When disaster strikes …

Local volunteers are busy behind the scenes of an emergency.

When an emergency occurs in the East Kootenay, be it a house fire, a chemical spill, or a landslide, a group of volunteers springs into action.

But these are not the emergency responders who lay sandbags and douse flames; these volunteers connect with people affected by disaster and find them a place to stay, bring food to sustain them, help their pets.

The Emergency Social Services (ESS) program, a B.C. initiative offered through the Regional District of East Kootenay, is a team of around 12 volunteers with one coordinator in each of the East Kootenay’s three sub-regions.

“What happens is, when there is an emergency and someone has to be evacuated from their home for whatever reason, be it wildfire, house fire, floods, chemical spill, bath leak, then we are able to through the Emergency Social Services program assist them with lodging, food, clothing and incidentals if required, for 72 hours,” explained Anita Charest, the coordinator for the ESS program for the East Kootenay’s Central subregion, which includes Cranbrook and Kimberley.

ESS provides primary services such as food; lodging; clothing; and family reunification. ESS may also provide specialized services such as emotional support services; first aid; child minding; pet care; and transportation services.

Earlier this year, ESS helped out in Hosmer when the June floods devastated the community. But Charest said 2012 was a busier year, between the flooding in Wasa and the land slide in Fairmont.

ESS has also begun to assist local Search and Rescue groups in large-scale searches. For example, they helped during the search for missing Sparwood three-year-old Kienan Hebert in 2011, and when a snowmobiler went missing in an avalanche near Hell Roaring Creek this part March. Their role was helping to sign in the many volunteers who offered to help search on the spot, and provide food for the search crews.

“That’s nice to help. It’s a different role for us but the more we are utilized, the better we are,” said Charest.

Volunteers go through extensive training to help when their feet hit the ground in an emergency, learning how to manage a reception centre and group lodging, fill out documents such as registration and referrals, and manage walk-in volunteers.

This weekend, the Emergency Social Services volunteers are taking part in a two-day workshop on helping pets in an emergency. The courses will go through such things as species and breed recognition, feeding and animal care, animal intake planning and compassion fatigue.

The weekend session, which runs on Saturday, October 5 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Sunday, October 6 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., is open to members of the public who want to know more about helping pets in an emergency.

“The courses are free and will provide people with a basic overview of emergency pet services and sheltering in evacuations or emergencies,” said Charest.

“We need to increase our training in this area and are hoping to find some new volunteers interested in becoming part of the ESS team.

“Pets are a part of people’s families and this training will help us be better able to help provide pet services during a disaster. We are hoping that there are some animal lovers out there who are interested in taking part in these courses and joining our ESS team,” said Charest. “Our long-term hope is someone might take an interest in setting up an Animal Response Team for the region and work hand in hand with our ESS team. For now, we are eager to get the training and encourage anyone interested to consider registering.”

Volunteers with ESS are not required to give much of their time. Regular training sessions are held once a month for about two hours.

“We are a fairly new team and we are trying to get on our feet and operational as a team that can do everything we need them to do,” said Charest.

“We couldn’t do it without (volunteers).”

For more information or to register for the animal workshop, contact Charest at the RDEK at acharest@rdek.bc.ca, 250-489-2791 or toll free 1-888-478-7335.