The first time that the team of Salvation Army volunteers from Lethbridge’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) program took their brand new community response vehicle out, it was so new that the city’s health inspector had to certify the truck while the team was serving food for the very first time. A grass fire had erupted along the edge of the city and the team had mobilized to provide food for the city’s first responders. Since then, the EDS program in Lethbridge has grown into one of the most active ones in the territory.
“We have five teams that consist of three people and every Friday night one of our teams will go out and serve a hot meal to members of Lethbridge’s homeless population,” says Captain Ben Lippers, Corps Officer of The Salvation Army in Lethbridge. “We do street ministry once a week to keep our volunteers active and engaged so that they’re prepared for any emergency that may arise.”
Mary Simmons, a longtime Army volunteer, was one of the first people to sign up for the EDS program in Lethbridge.
“When we determined that we were going to get a (EDS) truck it sounded to me like something interesting to do,” says Mary. “Anyone who was interested in volunteering had to take several courses. They were things like what to do when you’re with people in emergency situations, stress management, and food handling.”
“The problem with EDS is that sometimes the trucks just sit between emergencies if you’re not doing some kind of street ministry, so you have to keep it going through programs like this,” says Captain Lippers. “You also have to work with the Fire Department to have middle of the night drills so you can keep your people tuned up should the need arise.”
While Lethbridge primarily provides support for emergencies taking place throughout southern Alberta, they are also ready to mobilize should a larger scale disaster occur. During the 2016 Fort McMurray fire, EDS teams responded from all over Western Canada. Mary spent a week in Fort Mac with her team working with volunteers from all over the province.
“We went to Edmonton and picked up some supplies before continuing on to Fort Mac the next day. We got there in the afternoon and started cooking,” says Mary.
“To have one team of three able to deploy you have to have fifteen people trained. It’s about a 1 out of 5 ratio that’s available during any given disaster,” says Captain Lippers. “We believe that there is a need to be ready. To be ready for when there is a disaster, to be ready with whatever we can be ready with, which is these canteen trucks.”
“I think it’s challenging as well as rewarding. You want to keep a high standard and do your best for everybody and working with the constraints of doing it all from one vehicle. You have a full kitchen in a 32 foot truck and you really have to work as a team to get people back and forth in your vehicle and still serve your clients,” says Mary.