As the Minister Responsible for Fire and Emergency Services I would like to respond to the recent inaccurate and irresponsible editorial by Barbara Dean-Simmons.
First off, by saying that the Provincial Government was not prepared for Hurricane Igor and is not prepared for a future type event does not accurately reflect the state of emergency preparedness in our province. The over 6,000 volunteer firefighters of our province, along with their municipalities, spend a great deal of time planning and training for just these types of events. In conjunction with health care professionals, police services, volunteer agencies such as Search and Rescue organizations, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Rotary and Lions Clubs, and other service organizations, the province’s efforts on the ground were nothing short of astounding. Fire and Emergency Services - Newfoundland and Labrador works with numerous agencies throughout this process and I want to acknowledge the efforts of those emergency responders who stepped forward and did a remarkable job immediately after Hurricane Igor.
Secondly, the author cavalierly dismisses the actions of employees of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador who responded to help their neighbours in a time of need. Employees of numerous departments, as well as contractors and engineers engaged by the province, worked around the clock to help re-establish communities which were cut-off, to restore essential services and to help our people cope with this disaster. Many of those employees did so while their own families and homes were suffering the same fate as those they were helping.
To say we were unprepared is far from the truth. While one cannot foresee how such a natural disaster will actually play out, we do spend significant time preparing. During this disaster, the training of responders was evident as they moved quickly and appropriately. Our first priority is always public safety. The whole of the Provincial Government was focused on ensuring that no one was homeless, cold or hungry as a result of the devastating storm and this was achieved through the dedication of those employees and volunteers on the ground.
To say that the Province failed to realize the magnitude of the devastation or the scope of the damage is also erroneous. Our officials and the experts we engaged shortly after the storm did a yeoman’s service in trying to re-establish connections between communities and in assessing the entire situation. It was through their examination and dedication that it was realized certain services offered to us from the federal government could be used in our recovery efforts.
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The assertion that the province waited to long to call in the Federal Government is a value judgment of one individual gleaned from paper, not from the experts who were on the ground each and every day dealing with both the situation and those affected by it. While playing critic after the fact is certainly easy, making decisions while a critical situation is unfolding is not and I thank those who did act quickly to make decisions which were right and appropriately dealt with the situation at hand.
This was an unprecedented situation for us, but a situation our emergency responders and our public employees were trained and committed to responding to. To this day the response continues and I want to publicly thank them for their efforts – efforts which commenced before Hurricane Igor hit us with such force, continued during the storm and is ongoing.
We all have a responsibility to be prepared – individuals and communities first and foremost, and the province as well. The capabilities on the ground in communities to plan for and manage emergency situations is essential. It is for this very reason we have been working with municipalities and local service districts over the last few years to build their capacity. I believe we are seeing much progress.
Despite what the author may write, we are reviewing our response and we are doing so in a defined and organized manner – as any professional organization would. Hurricane Igor was not just a disaster, it was a tragedy. Without the dedication, training and actions of thousands of men and women in this province it may have been far worse and I for one am thankful for the actions of those who stepped up to help their friends, neighbours and strangers.
Minister Responsible for Fire and Emergency Services