Blocks put on roads leading into Nak’azdli Whut’en. The sign reads: The community is requesting only local traffic and persons conducting business on behalf of the community to go past this point. This is for the safety and protection of our community. Thank you for your compliance. (Aman Parhar/Caledonia Courier)

‘We have check-points, not road blockades’, say Nak’azdli officials

“Nak’azdli did not advise the fire department immediately before, nor at the time road blocks were being put in place as it was happening on that morning of April 20th,” Fire Chief Steven DeRousie said.

Last week, the Caledonia Courier reported on the ‘road blockades’ into Nak’azdli Whut’en.

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Vale Gainer, Emergency Coordinator for the community reached out to the Courier to say that the term ‘road blockade’ was not accurate, instead these are ‘security check-points,’ he said.

Another issue raised by chief and council, Gainer said, was that the Fire Chief was informed on April 23 of the check-points and that the statement that “there was no communication about these blockades” is untrue.

“It’s all about health and well-being of the community…” Gainer said.

Nak’azdli communications staff had not responded to a request for comment last week before the story went to print. Tarina Honeywell sent a response to the Courier after press deadline at 11:55 am on April 27, explaining the check-points.

“We felt the need for the check-points because we spent a weekend observing the traffic flow and found that there were over 700 vehicles that did not belong to Nak’azdli residence’s.”

“We are trying to keep our elders and members safe and with that amount of unnecessary traffic we can’t risk someone falling ill, that is why we have implemented the check points with security. Only essential services are being allowed on Nak’azdli,” Honeywell told the Caledonia Courier.

Last week Courier staff reached out to Fire Chief Steven DeRousie, to get his input on the comments provided by Gainer.

Q: Nak’azdli officials say that the blockades were communicated to the Fire Chief before.

Fire Chief: Friday March 27th is the date I first became aware Nak’azdli released information in respect to their intent to implement a Curfew for ages 16 and under, and a plan to implement Checkpoints on Nak’azdli and Highway 27 via a directives communication sent to the District Office only. This was forwarded to the fire chief by email.

Wednesday April 1st, the Fire Chief did receive information from Nak’azdli communications office to review their “proposed” checkpoints and access points however there was no date provided that this would occur.

Wednesday April 1st, the Fire Chief advised that physically blocking certain roads into Nak’azdli could increase emergency fire response times by an estimated two minutes within Nak’azdli.

Thursday April 2nd information was provided to the fire chief that checkpoint signage would be in place at “all checkpoints by Friday”.

Wednesday April 8th information was received from Nak’azdli that the checkpoint signage was now in place on Nak’azdli. There was no further information communicated by Nak’azdli of their intention to block off certain roads at that time.

Monday April 20th one of our firefighters asked the fire chief if he was aware that there were roads into Nak’azdli that were blocked off. This was the first information brought to the fire department that some of the checkpoints had been changed to a blocked off road.

Nak’azdli did not advise the fire department immediately before nor at the time road blocks were being put in place as it was happening on that morning of April 20th.

For the record, it was confirmed by Nak’azdli that all emergency vehicle traffic would be let through any of the partially blocked checkpoints without any delay.

Q. Second, officials from Nak’azdli are saying that it is not a ‘blockade’ but a check point. Any comments there?

Fire Chief: Some of the roads accessing Nak’azdli from Highway 27 have concrete blocks placed across them, and are in fact “physically blocked” for all vehicle access with no ability to move them aside such as you could with a gate or barrier of some kind such as those used by MOTH.

Other roads into Nak’azdli are only partially blocked halfway across with concrete blocks as well as a checkpoint sign and personnel checking proof of residence in Nak’azdli. These can be used by emergency vehicles to access their community roads to respond to emergencies.

Q: Any other comments in regard to the communication piece between Nak’azdli and the Fire Department in regard to the checkpoints/blockades?

Fire Chief: Because the District has entered into a contract agreement to provide fire protection service to Nak’azdli, we are under an obligation to meet that agreement and the District Council should be made aware when there are changes made by either party including any planned events that could affect the timely and effective emergency response expected by Nak’azdli under that agreement.

The Protective Services Report to the District Council included the statement of the roads being blocked off without prior notification to ensure the Council was aware that the fire chief had responded appropriately to the events taking place and is taking further necessary steps to ensure emergency responders continue to be well informed of this and any future changes that could affect the performance and effectiveness of emergency response to Nak’azdli.

As fire chief I have every intention of improving communications between Nak’azdli and the District Fire Department. I would only ask that the fire department is informed when planned or unplanned events are occuring that could or will impact the ability of the fire department to respond to calls for help in the event of an emergency.

Aman Parhar
Editor, Vanderhoof Omineca Express

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