Part 2: The Importance of Being Prepared -

An Interview with Fire Chief Jody Butz

This is Part 2 of 2. To read Part 1 of "The Importance of Being Prepared - An Interview with Fire Chief Jody Butz", please visit this link.

WFR: You mentioned in your panel discussion that itís not ďIFĒ something like this happens again, but ďWHEN". Can you expand on that?

Chief Butz: Thatís that attitude I was talking about. We went through something like this and itís important, that attitude change, if you live in and around the forested area. The ecosystem in forested areas has to regenerate and fire helps it do so Ė thatís just Mother Nature. It burns down, it cracks the seeds, it provides an environment for regrowth and it makes for a stronger ecosystem. Once you understand that, why would you be so naÔve to think it wouldnít burn? Does that make sense?

WFR: Definitely. I think itís kind of a Ė and correct me if Iím wrong Ė itís unfortunate that something like this [the Fort McMurray Wildfire] almost has to happen to be an eye opener to other people. Is that accurate to say?

Chief Butz: Thatís absolutely correct. ďUnfortunateĒ is probably the best word you could say. Weíve experienced it here, and that would be my message to everybody else, be prepared. Make sure your citizens are prepared; make sure everybody is on the same page. To think ďWell we need to look after ourselves, and we need to buy more trucks and pumps, and hire more staff,Ē thatís not what Iím saying. What Iím saying is understand the hazards around you, plan around it, and plan for it.

WFR: I know there were a lot of departments that went up to assist your team with the wildfire last year, so they got that first hand experience. For departments who werenít there assisting, what can they learn from the Fort McMurray wildfire? What are they able to learn without actually being there?

Chief Butz: Thatís a good question. There is a provincial response that can occur and if they are unaware of the support thatís out there, they should become aware. Take the extra time to understand what kind of support is there and that takes relationships with the province. Be plugged in to that information flow. Quite frankly, the majority of what makes up Alberta and Western Canada are volunteer departments. The majority of the firefighters out there are volunteer. They have their own lives and their own full-time jobs, but they carry a pager or radio and respond to those calls for help. They put everything aside to help somebody else. Take that on a larger scale, and if the fire department is in need of help, all they have to do is be plugged into that provincial response and thereís help that is out there.

WFR: Is there any other message you feel departments need to hear? Do you have any final thoughts or comments before we wrap up?

Chief Butz: Weíve put a lot of focus on the response and preparation of it but there are a couple more pieces to it. Unfortunately, if you get yourself into that position, you now have to try and sustain operations. People are your biggest asset and youíve got to be able to support that. Youíve got to support your citizens that could, and may be displaced, and youíve got to support the help that comes in. And my goodness, you canít start thinking about recovery quick enough. Thatís more on an emergency management level but I would say every community should have an emergency management plan. In that plan they should think about and consider business continuity and recovery. Thatís where weíre at right now; weíre in recovery mode as a community. I think weíre making tremendous strides as a community but itís going to take a few more years. You donít just rebuild it overnight. The sooner you can get your head around that, the quicker things can get your community back to a safe, sustainable and viable place. I honestly think that years from now we can look back on this incident that hit the Wood Buffalo region, and how they handled it, how they recovered from it, and Iím hoping it will be a model for everyone to learn from. Again, itís that attitude to understand it. Understand it and then go from there.

WFR: Itís certainly the sense I got after listening to the AIFEMA panel discussion. Based on the reactions during that talk, I donít know if there was anything else your team could have done. You did the best you could with what was available and I think itís definitely accurate to say that it will be a model for people to use in the future.

Chief Butz: Yes and when I say a model I mean that collaboration. From the help that came up to put the fire out, to the support from all over the province for our citizens and now into our recovery phase. I had an opportunity to speak with the Slave Lake Fire Chief, who as you know, experienced the same type of scenario in his community in 2011. He was up here during the fire and this was his first time coming back since. He was blown away by how much progress our community has made, and how weíve come along in the recovery phase when he toured the sites that were damaged.

WFR would like to thank Chief Butz again for this opportunity, and for sharing his knowledge as we embark upon another year. We hope this interview has provided value to our readers as you plan early, be prepared, and stay safe this forestry season.

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