During the summer of 2011 Ontario experienced one of the worst forest fire seasons in decades with more than 1,200 wildfires scorching in excess of 600,000 hectares of forest.
In Ontario’s far north this past summer was especially busy for fire crews who struggled to contain rapidly spreading blazes from threatening remote First Nation communities and the homes of thousands of northern residents.
By July, even as fire crews and aircraft from across Canada came to the aid of embattled provincial Fire Rangers, officials deemed it necessary to evacuate a number of these communities due to the dense smoke which blanketed much of the region.
With this summer’s fire season one of the hottest we have seen in years water has played an even larger role in keeping northern residents safe. Last month while thousands of Northwestern Ontario residents experienced anxiety and fear as they left their homes and possessions behind to move to safer ground as their communities were blanketed with smoke and ash a local Red Lake company was dispatched to keep the basic service of water flowing.
From July 11-16th Northern Waterworks Inc. mobilized seven staff members into Kingfisher, Cat Lake, Slate Falls, Mishkeegogamang and Sandy Lake First Nation to provide emergency assistance to maintain water and effluent treatment facilities with more staff following throughout the month. Company co-owner Chris Leblanc explains the emergency management process as “Our Director of Operations receives calls through our 24/7 Emergency Services call centre or via email, from there if the situation warrants he contacts Aboriginal Affairs Northern Development Canada (AANDC) formerly INAC. AANDC assess each request and if approval is granted we position staff accordingly in the evacuated communities as assist under the 24/7 First Response and Technical Support program, which is 100 per cent funded by AANDC.” Leblanc says throughout this time operators were responsible for managing the water operations including ensuring current standards are upheld. “The services varied from full operation of the First Nation facility to providing assistance to the local operator and support as required.”
AANDC spokesperson John Schmied says his department has a one-year funding agreement with NWI to provide on-call emergency response services to 87 First Nation communities in northern Ontario related to water and wastewater system emergencies. “NWI provides certified water treatment plant operators, plumbers, electricians, engineers, as well as pilots and aircraft to transport emergency response staff to the communities.”
Providing an update this week Leblanc reported all staff are now finished with First Responses and are concentrating on regular contract assistance with various First Nation communities under the Safe Water Operations Program (SWOP).
Since 1997, NWI has provided training and/or services to more than one-quarter of Ontario’s First Nation communities, primarily in remote, northern locations, reaching as far north as Hudson and James Bay. Currently, the company has 51 facilities under contract and 100 communities under Emergency Response Protection. NWI also provides their services to a number of municipalities in northwestern Ontario including Red Lake, Ignace, Sioux Lookout and Atikokan.
Northern Waterworks recently expanded its management team to provide for the continued development of the company both in the number of communities it services and in the services it provides. “From the beginning, our plan has been focused on providing superior and cost –effective water treatment solutions for our clients.” NWI President and CEO Dennis LeBlanc.