October 20, 2018

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Humboldt officials discuss city's response to tragic crash at Manitoba Disaster Management Conference

Jason Franson / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Mourners hug after the funeral for Humboldt Broncos player Conner Lukan in April. The city of Humboldt, Sask. became the emotional epicentre for enormous tragedy in April, when 16 players, staff and media linked to the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team died in a highway collision en route to a game in Nipawin.</p>

Jason Franson / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Mourners hug after the funeral for Humboldt Broncos player Conner Lukan in April. The city of Humboldt, Sask. became the emotional epicentre for enormous tragedy in April, when 16 players, staff and media linked to the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team died in a highway collision en route to a game in Nipawin.

Joe Day's heart goes out to community officials in upstate New York dealing with the emotional wreckage left after 20 people died Saturday in one of the deadliest highway accidents in U.S. history.

As the city manager of Humboldt, Sask., he knows the challenges they face.

"It makes me think about the local officials there on the ground and what they're dealing with relative to what we dealt with," said Day, the keynote speaker at Wednesday's opening of the 2018 Manitoba Disaster Management Conference, referencing the limousine crash in Schoharie, N.Y., which killed all 18 people on board, as well as two pedestrians.

"Are they going to get the attention Humboldt received?"

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Joe Day's heart goes out to community officials in upstate New York dealing with the emotional wreckage left after 20 people died Saturday in one of the deadliest highway accidents in U.S. history.

As the city manager of Humboldt, Sask., he knows the challenges they face.

"It makes me think about the local officials there on the ground and what they're dealing with relative to what we dealt with," said Day, the keynote speaker at Wednesday's opening of the 2018 Manitoba Disaster Management Conference, referencing the limousine crash in Schoharie, N.Y., which killed all 18 people on board, as well as two pedestrians.

"Are they going to get the attention Humboldt received?"

Also speaking at the conference is Humboldt Fire Department Chief Mike Kwasnica. Their small city of more than 5,500 became the emotional epicentre for enormous tragedy in April, when 16 players, staff and media linked to the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team died in a highway collision en route to a game in Nipawin. Thirteen other people were injured.

City officials knew Humboldt was so far away from the crash (170 kilometres), its emergency services wouldn't be responding to the accident and its hospital wouldn't be receiving the injured but, Day said, they knew they needed to do something. "As a community of emergency responders in Humboldt, what can we do?"

He said he met with senior managers and planned to set up a place where people in Humboldt could receive information, grieve and get counselling.

"The community has been dealing with mental health and making sure services are available," he said in an interview Tuesday.

The Humboldt city manager said his community's leaders took to heart the testimonials of counterparts in LaLoche, Sask., where a school shooting in 2016 left four people dead and seven injured.

"There's a real sense of abandonment of the people up there," said Day. "There wasn't the ongoing support system to show up and stay around.

"It was really impressed on us to make sure there's help there for weeks, months and perhaps years, so everybody can grieve and get over this."

In Humboldt, officials are still on the lookout for events or triggers, he said. "Professionals on the mental health side of things said, 'Lets provide lots of supports so those who are more vulnerable so they don't take any harmful actions.'"

Specifically, there was a concern about suicide, he said, adding a number of agencies have provided ongoing support.

"This incident made us realize how the mental health side of these tragedies needs to be managed," said Day. "It can have longer-lasting impacts."

The organizer of the three-day conference in Winnipeg said some 400 attendees are expected to hear Day and Kwasnica talk about Humboldt's experience.

"They have been quite sought-after," said Shelley Napier, a disaster management conference board member.

The Humboldt Broncos bus crash seared itself into the memory of many, like 9/11 did, she said.

"They're our neighbours," said Napier. "Everyone remembers where they were when they heard about the bus crash. It was devastating."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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