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Team of 68 Vernon emergency volunteers ‘remarkable’ amid wildfires

Being an ESS volunteer is more than just showing up once a crisis has emerged
A thank-you banner has been placed inside Kal Tire Place Arena in Vernon for folks to sign to show their appreciation for volunteers who helped wildfire evacuees for more than two weeks. The Vernon ESS reception centre has closed down Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Vernon’s Emergency Support Services (ESS) reception centre closed on Thursday, and now the City of Vernon is thanking the team of dedicated volunteers who helped wildfire evacuees navigate stressful and uncertain times.

A team of 68 “remarkable individuals” spent 15 days at the core of Vernon’s disaster response efforts, helping to provide for the care, safety and well-being of those impacted by wildfires in the Central Okanagan and Shuswap. The ESS program assisted 2,467 evacuees from Aug. 17-31 (slightly fewer than the 3,000 evacuees assisted over six weeks during the White Rock Lake wildfire in 2021).

“Everybody here has been fabulous,” said Linda Gillis, a full-time ESS volunteer who takes part in activities even when there is not a disaster at hand.

Being an ESS volunteer is more than just showing up once a crisis has emerged. It’s a process that starts well before a disaster strikes and continues well after. With year-round participation, training and program delivery development, ESS volunteers stay informed and up to date on changes to programs and policies.

The efficiency of Vernon’s ESS program during its most recent activation is a testament to the dedication of its volunteers and their investment of time, training and practicing throughout the year, the city said in a media release Friday.

“We are truly blessed to have such a large group of caring, knowledgeable and dedicated ESS volunteers in Vernon,” said Sue Saunders, Vernon’s emergency program coordinator. “When incidents occur, it’s invaluable to have volunteers who have developed the skills used in response.”

The city commends ESS volunteers in Vernon and around the province for the work they’ve done throughout the fire season.

Gillis says each volunteer brings a different set of skills and experience to the table.

“Everything from management to working in hospitality, there’s a lot of experience that we can translate into what we’re doing here,” she said.

“Most of us have been here for a few years so we have learned to work together and we work together very well.”

Vernon ESS has received more than 100 new volunteer applications. Those applications are still being processed. As volunteering with the ESS is a year-round commitment, the city will be reaching out to applicants in the near future to discuss the volunteer opportunities available.

A thank-you banner provided by Wayside is now at Kal Tire Place just inside the main entrance on the concourse. It’s there for people to express their appreciation for emergency responders and ESS volunteers.

For more information on becoming an ESS volunteer for future responses, contact the emergency response coordinator at

READ MORE: Nearly 70 Vernon volunteers making life easier for wildfire evacuees

READ MORE: South end of West Kelowna wildfire most active, structure protection crews in Glenrosa

Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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