‘Busy and lots of learning,’ says new FireSmart coordinator

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

There’s a lot going on in the world of wildfire hazard reduction these days. Local governments across the country are thinking about it, worrying about it and asking questions about it. Some of those questions are directed at the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Fire Service and its regional government partners, which have developed a lot of expertise in the past few years on the subject.
It was getting to be a bit of a burden, given that everyone involved had plenty already to keep them busy. So earlier this year, the Regional Tri-Council, in consultation with the FireSmart Committee, decided to create a new position. This is the FireSmart Coordinator. On Aug. 11, Brandy Walters became the first person to carry that title. The Leader visited her in her office in Slave Lake’s fire hall last week to find out how it’s going.
“Busy,” she said. “Lots of learning.”
Fuels management is one big component of the FireSmart program. There is a team, working on such projects under the auspices of the fire chief. Education is another major component and can run from making presentations to local governments to school presentations on how to mitigate wildfire risk. FireSmart educators (contracted people) do much of this work – especially the stuff in schools, and not just in this region.
One example: “They’re going to the Alexander First Nation,” Walters says, to present programs to Grades 1 – 3 and Grades 9 – 12.
Another request for advice on FireSmart from an outside jurisdiction was answered in another way: the fire chief spoke on the topic at a conference in Whitehorse, and there are follow-up requests coming as a result of that.
Also, “Parkland County is interested in educational programming,” Walters says.
Another part of Walters’ job is keeping an eye on grant opportunities and learning about how that all works. Sustainability of the program is very much in the minds of everyone involved these days, because the disaster recovery funds that pay for it now will run out.
Walters is a 23-year resident of Slave Lake, having moved there from Edmonton. For most of that time she worked at Northern Lakes College. Everything about the new job is unfamiliar – doubly so because such a position has never existed before. However, she says she’s enjoying the challenge and getting lots of support in the process from the fire department, the provincial wildfire people, the FireSmart education contractors, the town, the M.D. and the Sawridge First Nation.
“Interagency cooperation is a strength, and quite remarkable how the different agencies work together. The Lesser Slave Lake region should be very proud.”

Brandy Walters

 

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