Terrace Sally Ann mobile kitchen on its way to Fort McMurray

The mobile kitchen, or emergency disaster services vehicle, will offer support to first responders dealing with the fire ravaged city

Terrace Salvation Army Capt. Jim Vanderheyden

The Salvation Army in Terrace has sent its mobile kitchen vehicle to Fort McMurray in an effort to provide food, basic services and emotional support to people, mainly first responders and other crews, who’ve been affected by the wildfire’s devastation.

The vehicle, which has been in possession of the Terrace Salvation Army for almost 10 years and is the biggest of its kind in B.C., left yesterday, Victoria Day, carrying Salvation Army personnel from Terrace, Williams Lake and Quesnel.

The main purpose is to provide food for the many service providers, first responders and clean-up crews in Fort McMurray who’re trying to get the city ready for the anticipated June 1 re-entry of residents displaced by the fire.

“When they go into Fort McMurray they will set up, and we can feed probably 500 people hourly out of that truck,” said Capt. Deb VanderHeyden of the Terrace Salvation Army.

VanderHeyden said the truck features a full kitchen that includes an oven, grill, freezer and fridges. In addition to being a mobile kitchen, the truck also functions as an emergency disaster service vehicle.

“In the Salvation Army we receive a lot of training for emergency disasters,” VanderHeyden said. “We’re actually ready to deploy within an hour. We get the phone call from John McEwan, who’s in charge of disaster services in British Columbia, and we can deploy within an hour.”

VanderHeyden said the Terrace Salvation Army had been ready to send its vehicle since the Fort McMurray wildfire broke at the beginning of May.

“You have to be requested to go,” VanderHeyden said. “We’ve been ready to go basically since the city was on fire, but until you’re requested there would be no point in going.”

She said that once the truck arrives in Alberta, organizers will direct the team to where they should set up and how they can best serve the community.

VanderHeyden’s husband Jim, who’s also a captain in the Salvation Army, was one of three individuals who started making the journey over to Fort McMurray in the truck on Victoria Day. He’s joined by Capt. Isobel Lippers from Williams Lake and Lt. Stefen Van Schaick from Quesnel.

Salvation Army volunteer Lolita Dunham from Terrace, Capt. Dave MacPherson from Vancouver, Maj. Martin Ketterinham from Salmon Arm, and Sally Ann food bank coordinator Don Armstrong from Chilliwack will be joining their counterparts in Fort McMurray to operate the emergency disaster services truck as well.

“There’s still a lot of first responders in the city and as well there are crews from all around different provinces,” VanderHeyden said. “They’re working hard to meet some of the conditions that have to be met before the residents can come back in.”

While Fort McMurray is basically uninhabited at this time, the fire having displaced over 80,000 residents and with people fleeing to all parts of the province, there are hundreds of first responders in the city making sure the conditions are met for residents to re-enter in the coming weeks.

Some of the conditions, outlined by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo that Fort McMurray is a part of, include ensuring emergency services in the area are restored to full capacity, important infrastructure is repaired, and that dangerous areas are properly contained.

“Our truck will likely be there for months to come,” VanderHeyden said of the amount of work facing the team.

Besides providing food to the crews working around the clock to repair the city, one of the goals of the emergency disaster services truck and its team is to simply be there for the community, VanderHeyden said.

“The emotional care is huge. When people come back and find their home isn’t there any longer and their possessions are gone – the spiritual and emotional care will be as important as the food when the people start coming back,” VanderHeyden said.

She also said they’ll be on-hand to offer emotional support to the first responders and repair workers.

“Offering people the opportunity to talk and debrief about what they’ve seen and how they’re feeling and, as often as we can, we would just provide any little things that can help. Maybe a firefighter has wet socks? We would have just small items like that for them. And a chance for them to sit down for a few minutes and catch their breath and just talk about what’s happening. It’s important.”

“They’re going to be very tired by now,” VanderHeyden said.

VanderHeyden added the Lethbridge, Alta. branch of the Salvation Army has also deployed an emergency services truck along with Terrace’s team.

The last time the Terrace Salvation Army used its emergency services truck on a large scale outside of the area was during the floods that damaged parts of Calgary in 2013.

While the local vehicle will be in Fort McMurray for some time, the Sally Ann members with it will be rotated in and out of the area.

“Because of the devastation that their facing up there, the Salvation Army won’t leave them in for more than seven to 10 days, and then they’ll be brought in, debriefed, rested and then they’ll go back. They’ll go in and out as often as required,” VanderHeyden said.

“To the Salvation Army, their emotional well-being is important as well because if they’re not healthy, they can’t do the job they need to do when they’re up there.”

People that would like to donate to victims of the fire in Fort McMurray can do so online at www.salvationarmy.ca/albertafires.