BY BRENDA BUTTERWORTH-CARR
Commanding Officer of the BC RCMP
From the moment the province declared a State of Emergency on July 7, 2017, we knew there would be long days, few predicted those long days would stretch out over several months.
The challenges the wildfires presented were unprecedented with 65,000 British Columbians forced to evacuate. This has been our longest and largest emergency support operation. Over 4,400 police officers and civilian employees worked to ensure public safety during these wildfires. At the peak of the crisis, approximately 600 officers were deployed out to the affected communities.
Logistics presented significant challenges – such as how to get ten police officers to a rural area suddenly threatened by fires, five hours away and then safely evacuate residents and pets – while ensuring officers’ had their own evacuation routes. We patrolled evacuated communities around the clock and established checkpoints to ensure the safety of homes, properties, and animals that had to be left behind.
We often needed assistance, and throughout the crisis, we were deeply touched as people generously responded, in many cases before they were even asked. Residents and business owners assisted with evacuations, gas stations remained open so we could fuel our police vehicles, coffee or pizza was provided to those manning the checkpoints. We’ve used the word unprecedented many times throughout this wildfire crisis, but it equally applies to the manner in which our police officers and employees were treated – with unprecedented kindness and support which is simply remarkable.
Ensuring that the public was kept safe took the commitment and dedication of many people and organizations. We would not have been able to accomplish this without your support. We know policing cannot be done in isolation, and in a crisis, we stand stronger together.
I must acknowledge the multiple partners that worked with us. Municipal police agencies who work with us as part of our integrated teams, such as our Tactical Troops, joined in the effort, including our colleagues at CFSEU-BC. In addition, the BC Conservation Service, BC Sheriffs, Commercial Vehicle Safety Officers and local Search and Rescue personnel provided invaluable support and expertise.
We are not just the BC RCMP; we are your neighbours and your friends. Being a good neighbour helps to develop a sense of community, which you all graciously demonstrated during the worst wildfire season in British Columbia. We thank you.
On behalf of the BC RCMP, I want to express my appreciation and sincere gratitude for your dedication to your communities. We remain ready to continue to provide our support and engagement to ensure public safety and security for all.