Deputy fire chief vol­un­teered over­seas

Moose Jaw - - Front Page - By Ron Wal­ter For Moose Jaw Ex­press

Brian Wil­son was run­ning a one-man real es­tate op­er­a­tion in Lon­don, On­tario when he first be­came in­volved in vol­un­teer in­ter­na­tional dis­as­ter re­sponse. A fire­fighter by trade he was in­ter­ested when the real es­tate board put out a call for vol­un­teers by Hu­man­ity First to work on the Jan­uary 2010 earth­quake in Haiti. Wil­son told the Cana­dian Club of Moose Jaw he was so ea­ger to help, he skipped the one week train­ing course. Two weeks in Haiti “stretched into five weeks.” The Hu­man­ity First (HF) Team ar­rived two weeks af­ter the earth­quake with teams from the U.S.A., U.K. and Canada. Cana­di­ans from Hu­man­ity First sent 75 vol­un­teers sup­ported by 300 peo­ple at home who sought medicines, food and tents. “Hu­man­ity First is one of few in­ter­na­tional dis­as­ter re­sponse teams that has no em­ploy­ees,” said the Moose Jaw Deputy Fire Chief. “We want to take as much of the donor money as pos­si­ble to go to the end cause.” Wil­son said the pol­i­tics of in­ter­na­tional dis­as­ter re­sponse in Haiti frus­trated him. “Ev­ery non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion has its pros and cons. Ev­ery­one does some good work. Ev­ery one has their frus­tra­tions, as well. “I saw some pretty well-known or­ga­ni­za­tions that were very much cen­tred to where the me­dia seemed to be, as op­posed to go­ing to the peo­ple that might need as­sis­tance. I also un­der­stand where they are com­ing from. They have sig­nif­i­cant over­head but they also have to show the donors where the money is go­ing. That’s a tough bal­ance.” Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from var­i­ous dis­as­ter re­lief groups met daily at a United Na­tions site to de­ter­mine who was do­ing what, get­ting sup­plies and where. One of his jobs was to source stuff needed by the HF hospi­tal. “At the UN meet­ings we got so frus­trated with bu­reau­crats we stopped go­ing. We missed out on in­for­ma­tion.” When they re­turned to Canada the team made a de­ci­sion to be em­bed­ded in the UN meet­ings in fu­ture and “it worked a lot bet­ter” in two sub­se­quent dis­as­ters. Over two months the HF hospi­tal saw more than 23,000 pa­tients with only three or four physi­cians, sup­ported by nurses. “We were see­ing up­wards of 700 pa­tients a day. It was nuts just keep­ing up.” The daily walk-in clinic had two block long line­ups by 7 a.m. ev­ery morn­ing. “We did a lit­tle bit of every­thing ev­ery day.” He acted as a phar­ma­cist/blood pres­sure guy/re-ban­dag­ing/ lo­gis­tics, truck driver, and camp cook. Wil­son was frus­trated by the big­ger re­lief agen­cies. “Big play­ers wanted the me­dia to film them in their vests to drive do­na­tions from the pub­lic. The chal­lenge was some of the smaller vil­lages weren’t get­ting the help be­cause the me­dia wasn’t go­ing there. “Hu­man­ity First’s vi­sion was: let’s go to the smaller ar­eas, the ones that aren’t get­ting help.” His team stayed in tents and slept on mil­i­tary cots while “Red Cross work­ers stayed in four-star ho­tels at $400 a night.” When he re­turned home, Wil­son be­came leader of the HF dis­as­ter re­sponse team in Canada. The HF re­sponse to the 2013 typhoon in the Philip­pines was three per­sons. The team formed a part­ner­ship with the Cana­dian mil­i­tary Dis­as­ter As­sis­tance Re­sponse Team (DART) that worked re­ally well. His morn­ing in the UN room with 200 oth­ers al­lowed him to be a matchmaker and pro­vide more ef­fec­tive as­sis­tance. The HF team re­ceived a $400,000 grant from a Cana­dian gov­ern­ment agency to re-build 300 homes and two schools. HF re­sponse to the 2015 Nepal earth­quake was dif­fer­ent. Wil­son co-or­di­nated a team of 12 UK doc­tors but the med­i­cal needs weren’t the same as in pre­vi­ous dis­as­ters. Food, wa­ter and shel­ter were needed most. The UN co-or­di­na­tion meet­ings in Nepal were no longer on one site. He and oth­ers had to ap­proach each Nepalese gov­ern­ment agency on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, which en­tailed lots of cab rides around Kat­mandu.

Ron Wal­ter can be reached at ron­

Brian Wil­son

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