There are few people that have spent as much time thinking about emergencies as Denis Vassart, the City’s Emergency Planning Coordinator. This month, Vassart will step away from his part-time role and devote less time to floods, fires, chemical spills, and the many other potential disasters he was tasked to plan for over the past 16 years.
Following 9/11, the province mandated that all municipalities create and maintain an emergency plan. Vassart’s 22 years of training both as a firefighter and Officer with the Steinbach Fire Department made him a good choice to revamp the City’s official emergency plan (jointly with the RM of Hanover). He did, and has continued to enhance and evolve the plan ever since.
“I would like to thank all the volunteers who I had the privilege to work with over my time as Emergency Coordinator,” said Denis Vassart,“The emergency program would not be where it is today without their help and dedication.”
Vassart founded the city’s first Emergency Operations Centre Team, recruiting volunteers that work to prepare the city for and respond to major emergencies or disasters. He has continued to lead this team, recruit members as needed, and facilitate their required training. Most recently, he successfully applied for a grant to equip the team with laptops, allowing them to streamline communication and see information in real time during an event.
In 2010, the City of Steinbach became the first community in Canada to be certified as "Storm Ready." Initially a pilot project, Vassart set up a group of volunteers, trained by Environment Canada, to watch the skies during extreme weather and alert residents through local media of significant events, such as tornados. He continues to run this program every summer storm season.
In 2015, Vassart was the motivating force behind the launch of Steinbach’s emergency notification service, Steinbach Alert Now. Allowing for effective communication to residents via text, phone call, or email before, during, and after an emergency. The service is free for residents to subscribe to online and is a significant improvement over the door-to-door notification system in place prior.
In 2016, the City of Steinbach received the Manitoba Community Emergency Preparedness Award, recognizing communities with programs meeting or exceeding provincial standards.
In 2017, Vassart ran a very successful mock emergency involving approximately 125 participants to test the city’s emergency plan as well as practice interaction between Emergency Services departments and community organizations. This exercise was invaluable to everyone involved, allowing them to learn from the event and use the learnings to adjust and improve response plans for a real emergency.
“The City has been very supportive on all the projects our team has undertaken and the City staff has been great to work with and always available to help out when needed,” said Vassart.
It is thanks to Denis Vassart’s dedication to the safety of residents that Steinbach is considered an outstanding example of preparedness for other municipalities. The City thanks him for his years of service.
When Vassart’s retirement begins, Vassart’s role will be filled by Kelvin Toews, Steinbach Fire Chief.