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Vol 38  No 13
April 27, 2006


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SERT Centre provide first-class training and support to West Coast

By Jeff Green

It was a wake-up call Wayne Reilly will never forget. On Sept. 27, 2005, the fire chief in the Town of Stephenville got quite a stir ­ one he hopes he’ll never get again. The news was grim. Parts of his community, located on Newfoundland’s west coast, were flooded. Heavy rains caused two rivers in the town to overflow their banks, washing away roads, bridges and sewer lines, engulfing vehicles and forcing the town to declare a state of emergency. Hundreds of people were displaced and some homes were demolished. In the end, more than 150 millimetres of rain fell on Stephenville over two days causing millions of dollars in damage.

Members of the SERT Centre helped rescue people from the worst flood Stephenville has ever witnessed.

“It’s something I wouldn’t want to live through again,” said Mr. Reilly. “We had 123 households affected and 103 will be demolished. We were lucky because we had help right here in our backyard.”

That help came from officials with the Safety and Emergency Response Training (SERT) Centre, operated by Memorial University’s Marine Institute. The facility, located at the Stephenville International Airport, is a satellite campus of MI’s Offshore Safety and Survival Centre (OSSC) and opened in November 2003.

In only a few short years, the SERT Centre has garnered an international reputation and is one of the premiere fire training facilities in Canada. It offers a litany of courses ranging from aviation rescue and firefighting to industrial safety and emergency response training.

The centre has also become a fixture in Stephenville and the entire Bay St. George region of the west coast, gaining praise from community leaders like Mr. Reilly who’ve called on the facility for advice and assistance.

“I can’t say enough about what that centre did to help this town during the flood,” he said. “From the manpower and equipment like survival gear to just offering us knowledge of what to do in an emergency like this which we’ve never been through. They were amazing.”

Mr. Reilly was so moved by the centre’s support he recently wrote Glenn Blackwood, MI’s executive director, to express his appreciation for the co-operation his brigade has received from the facility.

“Whenever we call on the SERT Centre they come through in a big way,” he said in his letter. “Whether it be a major flood where we need specialized equipment, an extra pumper to shuttle water out of town or a structure fire in town, SERT has been there.”

In March 2006, the town’s brigade again called on officials for extra help when it was battling a major apartment building fire which was threatening a part of the community. Within minutes, employees with the centre were on site with an extra pumper, porta-tank, a thermal imaging camera and extra cylinders of oxygen.

“It doesn’t matter what the time or weather conditions, the SERT Centre has brought an increased level of protection a town our size would never afford to purchase,” Mr. Reilly said in his letter.

That praise is humbling for Craig Harnum, program co-ordinator and lead instructor at the SERT Centre, but he’s quick to admit the help they have offered to the town is all in a day’s work.

Mr. Harnum said he and his co-workers are proud they’re able to give back to their community while training fire officials from all over Canada.

“Take the fire in March,” he said. “The town was still recovering from the flood which had washed the main water supply line away. It was only operating on a temporary service which is keeping water to residents, but the fire department couldn’t hook up to a hydrant. We brought our fire shuttle ­ the porta-tank ­ to the site which gave them a continuous water supply. I was happy we could lend a hand.”

The SERT Centre offers world-class firefighting training at its campus on the west coast.

Mr. Harnum said the centre has provided similar services to other towns throughout the Bay St. George region without thinking twice.

“We are called upon from time-to-time to help out. We would never turn our back on a community,” he said. “I have an open door policy.”

Doing this kind of community outreach is a cornerstone of what the SERT Centre is all about, said Mr. Blackwood. He’s proud that the facility and staff has incorporated itself so well into the fabric of the west coast.

“We have had incredible support from the people of Stephenville for the SERT Centre,” he said. “Craig Harnum and his team have shown tremendous dedication to the region’s fire and emergency services and have worked hard to make the SERT Centre such an integral partner in the community.”

To learn more about the SERT Centre visit www.mi.mun.ca/sert/.

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