The compounding crisis in Ukraine since the Russian invasion last month has inspired the Lac La Biche Fire Department to support Ukrainian efforts through donating vital equipment, said John Kokotilo, the manager of Protective Services and Regional Fire Chief.
“I think just about every Canadian and the whole world is feeling this situation right now, and we want to help in any way we can,” he said.
The county and surrounding area have a large Ukrainian heritage that has felt the challenges abroad locally, says Kokotilo whose grandparents immigrated to Canada from Ukraine.
Over the years, the local department has received gear donations from fire departments in larger centres to help rural firefighters deal with large fires like the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016 and various emergencies in and around the county, he said. With so much equipment left over, paying it forward is the right thing to do, he said.
"That's what this community is all about."
- Lac La Biche County Regional Fire Chief John Kokotilo on the giving attitude of rural Alberta communities
“Bonnyville and Barrhead gave some stuff too…I just saw it and thought, ‘we have a lot of stuff.’ We’ve got more than enough for ourselves,” the fire chief said. “They need it right now.”
The department will be donating seven large pallets full of stabilization equipment to dig for survivors in destroyed structures alongside protective equipment that Kokotilo says firefighters and emergency crews in the war-torn region will need urgently.
“We’re sending some Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); bunker gear, boots, helmets—about 10 complete sets— some field stretchers and hydraulic rescue tools,” he said.
To secure the donation, Kokotilo spoke with organizers from Firefighter Aid Ukraine who are working alongside the Ukrainian Canadian Congress to ship the equipment to Ukraine.
“When I called them I wanted to know what specific items they need, I didn’t want to send all the stuff…I had a conversation with one of the organizers—Stu Shaw—and he said they’re lacking medical equipment, like antiseptic, bandages and stuff — so we are sending one whole tote of that too.”
Delivering the various equipment to Edmonton where it will be shipped is provided by Lac La Biche Transport who readily volunteered their resources, which Kokotilo says shows just how supportive the community is.
“They've donated their truck and manpower to take it over there. That's what this community is all about. When we had the Fort McMurray fire, people were ready to help…now we have something that isn’t affecting us... but is, and we are having people willing to help.”
More to give
With six very active and well-equipped rural first stations in the municipality, Kokotilo says there is still a lot of inventory and surplus of material that could be donated to those in need. Much of that surplus comes from donated items that may not be compatible with the active equipment the fire halls are currently using, so it won’t take away from the local need.
“We may have a second round to donate, again we have a lot of equipment that isn’t compatible with what we’ve got… whatever we can do to pay it forward to Ukraine.”