Safety standards push wildlife officers overboard

Nunavut one of first jurisdictions to be in full compliance



Ten Nunavut wildlife officers took the total immersion approach to new national safety rules last week, jumping into the chilly waters of Frobisher Bay as part of mandatory emergency training.

Steve Harrie, Kenny Mill and Phil Walker from the Coast Guard’s Rescue Training Centre in Halifax came to Iqaluit to deliver two courses.

Marine Emergency Duties level 3 covers emergency and safety issues such as search coordination and communications. The second course, Small Vessel Operator Proficiency, covers basic operations such as docking, boarding and navigation, as well as equipment such as GPS.

Harrie, who has conducted this type of training for the last seven years, describes his class, which included one woman, as “very competent guys.”

One of the more grueling elements of the training session was “the swim” — where officers jumped into Frobisher Bay with nothing but a bright orange “survival suit” protecting them from the 1.4 C water.

According to Walker, people who fall in the ocean with no suit have less than an hour to get out alive. With the suit, a person can survive 12 to 18 hours in the icy sea.

“We wear them all the time at home,” Walker says.

Nunavut’s wildlife officers routinely use boats to patrol, support research activities, and for search and rescue operations.

Last year, 36 officers took the training, including two women.

Sixty per cent of this year’s class is Inuit with plenty of boating experience, Harrie says. Two wildlife officers from Alberta, however, were somewhat new to boating on the ocean.

The course cost $5,000 per participant and makes Nunavut one of the first jurisdictions to be in full compliance with the new standards, enacted two years ago.

Steve Pinkson, director of policy and legislation at the GN’s department of Environment, was pleased with the training that could save the lives of people who use boats on the job — often in cold, dangerous situations where there is little shelter and few services.

The new information, and the swim, will be built into the standard training program for new officers.

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