April '11 Newsletter

Town Council News

April 2011                                                                                                                          Volume 6, Issue 2

(Photo left) Athabasca fire truck during a parade in Athabasca last year.  Photo courtesy of Sara Graling. (Photo right) One shot of some of the devastation caused by the Athabasca fire of August 1913.  Photo courtesy of the Athabasca Archives.

Centennial calendar features Fire Department events

The Town of Athabasca’s Centennial Year is in full swing and the Centennial 2011 Events calendar is filling up. Many local groups are planning events to acknowledge and help celebrate the Town’s 100 year milestone.

Centennial Committee assistant Sara Graling offers the recent Athabasca and District Music Festival and the Athabasca Dance Festival as examples. The upcoming calendar features a wide assortment of events, like the year-end performances of the Athabasca Ukrainian Folk Dance Club, April 30 – May 1, the Sheldon Casavant Magic show, May 7-8, and an open house at the Athabasca Fire Hall on May 28.

“There is a lot planned between April and June,” says Sara. “I’m encouraging people to check out the community during the coming months for dance festivals, hoedowns, arts performances, the Community Wellness Fair and Tradeshow and more.”

Noting the significant role that the Athabasca Fire Department has played in the community over the past century, Sara is excited to highlight a couple of events planned by the department in May and September.

“The open house at the fire hall on May 28 is a family friendly event to celebrate 100 years of service in the community,” she explains. “It’s an opportunity for kids young and old to check out the equipment and visit with local heroes.”

Fire Chief Denis Mathieu has indicated that equipment from 1912 will be on display: hand pulled carts will be available to the public and a hand operated pump will also be set up.

“The hand pulled carts were originally used by the three fire brigades in town,” says Sara. “They would be kept at the top of the hill, as it was much easier to move them down the hill than up. The open house is a great opportunity to check out some local antiques as well as to learn about what equipment the unit currently uses.”

Alberta Regional Extrication Challenge

In September, the Athabasca Fire Department and the Alberta Vehicle Extrication Association (AVEA) will be co-hosting the 2011 Alberta Regional Extrication Challenge. “This is a sanctioned event that invites teams from all over Alberta to compete in a friendly yet competitive environment, exchanging many ideas and innovations in vehicle extrication,” Sara explains.

Each team will participate in two challenge situations: Limited and Unlimited Pits. The teams are given 20 minutes to safely extricate an entrapped live patient from a staged vehicle collision.

“The top placing teams in each region will qualify to compete in the National Extrication Challenge and could possibly qualify for the International World Extrication Challenge,” says Sara.

The AVEA is a not-for-profit organization that is committed to contributing to the reduction of injury and deaths of all Albertans involved in transportation emergencies. The aim is to enhance the health and safety of all emergency responders and to assist AVEA members in achieving those commitments within their local communities.

Fireman’s Ball and Silent Auction

The Fire Department will hold a formal event, a Fireman’s Ball, on Saturday, Sept. 10, marking the Athabasca department’s 100th anniversary. Their last Fireman’s Ball was held 25 years ago to commemorate their 75th anniversary.

“The September 10 event will celebrate the effort and achievements of the Extrication Challenge participants,” notes Sara. “The fire department will also hold a silent auction and all proceeds from the Ball and auction will go to the charities, Road to Hope and Stars Air Ambulance.”

She encourages the community to show appreciation to the Athabasca Fire Department by attending and supporting the above events.

“As we celebrate the community organizations, schools, businesses and families that have contributed to our 100-year history, let’s not overlook the members of the Athabasca Fire Department, a group that has diligently served our community for 100 years,” says Sara. “If you know a member of the local fire department, remember to thank them for what they do. If you don’t know a member, come to the open house on May 28 and get acquainted with this amazing group.”

100 Years of Protection and Service

Sara did some research on the history of the Athabasca Fire Department, including spending some time in the Athabasca Archives, and her efforts turned up some very interesting details.

“In most rural communities, the fire and rescue services provided are possible because of a well-organized volunteer unit, and the commitment and sacrifice of the volunteers is evident in every dispatch,” she explains. “For 100 years, Athabasca has relied on the efforts of volunteers to keep its fire department serving the community.”

As early as April 1911, there was a need for an organized fire unit in the Athabasca Landing area. Members of the community organized a volunteer fire brigade, with the first Chief appointed being F.R. Falconer.

“By June 1911, the fire brigade would be challenged by the first of many major fires that destroyed local buildings and homes,” relates Sara. “It was reported in the Northern News in June 1911 that without the involvement of community citizens in assisting to battle the blaze, the community could have been wiped out.”

Two years later, on an early August morning in 1913, a fire swept through the town with 35 businesses destroyed and hundreds of thousands of dollars lost in inventory and assets.

“The fire was a reminder to the fire unit that immediate access to equipment and water is critical in every fire emergency,” notes Sara. “The response to rebuild the community of Athabasca was immediate.”

As the town grew and evolved over the next 98 years, the fire protection services continued to evolve as well. Over the years, the fire unit has been a first responder to emergencies, fires, floods and highway accidents. “As automobiles and commuters have become abundant on our roads and highways,” Sara adds, “the fire unit has become more involved with vehicle collisions.”

Athabasca currently has 16 volunteer members in its fire protection unit and provides fire protection for the town and county, as well as rescue services covering 200 km of highway. The department operates two pump trucks, one rescue truck, one quick response vehicle and one quad.

“These volunteer members are required to maintain advanced training,” Sara explains. “As the role of the department has expanded over time, vehicle rescue training has become a key component of the skill set.”

Sara encourages the community to attend the Athabasca Fire Hall open house on May 28 and to mark their calendars for the Sept. 8-11 Alberta Regional Extrication Challenge, hosted locally by the Athabasca Fire Department.

Visit the Alberta Vehicle Extrication Association website for more information.

Visit Athabasca 2011 Centennial for information on the events noted in this article and more.

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Athabasca Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee

The demand for doctors and other medical personnel is great across the province and the process of recruitment has become highly competitive. Members of our community may not realize that we have a local group of concerned and committed individuals working behind the scenes to help attract new candidates and keep existing doctors.

The Athabasca Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee has been active since January 2009 and includes representation from the Town of Athabasca, Athabasca County, Athabasca Healthcare Centre, Athabasca Healthcare Auxiliary Association, Primary Care Network, local physicians, Athabasca University, Rotary Club of Athabasca, Athabasca and District Chamber of Commerce, and several members at large. Recruitment efforts have also received in-kind support from some local businesses.

Chair of the committee is Mabel Dick, representing the Athabasca Healthcare Auxiliary Association. Representing the Town of Athabasca is Town Councillor George Hawryluk, who acknowledges the committee’s dedication to its mandate.

“Few people have heard about the committee, and people are not aware of the effort it takes to bring a physician to this region,” says George. “This committee has demonstrated a strong commitment to the community. It is very positive, one of the best committees I’ve been on.”

With so many Alberta communities vying for physician candidates as they come available, recruitment committees have to actively pursue the candidates and present a community in an appealing way as well as offer some potential incentives, such as relocation expenses.

“We are very aggressive in that approach, in enticing them,” George admits.

The Athabasca committee is also looking ahead and planning for the future.

“The committee is attempting to attract two new doctors to Athabasca,” says George. Listings have been placed on theAlberta Physician Link website. “The reason is that some of our currently practicing physicians may be retiring and we don’t want to create a void. Also, there are rumours of an upcoming economic boom and we want to be able to provide the necessary medical care and services.”

George is on the committee in part because it is in his councillor portfolio and also for more personal reasons, as he has a family member receiving hospital care and attention.

“This hospital is a diamond in the rough, it really is,” he says. “The service, the compassion, the dedication of the staff is second to none, from the physicians to the nurses to the support staff.”

George encourages the community to support the Athabasca Health Care Centre and the Athabasca Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee any way possible. He appreciates the often unsung efforts of members of the committee and the businesses, organizations and individuals who have provided support.

Committee succeeds in attracting doctors

Committee chair Mabel Dick notes that since its 2009 inception, the Athabasca Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee has succeeded in two out of three attempts to attract new doctors to the community.

“We have been successful in bringing two new physicians to our area because of the members of this committee, the financial support of Athabasca County, the Town of Athabasca, the Municipal District of Opportunity, and the Summer Villages of Baptiste and Island Lakes, and the Athabasca community working very hard and giving freely of their time, showcasing our community,” says Mabel.

The first success involved Dr. Andries Esterhuizen and Mari, his wife, who came from South Africa in 2009 to tour the community and consider the opportunity.

“They arrived on June 1, 2009, to our beautiful area and knew immediately that they wanted to move here,” recalls Mabel. “The community worked together to make the Esterhuizen’s visit a success.”

Their two-week visit included a welcome party, lodging in the home of a local doctor and his wife, the use of a dealer vehicle and free fuel, a trip through the Rocky Mountains, and a stop at the Legislature in Edmonton to meet MLA Jeff Johnson. Closer to home, the Esterhuizen’s toured the Athabasca Health Care Centre, Athabasca University, Baptiste Lake, Island Lake and Calling Lake, and were treated to an aerial tour by helicopter.

“After two weeks, they returned to South Africa with a verbal commitment that they would return when Dr. Esterhuizen had completed his studies and exams, including his course in anaesthesiology,” says Mabel. “Dr. Andries and Mari arrived back in Athabasca and a 30-month contract was signed on January 26, 2010. The committee assisted in finding them a place to rent. We had accomplished our goal by signing this new physician, an asset to our community.”

A second candidate and spouse, also from South Africa, arrived in September 2009 and received a similar reception; however, to date no commitment has been received from this candidate.

“Our third candidate was Dr. Lecia and Jasper (Japie) Buys,” notes Mabel. “They arrived with the Esterhuizen’s on January 24, 2010, and were greeted with an Alberta winter. At the welcoming party, the Reeve of the MD of Opportunity presented the Esterhuizen’s and Buys’ with much needed warm MD jackets.”

Again, the businesses of Athabasca came through with hotel accommodation, a dealer vehicle, fuel and an aerial tour provided by Yellowhead Helicopters Ltd. “I was fortunate to go along as guide, and see the Athabasca area under a blanket of snow,” says Mabel.

The Buys were also treated to area tours, some winter activities and a quick trip to Jasper.

“Dr. Lecia and Japie left Athabasca on February 7, 2010, with Dr. Andries and Mari driving them to the airport – in the new vehicle purchased from the dealer that lent them a vehicle when they came for their first visit,” explains Mabel. “Dr. Lecia and Japie returned to Athabasca July 4, and after Dr. Buys’ two week assessment at the Westlock hospital, started her practice at the Burger clinic on July 26. Another great asset to our health community.”

As the Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee looks ahead to future needs, Mabel values the Alberta Physician Link website as an important resource.

“Presently on the website there are 194 physicians needed in Alberta,” she notes. “So, we must promote our community to ensure that we will be able to recruit physicians.”

Committee lobbies for Safe Room and larger Trauma Room

Recently, the committee has taken advantage of opportunities to create greater awareness of the need for a Safe Room and larger Trauma Room at the Athabasca Health Care Centre.

“The hospital previously had a Safe Room, but when renovations were done a few years ago, it was omitted,” Mabel explains. “The Safe Room is a padded room that can be locked, used for violent patients suffering from drug or alcohol abuse or a mental condition.”

The Trauma Room is a room in emergency where critical patients are worked on. “There must be room for the doctor(s) and nursing staff to be able to work around the patient. Presently, they are tripping over each other.”

Last October, the Honourable Gene Zwozdesky, Minister of Alberta Health and Wellness, came to Athabasca and met with members of the committee and others in the community, including doctors and hospital staff.

“The minister was made aware of the needs in our hospital and our desire to progress and use the empty spaces,” says Mabel. “We pointed out the room that needs to be turned into a Safe Room as well as the small, cramped Trauma Room presently being used, the second operating room that was never completed, the large operating room that has been sitting unused for a number of years, the unused space next to the present emergency that could be used to expand the emergency room area and the 15 unused bed spaces in Pod 1 that we hope to reopen.”

More recently, these issues and concerns were expressed to another Alberta Health official.

“At the March Premier’s Dinner, Ken Hughes, chair of the Alberta Health Services Superboard, met with a number of us and after the meeting, we toured him through the hospital area that needs to be renovated for a Safe Room and a larger Trauma Room,” notes Mabel.

Helping to maintain Athabasca health services at a high standard is important to Mabel.

“I have been on the Athabasca Healthcare Auxiliary Association as treasurer for the past 11 years and find this volunteering very rewarding,” she says. “The doctors and staff and all the volunteers make the Athabasca hospital one of the best in Alberta. Each and every one of us in the Athabasca community must work toward retaining our excellent doctors.”

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(Photo left) Town Councillor Lionel Cherniwchan with Pleasant Valley Lodge resident Nancy Shalapay.  The new, relocated lodge features larger rooms and more spacious common areas. (Photo right) Pleasant Valley Lodge resident Annie Byrtus in the kitchen area of the apartment she shares with husband, Joe.

Residents settle in to new Pleasant Valley Lodge

Residents of the new Pleasant Valley Lodge in Athabasca have been enjoying the relocated facility for about four months now. The rooms are bigger, the facility hallways wider and the common areas more spacious.

Located on land south and west of Edwin Parr Composite School and across from a residential neighbourhood, the new two-story structure includes two wings that contain 56 resident rooms, including four doubles.

“Many of the residents are pleased with the new facility,” says Town Councillor Lionel Cherniwchan, who serves as chair of the Greater North Foundation (GNF) board that oversees this facility and others in the region. “We have a full house and there is a waiting list to get in.”

Lionel commends members of the community for their support during the planning and construction of the new lodge.

“The community came through with overwhelming support,” he acknowledges. “We received over $30,000 in cash and in-kind donations.”

The original building, located at 52 St. and 47 Ave., served the community for about 50 years. Former GNF board member Frank Crawford, who recently passed away, was involved with the construction of the original building and served on the board for the next 50 years. Recognizing the need to upgrade the facility for the benefit of the residents, he was keen to see the new building project get underway.

“Frank and (past GNF board chair) Lorraine Gislason helped plant the seeds for this project,” says Lionel. “To honour Frank, our meeting room here at the lodge has been named the Frank Crawford Conference Room.”

Lionel notes that there is something that some of the residents have complained about in their new living quarters: “The complaint we have received,” he says with a grin, “is that the rooms are too big!”

The quarters are noticeably larger than in the old facility and they include a sitting area, bedroom area, kitchen counter area with cupboards, apartment sized refrigerator, microwave oven where requested, clothes closet, bathroom and separate storage room. Where needed or requested, some furniture and fixtures have been provided. In some cases residents have brought their own.

“I like my room,” says resident Nancy Shalapay. Her window looks out upon a courtyard area nestled between the two residential wings of the building.

“Members of the Hawg Flatts Motorcycle Association and employees of Athabasca Home Hardware said they will build a gazebo there for the residents,” says Lionel. “We’re also looking for some landscaping around the building – grass, trees, areas for residents to walk. There is a trail at the back where we will do some cleanup.”

Resident Annie Byrtus is looking forward to the walking trails. The apartment she shares with husband Joe is at the end of one wing, on the upper floor, and looks out upon a naturally wooded area.

“I’ve got a lovely view,” says Annie. “I can’t wait to get on those trails and go for a walk.”

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Pleasant Valley Lodge occurred early in March and was attended by local and provincial officials, including Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

The Greater North Foundation board includes one representative each from the Town of Athabasca, Athabasca County, the Village of Boyle, Athabasca area Summer Villages, Calling Lake and two representatives from Lac La Biche County.

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