Letter: Information officer needed on fires

There have been far too many rumours and lack of current, relevant information available, writes Fred Marshall.

The recent and ongoing Rock Creek fire clearly illustrates the need for a public information/ liaison officer on large fires throughout B.C., especially those located in urban/interface areas such as Rock Creek.

There have been far too many rumours (many completely incorrect) and lack of current, relevant information available to the local people related to the Rock Creek fire. This has caused undue stress and high anxiety levels among the local residents and those associated with them; a situation that is completely unnecessary.

In the U.S., the United States Forest Service has formal public information and fire liaison-officer positions filled by well-informed professionals who have extensive experience with fires and fire behaviour and who have good public relations skills.

These people are assigned to particular fires and their role is to keep all relevant parties, especially local people and, perhaps more importantly, the media, well and properly informed of the relevant aspects of the fire.

It is very important to the local people to know where the fire is, what areas are most threatened, who has received what evacuation advice i.e. alert or evacuate and/or how they can help. Local  people are often the best people to help out as many have excellent experience, the required firefighting equipment and, most importantly, they have good knowledge of the local people and access routes, etc. They also are on site and can work without delay and in these situations time is certainly of the essence.

These knowledgeable locals must not be deterred, and turned away by RCMP, flag-people and others but must be included as valuable assets in structural defense, building of fireguards etc.

We therefore request that the MFLNRO create such positions to better serve the people of B.C. Forecasts are for more frequent and larger fires so the need for such positions will be even more necessary in the future.  Building on and developing similar positions for B.C. would therefore be very appropriate and much appreciated.

It is extremely disconcerting when fire-related information is received from some ministry spokesperson(s) who is/are located in Castlegar or Victoria or some other location far-removed from the local area. They often have little to no knowledge of the area but are passing on what others have told them and, often by necessity, give generalized or somewhat misleading information.  This not conducive to effective communications.

Similarly, when the media broadcast or print information received from some emotionally upset person who has good intentions, but only perceived knowledge of the situation and conveys this as factual when it is not, creates additional and undue stress among the local people and their friends and relatives. This can and should be corrected.

– Fred Marshall, Greenwood

 

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