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PFD sends help for unique situation

Four members from the Ponoka Fire Department joined the fire fight in Waterton
Along with the four member crew, the Ponoka Fire Department provided Engine 1 and a command vehicle as part of the assistance with structural protection of the Waterton townsite. Photo submitted

Providing help when needed is just the nature of a fire department.

For the Ponoka Fire Department, the latest example of stepping up to help came last week when the call came from the province to assist in protecting structures at risk from the unstable Kenow wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park. The fire is still listed as active both within and outside the park boundary, having burned about 38,100 hectares or just over 94,100 acres.

Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson along with firefighters Mark Pischke, Sharon Klinger and Tracy Hillaby received the call just minutes after midnight on Sept. 12 and were on the road by 1 a.m. The crew were released about 60 hours later, arriving back home around 11 p.m. on Sept. 14.

“It was definitely an eye opener, driving into an area and not knowing what to expect,” Wilkinson explained.

“The efforts of the crews fighting the fire were incredible. And, it was incredibly well organized with all of the departments, apparatus and personnel there to battle the fire.”

Their first assignment — they took with them Engine 1 and a command unit — was to head west from Cardston to the hamlet of Mountainview, which is about halfway between Cardston and Waterton. They were sent to relieve a crew that had been on the ground working for close to 38 straight hours.

“We were sent to replace a crew and then got tagged up with a unit from the Calgary Fire Department plus one from Milk River to help protect the historic Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton,” Wilkinson said

“We all worked really well together and it didn’t matter about rank or the colour of your helmet, you followed the incident command structure and did what the person in change wanted done. There was a lot of apparatus around — from forestry to industrial firefighting units and the many municipal departments on scene. It was amazing how they all kept busy, but did a great job.”

For most of the time, it was hot and smokey with ash and embers raining down from the fire that was, at the time, several kilometres away.

That included moving structural protection hoses, sprinklers and helping out with some controlled burns.

It was during those times, the rest of the Ponoka firefighters found out a few interesting things.

“It was some long days, but being able to work with crews from Calgary, Milk River, Taber and others it certainly showed what kind of brotherhood we are a part of,” Klinger said.

“And, when the Calgary crew went to move some hoses and we just came over to help without asking, it felt like we were all just firefighters doing the job that needed to be done.”

Klinger added the trip was also made special, as they wound up joining up with three units from Olds, Didsbury and Carstairs, who were also called down to assist in the fire fight.

“We met up with them in Fort MacLeod, but what I’ll remember is when we were filling up, meeting the people that came up to us and were so thankful about what we were going to do,” she said.

“It was great for us to be able to be there to help, but was it ever tiring. We were up for 36 hours before we got a break. I was never so glad to see a bed.”

It wasn’t too much longer after they returned for another assignment, the conditions changed. The temperature dropped and rain was in the forecast, which allowed a number of municipal departments including Ponoka to return home.

For much of the 72 hours the Ponoka Fire Department crew were deployed to Waterton, the Kenow fire could be seen looming over the lake and the resort community tossing ash and embers in the very dry and unpredictable conditions. Photo submitted