When the District of Port Hardy decided to incorporate Emergency Support Services (ESS) into Susan Bjarnason’s day-to-day job, they knew someone would always be available in the event of an emergency. A 23-year district employee working as a finance clerk, Bjarnason has been the ESS director since April.

“The problem with relying on volunteers for this work is that you can’t always get volunteers,” said Bjarnason, who let the District know she was interested.

Her first emergency support job was helping members of the Wuikinuxv Nation who were evacuated after heavy rain washed out roads in Rivers Inlet last year. Bjarnason and her team of volunteers found temporary residences and helped families with food, clothing and other immediate needs.

Just before midnight on January 18, Bjarnason got a phone call from the fire chief, alerting her to an apartment blaze. Families needed immediate assistance, and by 3 a.m. everyone was registered at a local hotel. Many of the people affected by the fire rely on income or disability assistance. In total, the ESS helped 12 families comprising 31 residents, four of whom were briefly hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

ESS emergency support, normally provided on a 72-hour basis, will continue in this case at least until February 15.

“Thank goodness we have the community we do that steps in and helps out,” said Bjarnason who grew up in Port Hardy. “They’re very quick to jump in and help with any kind of situation like this.”

Through a Go Fund Me campaign, the community even raised enough money for surgery to repair a dog’s broken leg, suffered when the pet was dropped from a window to escape the fire.

CUPE 401 welcomes new members

CUPE 401 welcomed Bjarnason and two other members when administrative workers in Port Hardy became members of the union following a Labour Board vote and hearing at the end of January. The three workers join CUPE members who work at the pool and arena in Port Hardy.

Bjarnason said the District has always been a good employer but she is glad to have a union. “It’s nice to know that there is protection— whether it’s from bullying and harassment, a change in jobs, or giving a person who is underperforming the chance to make a change and do better for their job—that’s what joining a union is all about.”

CUPE 401 President Blaine Gurrie, welcoming the newest members, said his local has been hoping for years that these Port Hardy workers would join them.

“As members of CUPE 401, they are now connected with other workers across Vancouver Island who also provide vital public services,” said Gurrie.

CUPE 401 represents a diverse group of members who provide services to municipalities and regional districts throughout Vancouver Island.