KAMLOOPS — As tens of thousands of wildfire evacuees flowed into the city, the call for volunteers was tremendous.
By the end of the summer, volunteers clocked more than 75,000 hours. A big part of the volunteer base was the St. John Ambulance.
"Over 5,230 hours over the 52 days of straight operation and the 71 days we were actually active," said division superintendant Andy Philpot. "When the event first happened, we got a phone call that said 'I'm at the lake, I'm on the way in, we're ready to do this.'"
On Tuesday — unbeknownst to the volunteers in the crowd — the local division was honoured with a plaque for its work during the 2017 wildfire season.
"Absolutely unprecedented response from our first reponders," said Jill Wurflinger from St. John Ambulance B.C. & Yukon. "72 days straight, it was an unprecedented wildfire season, and the volunteers here stepped up to answer the call in every way."
St. John Ambulance B.C. also recognized the therapy dog handlers for its contributions this summer.
"You rush out of your community, not knowing what's happening to your home," said Wurflinger. "The benefits of a therapeutic visit with a dog are well-known, they're widely researched, and those therapy dogs and their handlers provided a moment of joy to these people in a time when everything was uncertain."
Philpot said it was new territory for everyone involved, and the team adapted as the days dragged on.
"We had several members that had been here in 2003, so they were experienced from what went on in 2003, which was only 23 days of operation," he noted. "Once we hit three weeks, we were into area that nobody else had done in the province."
Philpot, though, wanted to acknowledge St. John Ambulance members from across the province who came to provide relief for exhausted local volunteers.
"The ones that came up from the Lower Mainland were just saying 'we're here for so many days. We're here, we're ready to work 12-14 hour days,'" said Philpot. "They took on the role of working night shifts, so they could give us a chance to get some well-needed rest and to get some of our members days off. That was just amazing."
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