Emergency Social Services – what is it all about? I can sum that up in several one word answers “helping”, “caring”, “assisting”. The generic answer is Emergency Social Services (ESS) is there to provide 72 hour assistance in the way of housing, clothing, and food in the event of a disaster or emergency. When a disaster happens, for instance a house fire, ESS is dispatched out to assist those persons who are displaced from their residence. This can happen any time, day or night. The ESS team arrives on scene and works with the victims of the fire. They are given referral forms to obtain food, clothing and toiletries to assist them for the next 72 hours, and the ESS team sets them up with some type of accommodation, usually a hotel. The amount of money that can be spent by the victims is set by the Provincial Government. The victim hands a referral form to say a clothing store and the store will send the referral form along with the invoice for the goods to the Provincial Emergency Program office for payment. They cannot exceed the amount listed on the form. In a larger scale fire or emergency, a reception centre is set up and everyone affected by the emergency is registered and given referral forms if needed. Usually if the event affects many people, mass lodging is supplied in a place such as a community hall or a gymnasium although some people find alternate accommodations on their own (with family or friends). Even if someone wishes to stay elsewhere registration at a reception centre is important to ensure everyone is accounted for. How does this all come together? The ESS teams are all volunteers. They are lead by an Emergency Social Services Director (ESSD). They are all provided training in how to deal with the victim(s), how to fill out the forms, etc. etc. Sounds basic but from the events that I have attended I have to say there is no feeling of compassion as there is when you sit down with a fire victim and they realize the magnitude of their loss. Many of them do not yet realize that they left without their wallet, identification, car keys, all the basics we rely on each day. It is Sunday and the bank is closed. They left in their pajamas and wonder how they will get to a store to buy something to wear. They realize their medication was left behind and don’t know how to get refill with no credit card, debit card, cash. Imagine how that would feel. I remember the look on one gentleman’s face when that moment of realization hit. I wanted to cry along with him. We all say possessions are not important as long as everyone is ok. This is true, however, the basics of life are important to get you through each day. That is why ESS is there. To help in the first 72 hours to make it just a little bit easier. I have been asked why I do this. “Why do you get out of bed in the middle of the night to go to a fire scene or hotel to meet up with these victims of fire?”. I say “because if I were the victim of a fire I would hope there was someone there to help me get through the first couple days.” ESS in both Oliver and Osoyoos are in desperate need of volunteers. If we get enough people interested we can all take turns helping out. Please, if you are interested in being an ESS Volunteer in any community in the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen area (especially in Oliver or Osoyoos), call the RDOS office at 492-0237 or 1-877-610-3737 and leave your name and phone number and area you wish to volunteer in. They will in turn provide your information to the ESS contact in your community and we will definitely be in contact with you.
written and submitted by Janette Van Vianen
Thanks to Janette and all the volunteers – up throughout the night helping and sharing at our last big fire when many people forced out of their apartments in Oliver.