By Anna Smith
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
For Stewart Payne, Director of Emergency Management for the County of Forty Mile, this has been a busy year.
“I’m also the director of emergency management for the County of Forty Mile and in that role I’m responsible for the county’s response to the COVID pandemic impact in our area,” said Payne. “How has it been? I’ve been very busy, let’s say. The County of 40 Mile is a remote municipality. We’re 100 kilometres away from the City of Lethbridge or the City of Medicine Hat, and even to some degree, that far away from the City of Taber. Prior to the fourth wave we’ve been blessed not to have the impact that urban cities have, so urban cities have been impacted way more than we have been. Cut right now through the fourth wave we have more active cases than we have had all from the beginning and they’re all impacting us all in the last three weeks here, so it’s pretty pretty aggressive right now.”
The community has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the province, said Payne, which may have had an effect on the case numbers the area is presently seeing. However, numbers are slowly dropping, and Payne has taken the spread of information from Alberta Health Services into his list duties as vaccination clinics remain open in the area.
The emergency planning has been as normal in the county, save for the additional duties in regards to Health Services, said Payne, and insuring that the community has business continuity in place, but no other changes were required during the pandemic.
One silver lining, however, comes in the form of the number of available volunteers for emergency response.
“One of the really nice things about living and working in the County of Forty Mile is the community support,” said Payne. “So the volunteer efforts that go on in our community are amazing. I want to give kudos to our volunteer emergency services personnel throughout the COVID and everything. Obviously, we’ve had to implement some protective equipment standards and increased some of that requirement. But they maintain and have continued on being the volunteers that they’ve always been and it’s good to see. So I want to say that you know, we haven’t really struggled because of COVID in terms of our volunteer pool.”
This abundance of the usual volunteers includes their volunteer firefighters, who, despite the heat and drought, was fortunate to not have to combat many fires this year, as we move out of the high daytime temperatures.
“We do have a fire chief in the County of 40 Mile and I don’t want to really speak for him, but it’s been a really dry year,” said Payne. “Everybody has had to be mindful of that and make sure that you know, they’re not the cause of any major emergency and just like the province on dry years, sometimes we have a lot of fires and sometimes we don’t. This year the province didn’t have a lot of fires, and this year the County of 40 mile didn’t have a lot of fires. So you never know whether it’s gonna be a busy dry year or quiet, right. And so far this year, you know, knock on wood. It’s been relatively quiet.”