Fire and medical response times in Eden Valley are soon to be much shorter.
Community members from the First Nation held a ceremony on April 7 to mark the opening of the new fire hall on the reserve southwest of Longview.
Bearspaw First Nation councillor Rex Daniels, from Eden Valley, said the new emergency response capacity in his community is great news.
“I think it's something very positive for our community, and it's something that has been in the works for quite some time,” he said.
With response times ranging around 45 minutes for an ambulance or fire truck to get to Eden Valley, Daniels said the difference will be significant.
“To have these people on hand here on the reserve, they're going to be 10-15, or even five minutes to whatever emergency we run into, and I think that's really going to have a huge, huge difference," he said.
He recalled an instance where someone was in labour, and the ambulance didn’t make it until after the birth.
The candidates for the new team of firefighters have all been recruited from the community they will serve.
This, Daniels said, will be helpful for communication and patient comfort, especially with members whose first language is Stoney.
“There are still some elders that don’t really understand English that well," he said.
Local responders would also be familiar with Eden Valley’s layout, he added.
“We're moving ahead," he said. "And this is another step in the right direction.”
Stoney Nakoda emergency services fire chief Mike Crawford agreed that local responders will give an advantage in crisis situations.
“They’re from the community, so they’ll put people at ease, and they speak Stoney,” he said in an interview.
Giving a speech at the ceremony, Crawford said the Eden Valley hall will provide a needed service to the people living in the community, which is approximately 35-45 minutes from the nearest ambulance bay in Black Diamond.
“We’ve done the research with Alberta Health Services,” he said. “There is a definite need for this, there is a 100 per cent need, it’s not just a wish.”
Crawford added in an interview the area currently relies on Foothills County Fire Dept. for service, typically from Longview and Black Diamond.
“Right now we rely on our mutual aid partners to come in for fire service, and they're fantastic," he said. “They do a great job coming in and servicing the Nation, but they're a long way away."
The hall, currently outfitted with an SUV for first aid and crisis response and a bush buggy (a pickup truck outfitted for firefighting), will be complemented by a new fire engine, bought with funding from Indigenous Services Canada.
For Joel Edey, a mental health and addictions co-ordinator and counsellor in Eden Valley, the service will be much more than fire response.
“The advantage is having a group of people who can be part of creating more prevention situations,” Edey said.
Components of that prevention will be youth mentorship and community outreach.
On the response side, Edey added, the team will be equipped with Naloxone or Narcan kits and can respond to overdose or other addiction crisis scenarios.
They will also be trained in mental health, suicide intervention, and opioid response.
“Ideally, any community does better when they feel safe and have a response," he said.
It was the community that came together and laid the groundwork for the new service, Edey added.
The Nation’s leadership asked a group of prominent members of the community to guide Eden Valley’s management team in what was needed most.
“It’s a fantastic situation, having the community members guide an initiative like that is exactly what was needed. It went from the leadership to a trusted group of community members that truly care,” Edey continued. “Every community needs that guidance from their community members.”
The planning, which began in June 2020, has now come full circle as the service comes online.
Crawford said the recruits, who currently have first aid training, will have a challenging, but rewarding path ahead as they work to complete their firefighter training by August.
As they grow the team’s skillset, he hopes to see wildland fire and fire prevention training added to the wheelhouse.
“We want to get our team trained up in doing home assessments, installing smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and doing a home fire safety program," Crawford said.
They will also be working to build trust with the residents they hope to serve, he added.
“It’s going to be a very demanding job," Crawford said. "Building that respect, building that trust, and going to calls.”