A lot of the evacuation orders came in the middle of the day, when people were at work and couldn’t get back to their homes to pick up their animals. Luckily the community did rally around and helped very quickly and a lot of animals were brought out.

“Just the same, they are finding some. There are stories of firemen finding a cat in the oven of a burned out house — it took refuge somewhere in the kitchen. They are finding animals that are alive in the damaged areas, but it’s bringing it home to people that we have to be prepared for this kind of event, we’re not immune to it, and services like ours are there to help them.”

It’s also good for the public to be aware of the importance of services CDART provides.

“When you look at the interviews, you can see a lot of the people were freaked out and stressed out by the fact that they had to leave their animals behind,” McConnell said. “Hopefully we can take that stress level down a bit for the other first responders so they don’t have to deal with the confrontation of people saying ‘no, we’re not going.’”

These thoughts are going to be on everybody’s minds for the upcoming Wasa workshop weekend.

“We were up in Windermere last Saturday,” McConnell said. “They had their emergency preparedness fair at the fire hall, and we set up a booth. Everybody up there was saying that Fort McMurray and Fort St. John brought it home to everybody this year. It’s in our faces, it’s on the news every hour of the day, and people are starting to realize that this is something we could be caught in very easily here, in this tunnel we call the Rocky Mountain Trench. If a fire starts at one end, it wouldn’t take long for it to move through the whole trench.”

A series of interesting workshops are planned for the weekend at the Wasa Community Hall, on Wasa School Road.

Saturday features an all-day event — an Emergency Animal Sheltering Workshop, run by CDART co-ordinator Heather Ferguson. Ferguson has extensive experience in saving animals from fires and floods. The workshop takes place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

On Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., there will be a workshop on Humane Transportation and Loading, run by Dr. Andrew Mack, District Veterinarian out of Cranbrook.

Following that, Aldred Joseph, a Ktunaxa Elder, rancher and horse trainer will run the workshop “Dealing with 1,000 Pounds of Frightened Animal,” from 11:30 to 1 p.m., which covers everything you need to know about getting a horse ready to travel in emergency situations.

“Introduction to Pet First Aid” will take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, run by Martina Frensemeier, a Companion Animal Behaviour Consultant.

While the weekend is meant for CDART members and volunteers, McConnell said the public is welcome to stop by and check out the organization.

To register for the Wasa Workshops Weekend, email

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