YIR: Penticton emergency services went non-stop for 5 months helping disaster victims

Volunteers helped fire and flood evacuees from 25 different communities in busiest year yet

The Nk’Mip fire east of Osoyoos caused hundreds of evacuations with many of them seeking support with the Penticton Emergency Support Services. (File photo)

The Nk’Mip fire east of Osoyoos caused hundreds of evacuations with many of them seeking support with the Penticton Emergency Support Services. (File photo)

4,000 hours, 45 volunteers, 5 months, 25 different communities and 20 disaster events. Countless families who had been struck by disaster supported by the Penticton Emergency Support Services (ESS).

One of the longest deployment periods of an Emergency Support Services (ESS) team began five months ago on July 11, 2021. With a leadership group only two months old, Penticton’s ESS team spent these past five months supporting thousands of wildfire and flooding evacuees from across B.C.

Penticton’s ESS team trains for the unexpected, the unknown and the unpredictable. It’s a group of approximately 45 volunteers that are dedicated to supporting and caring for neighbours impacted by wildfires, floods and disasters. 2021 was a milestone year with operations supporting thousands of evacuees virtually – and in-person – from over 25 different communities and 20 unique disaster events.

Over the past five months, the Penticton ESS team has supported evacuees from the Thomas Creek, Brenda Creek, McKay Creek, Nk’Mip, Garrison Lake, Nelson, Baldy Mountain, Tremont Creek, White Rock Lake, Merritt, Lytton Complex and other wildfires, provided Virtual Reception Centres for Vernon, Kelowna and Kamloops, as well as supported evacuees from the November 2021 flooding events in the Lower Mainland, Merritt area, and Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen. The team worked with First Nations communities, local governments, the Province, charities, and many others to provide compassionate and caring supports.

For evacuees that fled to Penticton and the area, a network of approximately 30 businesses located in Penticton that partner with ESS were able to provide food, clothing, accommodations, and other basic items for these evacuees to ensure they had some emergency supplies for the few days immediately after they were forced to flee their homes.

To support wildfire evacuees from Lytton and Lytton First Nations that could not return home for months due to safety concerns and structural damage, the Penticton ESS team co-developed with the province and these communities an innovative process that allowed the Penticton team to support evacuees across B.C. virtually. It was a new process that in part also allowed other ESS teams to virtually support the City of Kamloops when it saw a significant surge of thousands evacuees in a single day arrive from Merritt due to flooding.

On Dec. 15, 2021, the City of Penticton officially demobilized the Penticton ESS team, over five months after it first deployed. Over that period, the core team of 25 were able to volunteer over the entire duration, invested thousands of hours and helped thousands of evacuees (strangers) fleeing their homes due to situations that were unimaginable only a few months ago.

The team is now transitioning into well deserved time off, and then will begin training new volunteers and refreshing training with more experienced volunteers, as it begins to prep for the spring and summer, the usually busiest times of year for ESS teams in BC.

The Penticton ESS team reminds everyone to make a 72-hour emergency kit, an emergency plan, to check that they have appropriate insurance for any disaster, and to learn more about the City’s FireSmart program.

Looking to help or join Penticton’s ESS team? The team regularly seeks new members and supporters. Email ess@penticton.ca or call 250-490-2400.

2021 Year in ReviewB.C. Wildfires 2021BC Flood