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Emergency services manager has praise for firefighters

When two fires struck an hour apart within the MD of Willow Creek on Jan. 4, everyone lent a hand to fight them.
That was the message MD of Willow Creek emergency services manager Travis Coleman delivered Jan. 11 to council.
“I want to express our sincerest appreciation for the unbelievable job these two men sitting before you did,” MD of Willow Creek chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti said, referring to Coleman and superintendent of public works Roy Johnson.
The two men were recognized by a round of applause.
Coleman said on Jan. 4 two fires in the municipality started about one hour apart.
The first fire was west of Fort Macleod when firefighters were called around noon to SW-10-9-27-4.
All fire departments within the MD of Willow Creek as well as the Piikani Nation and Lethbridge responded.
“Our staff was awesome,” Coleman said of the MD of Willow Creek employees who responded with graders and water trucks.
The Hutterian Brethren colonies also responded with their equipment.
“We couldn’t have done a lot of what we did without the colonies,” Coleman said.
The fire travelled six miles, consuming about 2,000 acres.
The first truck responding was a bush buggy, which was quickly overcome.
Coleman’s was the third truck in. He knew a fire break was needed and decided Highway 2 would be the place to stop the fire, and it did.
“It was very intense,” Coleman said. “It was travelling fast.”
No lives or houses were lost, but some out buildings were lost.
Coleman stationed fire trucks at each residence, as they worked the fire to the north. He also evacuated one home which was completely covered in smoke.
The fire block was on Highway 2, with trucks on the fire’s north and south flank.
“The RCMP were great,” Coleman said of the police who had the highway shut down to traffic in minutes.
“Our EOC (emergency operations centre) was unbelievable,” Coleman added.
The fire was moving about 60 kilometres per hour at its height.
“I didn’t know we were going to stop it,” Coleman said. That’s why a state of local emergency was declared.
The fire was contained around 9 p.m. with staff staying to watch for hot spots overnight.
Calls were received the next few days with hot spots that were all contained.
A total of about 230 man hours were contributed.
Less than an hour into that fire, a power line near Nanton went down, igniting another fire almost 50 miles away.
Firefighters were called out around 12:45 p.m. to SW-12-16-28-4.
Nanton firefighters headed straight there from the Fort Macleod area, Stavely sent its other truck to Nanton, and departments from the MD of Foothills were also called.
A total of eight departments, MD of Willow Creek staff, and private water trucks and equipment were on scene.
This fire travelled in a northeast pattern, was about five miles long, and consumed about 2,500 acres. Highway 533 was the break that stopped it.
This fire was contained at around 10 p.m. with staff staying over night to watch for hot spots, and there were calls the next few days about hot spots.
Fighting this fire took about 260 man hours, four homes, some livestock, and numerous out buildings were lost, but no lives were lost.
The total dollar amount, just for fire trucks for both fires, is $80,000.
Coleman couldn’t express enough gratitude for the efforts of the firefighters.
“There were no egos,” he said. “All the departments worked great together.”
The day after the fire, several firefighters missed work so they could monitor hot spots.
“This is the dedication I’ve always seen,” Coleman said. “They’re risking their lives for our ratepayers.”
Coleman also noted a fire truck rolled at about 1 p.m. coming from Moon River Estates east of Fort Macleod. The rollover was a result of the wind, not driver error, as confirmed by an RCMP expert.
The driver was doing 82 kilometres per hour when the vehicle rolled. Two firefighters were injured but are expected to make a full recovery.
A de-briefing session was held in Fort Macleod on Jan. 10, one on the emergency operations centre was held on Jan. 11 after the council meeting, and one in Nanton the evening of Jan. 11.
One concern identified was the radio communication between the fire departments and the ambulance.
“I think we’re going to learn a lot from this,” Coleman said. “Something we hope never happens again.”