Emergency facility to be replaced
Province pledges $18.5 million for new centre in Kananaskis Country
The NDP government is dedicating $18.5 million to a new emergency operations facility in the heart of Kananaskis Country as the number of visitors to the region keeps growing.
On Monday, Banff-Cochrane MLA Cameron Westhead made the announcement at the current facility, located along Highway 40 near Kananaskis Village.
“As part of Budget 2016, the government of Alberta will fund the complete replacement of the Kananaskis Emergency Services Centre,” he said.
“This building ... was originally put here in preparation for the 1988 Winter Olympics and, over the years, personnel here have responded to thousands of calls.”
Call volumes to the centre’s dispatch centre have grown more than tenfold since 2000, now averaging more than 5,000 calls related to fire safety, emergency medical services, and search and rescue every year.
The dispatch centre also provides vital support for the Kananaskis Public Safety team, which provides 24/7 on-call response for backcountry rescues and other emergencies.
“Our connection with this facility is the dispatchers so that is how we’re notified,” said Jeremy Mackenzie, public safety specialist with Kananaskis Public Safety. “They are our lifeline out there so they give us all of the information that we need, they watch our backs and they check in on us and, when we are calling for additional resources, we do that through them.
“Having them be in a more modern, more comprehensive facility where they can do their jobs even better than they do now is going to be huge for us.”
Craig Halifax, chief of emergency services, said the new facility is a much-needed upgrade from the current 30-year old building.
“It’s seen a pretty significant shelf life,” he said. “With it being a 24/7 facility, there’s a lot of wear and tear on it.”
The new facility will also be built to fit all of the fire trucks, which are currently housed in various other buildings.
“It logistically creates problems,” he said, noting staff have to haul gear from building to building.
“In the middle of the night, we’ve also had staff run into wildlife when they walk out of this building to go to another building to respond to calls.
“There’s a lot of unique characteristics that, although are great working in the mountain environment, aren’t necessarily conducive to staff safety.”
The current facility will continue to operate until the new one is up and running, likely by 2019.