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Lessons learned from the Alpine fire

RMOW debriefs Nov. 10 incident at Committee of the Whole



If there was one positive to arise out of the Nov. 10 fire at Alpine House that displaced roughly 70 to 80 people, it's the outpouring of support that followed.

Businesses donated goods and services, fundraisers were organized, and Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) was inundated with more donations than it could handle.

But if there's one lesson Whistler Fire Services Chief Geoff Playfair thinks the community should take from the incident, it's the importance of tenant insurance.

"It's so often forgotten, probably across the country, but certainly in this town," Playfair said at the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) Dec. 15 Committee of the Whole meeting, which was focused on the lessons learned from the incident.

Playfair didn't know the exact numbers, but said only a handful of those affected by the Alpine House fire had tenant insurance.

"They're not looking to register with Emergency Social Services (ESS), because they've got their own system in place," he said.

"So (the fact that) the community is very giving and generous is all very well and good, but they don't need to be giving and generous if people have their insurance in place."

Playfair suggested it might be worth making tenant insurance a requirement under municipal bylaws, if possible.

Other improvements could be made in transitioning people from the RMOW's mandated emergency response — the first 72 hours — to ensuring their needs are taken care of in the long term, Playfair said.

It would also be helpful to have a "virtual peer-to-peer" system for donations similar to what was taking place on Facebook after the event, he said.

Almost two-thirds of the clothing donations received by WCSS were unusable due to rips or stains.

As such, WCSS will not be taking clothing donations after future emergency events, at least until a protocol is put in place for handling them.

"It was taxing on their staff to sort through everything," said RMOW Emergency Program Coordinator Erin Marriner, adding that she's looking into ways to better match donors with people in need.

Another recommendation from the fire was to implement a system to ensure ESS gets dispatched earlier, something Marriner said has already been taken care of.

Now, when a major structure fire alerts all three of Whistler's fire halls, ESS will be automatically alerted as well, she said.

"ESS will automatically get called through dispatch, and then a couple of volunteers will go to the site," she said.

"If they're not needed they can leave a couple cards and go home, and then if they are, they're on site to start doing that, so we'll try it that way for a little while and see how it looks."

In highlighting what went well, Playfair and Marriner praised the response from firefighters and ESS responders, the support of the community in the aftermath and the use of the Meadow Park Sports Centre as a reception centre for those displaced.

Marriner also praised RMOW communications staff in keeping the public informed.

"A lot of people were really keen to know what was going on and to assist where they could, so the communications department was great in getting stuff out," she said.

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the main things that stuck out to her were the importance of having tenant insurance, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, as well as making sure your extinguishers are not expired and that you know how to use them.