HASAR pitches in during Ottawa flooding - May 9, 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Ten Huron and Area Search and Rescue (HASAR) members are now back home after spending a week in Ottawa, assisting with flood management.
Among those who travelled to the nation’s capital were Jamie Mitchell of Brussels and Theo Sawchuk from the Blyth area. They spent most of their time managing and co-ordinating volunteers, helping to sandbag low-lying areas and attending to calls of flooded basements or broken pumps.
As one of the few certified search and rescue teams that travelled to Ottawa during its state of emergency, HASAR founder Patrick Armstrong said he received much praise for his team, especially considering that the newly-formed organization still only has a few months of training under its belt.
“I received compliments and thank yous both from the Ontario Search and Rescue Volunteer Association (OSARVA) and Ottawa Search and Rescue in regards to members HASAR sent. Our members jumped in with both feet and we had seven people there within 24 hours of our initial request,” Armstrong said in a message to The Citizen. “All 10 total members who went were vital to both the safety and protection of property, as well as our relationship-building with fellow search and rescue members.”
Mitchell said that the members received very little notice in being called to the emergency in Ottawa, so decisions had to be made quickly. Conversations with a member’s family and employer needed to happen in a hurry and then the group began making its way across the province.
Personally, Mitchell said he wanted to take the time to go to Ottawa because it’s really just the way Huron County residents do things.
“In Huron County, in rural Ontario, that’s just what we do.” Mitchell said. “I know that if we were in [Ottawa’s situation] that I’d be grateful to see them helping on our end.”
Mitchell also said there was a personal aspect to it too, where he felt the experience would be valuable as a new member of HASAR.
He said the group hit the ground running as soon as they arrived, helping out for 10-12 hours per day. With busloads of civilian volunteers arriving every day, the HASAR members were most valuable to the effort when co-ordinating those volunteers, ensuring they all had a job they could take on and that they had everything they needed to help.
The HASAR group was situated around Constance Bay, northwest of the Ottawa city centre and along the Ottawa River.
Sawchuk said that being out in the field for the first time was a little new to him, but that he learned much on the fly.
He says that, like Mitchell, he knew he wanted to go to Ottawa and help if the opportunity presented itself, so when he got the e-mail, he immediately spoke with his wife Julie, who encouraged him to go.
After speaking with his employer, Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company, Sawchuk was given the go-ahead and he met up with the other volunteers and started for Ottawa.
When the HASAR crew arrived, Sawchuk said, the flood waters had shifted. The river level had dropped by five inches, but the water table inland had risen 16 inches, so many of the crew’s tasks were inland connecting with residents of the Ottawa area.
He said that while the search and rescue training had prepared him for being out in the field and finding a missing person, what was unexpected for him was all of the personal connection involved in a job like that in Ottawa.
He said that members were dispatched out to homes of elderly families whose basements were flooding. Not only did they build a dam to keep the water out of the basement, but they assured the seniors that everything was going to be alright and they informed them of what was happening in other parts of the city, for which they were grateful.
Sawchuk said he was proud to see the response from Huron County, especially since the organization is still so new. Many calls were put out to other search and rescue organizations throughout Ontario, with few sending people to help.
Both Sawchuk and Mitchell say they learned a lot about emergency management while in Ottawa, which will help them to be better prepared if and when something happens in Huron County that requires masses of volunteers.
For more information on HASAR visit it online at hasar.ca.