Alberta Health Services

Alberta Health Services

Article posted on September 16, 2022

Member Spotlight - Brooks Fire Department

Sandwiched between the country’s second-largest beef processing plant, Newell lake and the TransCanada Highway, the City of Brooks is an interesting place to be a firefighter. The population is just shy of 15,000, many of whom have moved to Canada for an opportunity to work at the plant.

Brooks Fire Department responds within the city as well as to two rural divisions outside of city limits. Chief Kevin Swanson and Deputy Chief Barry Yokoyama are the department’s two full-time employees. The rest of the department is comprised of 34 volunteer firefighters and four current firefighters-in-training.

“With the exception of 2020, we typically respond to over 400 emergencies per year. Last year we dealt with 485 emergency calls and 15 of those were water rescue calls,” said Chief Swanson. “In the fall of 2008, we had a tragic water rescue that resulted in a death. That triggered our first interagency water rescue exercise in 2009. We’ve come a long way since then.”

The region is diverse with industry, agriculture and the energy sector providing a variety of emergency calls throughout all seasons. Also supported by several rural County of Newell fire and MFR departments, the region is well-served despite its large footprint. Currently, there are two advanced life support (ALS) AHS EMS ambulances based out of Brooks. Other nearby EMS resources include a basic life support (BLS) AHS EMS ambulance in Bassano, a volunteer BLS ambulance in Vauxhall, and AHS EMS resources in Medicine Hat, which is an hour east of Brooks. Aerially, the region is served by HALO and STARS, as well as an AHS fixed-wing air ambulance out of Medicine Hat. 

Many unfamiliar with southeastern Alberta would have difficulty reconciling water rescue calls in a landscape that hosts rattlesnakes and cactus but when water bodies are rare, people flock to them. That’s why every year, Brooks Fire Department co-ordinates the summer training event and this year was no exception.

On August 16th, 44 people and two horses gathered at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park to practice their skills on Lake Newell. Participants included the City of Brooks Fire Department, community peace officers from the County of Newell and the City of Brooks, representatives and officers from Alberta Environment and Parks and Alberta Fish and Wildlife, AHS EMS, as well as volunteers from South Eastern Alberta Search and Rescue.

Participating resources included six rescue watercraft, three half-ton trucks, two horses, one utility terrain vehicle, one 30-foot light plant and two command posts (though only one was used for unified command). The scenario was built around a disabled boat taking on water, with three possible land-based victims and three possible water-based victims. In total, four victims needed to be rescued, all of which was accomplished with the help of both water and ground crews.

Brooks Fire Department Deputy Chief Barry Yokoyama and Chief Kevin Swanson impart instructions at the beginning of an annual interagency water rescue exercise.

“Our objectives were to practice water and land search patterns and search grids test our response plan and to test our ability to work together, interagency communication procedures utilizing an AFRRCS mutual aid channel,” explained Chief Swanson.

While the pizza served before the work began may have influenced participants, the practice was considered a success by all.

“The weather was perfect – hot, sunny, no wind and the water was smooth as glass. That’s great for training but we usually get called in the worst weather conditions,” said Chief Swanson. “Exercises like this are beneficial in so many ways. I think the biggest takeaway is that when you work as a team, you can move mountains.”

Southeastern Alberta Search and Rescue amped up their ground search game with the addition of two horses to the roster for the training event.


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Last Updated: Friday, September 16, 2022

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Edmonton, Alberta, Canada