McNeill firefighters deserve hero cookie for Sointula response

It took 30 minutes for Port McNeill firefighters to respond to a call to a huge blaze in Sointula Oct. 9.

It took just 30 minutes for Port McNeill firefighters to respond to a mutual aid call to a huge blaze in Sointula Oct. 9.

According to Regional District of Mount Waddington Director of Operations Patrick Donaghy, the Sointula Volunteer Fire Department initially responded to the fire at Tarkanen Marine Ways at about 11:30 p.m. with their two trucks.

“They quickly realized this was one of the biggest fires we’ve had on the North Island. We’re talking multiple explosions” and fire going up power poles, Donaghy told the RDMW board of directors at their meeting Oct. 18.

A crew from the Port McNeill Fire Department hopped aboard the Silver King Water Taxi.

“They were there half an hour after the call,” Donaghy said. (The Hyde Creek fire department was called to cover Port McNeill.)

One of the reasons for the quick response from Port McNeill was that “all of them saw it from their homes. They watched it start,” said Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland.

As a result, they were already at the hall ready to go when the call for help came in. Two things worked in the firefighters’ favour that night.

First, Sointula Fire Chief Tom Trimmer works at Tarkanen Marine Ways so “he was able to identify which (actions) were the priorities.”

Secondly, there was no wind that night, so the “heat from the fire pushed the gases upwards” and firefighters were able to stay out of the smoke.

If it had been windy, Donaghy said, it’s likely other buildings and residences would have been lost.

Trimmer was very appreciative of the help, claiming the Port McNeill firefighters deserved “a big hero cookie.”

Donaghy and fire personnel will meet to debrief and identify successes and opportunities to learn for possible future incidents.

Donaghy said he would like to hold more mutual aid practices involving North Island fire departments. “We have to be bolstering one another. We are stronger than our individual selves when we have these mutual aid agreements.”

2016 has been really hard for Sointula, said Donaghy, explaining the fire department has had three very significant calls. One involved a tree falling on an individual, the second was a house fire where a person was killed, and the third was the Oct. 9 fire.

Sointula Director Heidi Soltau asked if the 911 response had been as bad as some of the residents had reported.

“They are afraid that the whole thing was delayed,” Soltau said, for instance, because a 911 operator asked “where” when someone called to report the fire in Sointula. “It was not very reassuring for the people that called in,” she said.

The business name was also initially misheard as Karkanen instead of Tarkanen. “There was a bit of a jumble in that way,” said Donaghy.

Ackland suggested the regional district needs to document the resources available at the fire departments in each community.

“Our human resources are smaller. We need to really think about these things,” she said.

Donaghy said the quarterly fire chiefs meetings are a good tool to keep up to date on what’s available and what’s new.

At the end of the day, “mutual aid is really working,” he said. “They (Sointula firefighters) are a strong bunch of guys, but like all of our departments, we need more (people) wearing the yellow.”

On a side note, Donaghy said, during the house fire in Hyde Creek this summer, the water source was depleted. In response, two empty tanks are being moved from Sointula to Hyde Creek for future water storage.