It was a triumphant return for organizers with the 2023 Northwest Response Forum which is took place in Dryden this past week.
Part of the forum includes a trade show that gives attendees the opportunities to see some of the latest in equipment, as well a look at mental health which has been steadily increasing in priority for First Responders according to organizer Sharon Bak.
"We've seen talks on recovery, which we don't often talk often enough about the recovery aspect. Response is a very short period of time, recovery can take years, so we've had some good stuff on that."
Among the 140 officials from various emergency response organizations was Patrick Briere, who serves as the Public Information Officer for the Town of Fort Frances. He says beyond the panel topics and mini trade show, the ability to network with other agencies as the biggest takeaway for him.
"Seeing everyone face to face, being able to talk with people one on one and have those discussions with people that you necessarily wouldn't normally have."
Aside from attending the conference Briere was also a speaker, teaming up with speakers from three other organizations who were on the front lines of the 2022 flood season, which affected most of the communities in the Kenora-Rainy River area and both the municipalities of Red Lake and Sioux Lookout.
The presentation focused on the lessons learned and the future plans for a possible repeat event. Something Briere says, for his community, expands beyond the municipal boundaries now.
"We've amended most of our plans, we have created some flood mapping now, which shows all of the floods which have occurred in the Fort Frances area and we've included Couchiching First Nation in that as well."
That mapping includes colour coding to allow for tracking year by year for what the area has experienced.
Also on that panel was former Kenora Fire Chief Kent Readman who noted one of the many challenges faced that year was the fact that due to the widespread nature of the flooding, it limited the amount and capabilities of outside support.
"There is only so many resources out there, at say the provincial level, to offer assistance. Well they can't be in each one of our municipalities helping out when we'd like them to be."
Readman stresses working with many partners and having on going conversations with other communities on what the situation looks like outside of the flood season is one of the best ways to be prepared going forward.
Another session, presented by Thunder Bay Fire Rescue's David Paxton, informed and updated area first responders on the HAZMAT and urban search and rescue capabilities in the region.
"So as part of that resources we're just here to educate those that might need it, what it looks like, how to deploy it, what resources might come to help your community in an event of something similar to the mall collapse in Duluth just recently."
In addition to the representatives from fire, police and EMS agencies, members of administration from various municipal governments were also in attendance, which Bak believes is just as important as having front line workers learning the latest in techniques and strategy.
"So these folks are super important and if they can take any elements back to their communities, their organizations, that's the goal."
Officials will gather again for the next Northwest Response Forum in 2025.