Cross-border emergency readiness studied

Duane Hicks

What if an emergency situation arose that required a response from both sides of the Fort Frances/International Falls border?
What if the border was closed?
Those are just the sort of scenarios a committee, comprised of representatives from both sides of the border, is preparing for.
“Through the [U.S.] Homeland Security Organization and some other cross-border organizations, there was a decision made that there was some need to try and refine some of the cross-border incidences where, in the event of an emergency or if the border ever had to be closed, how we can share resources back and forth, being as remote as we are on both sides of the border,” noted Fort Frances Fire Chief Gerry Armstrong, who also is the town’s emergency services co-ordinator.
“It comes down to emergency services, and perhaps less, emergency response organizations, who may need to share resources and how they can actually share those resources, in a legal sense,” he added.
“That’s kind of what this is all about.”
Chief Armstrong, who is sharing the role of cross-border committee co-ordinator with Koochiching County Sheriff Brian Youso, said the topic initially was broached at an cross-border emergency services conference in International Falls last year.
That grew into a cross-border committee, which now has met twice.
This committee, which is in the process of developing terms of reference and handing out task assignments, is made up of emergency response organizations from both sides of the border, the two hospitals, the Northwestern Health Unit and its U.S. counterpart, police, EMS and fire protection services, the Red Cross, and others.
“Really, the intent is to focus on agreements themselves and trying to come up with something,” Chief Armstrong explained.
“Fire services may need to share resources in the event of a significant emergency, and we want to be able to do that because we depend on them as they depend on us,” he noted.
“The same goes for ambulance services and perhaps even the hospital.
“At one point in time, there was a whole bunch of babies born in Fort Frances from the Falls side, and we’ve used their scanning equipment on the Falls’ side,” Chief Armstrong said.
“Even though it’s all kind of there and we’ve been fortunate enough to utilize it, more recently, the border is a little more difficult to cross—required documentation and all that sort of thing,” he continued.
“It’s really all part of this discussion that’s happening.”
Chief Armstrong said having a cross-border committee also is a good way for members of organizations to introduce themselves to their counterparts, as well as maintain lines of communication.
“That’s a big part of it—so we understand them as they do us, and we know what our capabilities are should we have to share some things,” he remarked.
“For the most part, it’s about working with your counterpart to come up with some thoughts and ideas about what’s going to work best for each.”
The cross-border committee most recently met on Oct. 7 and plans to do so quarterly, alternating meeting sites between both sides of the border.