Another morning waking to the drone of news helicopters. I wake up with my usual lament (“there is no better example of the great feats of human ingenuity squandered, than the Traffic Helicopter”) and flip on the radio to find out that there isn’t a stall on the Pattullo, but that a building a block from my house has been razed.
Another devastating fire; another group of neighbours spending the worst morning of their lives, looking at ashes and wondering how they will go on.
First off, we need to be thankful that, once again, no-one was seriously hurt. The alarm raised by neighbors, the professionalism of our Fire Department, and no doubt a significant amount of good luck means we are mourning things today, not people. We need no better example than last week’s fire in L’Isle-Verte to see how devastating a fire can be.
This is, of course, very different than the last fire. The impacts on the community will be different, as will the impacts on the people directly affected.
To those who didn’t call it home, the old three-story walk up on Ash Street will not be missed like the Copp’s Shoe Store and Royal City Café buildings. It didn’t have the architectural charm, it lacked in heritage features, and there are plenty more where that came from. It was a dull, utilitarian structure built in the 60s to maximize living space on the lot. There will not be a lot of hand-wringing about how to replace the gap it left in the City’s streetscape.
To those who did call it home, however, the loss will be deeper than even that felt by the business owners on Columbia. To lose your business is to lose a totem of your effort, a piece of your dreams, and a valuable part of your life, no doubt. But to lose your home is something else altogether. Every picture, every file, every piece of clothing or jewelry. Everything precious to you. Gone.
Those with foresight and means will have insurance, and will be able to replace stuff. Others will start again from scratch. But the stuff will not replace the loss of “home”, the place we return to for rest, for peace, for security. Even when I was a student and moving residences every year or so, it was easy to make my new place “home”, because I had my familiar furniture, pictures, books, toothbrush. For many who have lost all here, it will take a long time before some new place starts to feel like home. For those living on fixed incomes, and the working poor getting by from paycheque to paycheque, the task ahead is monumental.
As much as the businesses in Downtown, these people need help.
They are all fortunate that we have a well-resourced Emergency Management team in New Westminster, with a strong Emergency Special Services component. It has been educational for me to spend the last couple of years serving on the City’s Emergency Advisory Committee and seeing the different aspects of emergency planning being fine-tuned. I have some training in Emergency Operations, so I had a grasp of what happens during an Emergency response going in, but I did not realize how much work is done in preparing for after the Emergency – support systems to assist the victims after the flames are out and the portable fence is up.
For the dozens of families here, though, this will not be enough. This weekend, please contact one of the folks below to see if there is anything you can do to help. Money, clothes, dinner, petcare, household goods. who knows? The list of needs will be long, but not bottomless. We can do this.
Go to the City’s Website to see a list of organizations who are collecting donations.
The Downtown New Westminster BIA (demonstrating one of the many advantages of a BIA) is expanding their “Turn Down the Heat Week” program to help get some warm clothing for victims.
The New Westminster Chamber of Commerce is also starting a list of contacts for people offering various services. If you are a business with a skill, some resources, or an idea to help, get your name added to that list.
Reaching across the Pattullo, a business in Surrey is offering their storage space to collect larger items for donation. Communities expand at times like these.
Just as we did a few months ago, New Westminster has to step up and help our neighbours. Some may be feeling a little fundraiser-fatigue right now, but help from friends and kindness from strangers will do much to help a few of our neighbours feel “home” again here in New Westminster.