Jay Woolner is part of an Albertan volunteer organization that has played a significant role in delivering supplies to those affected not only by the current wildfires in Alberta but has also helped a variety of communities affected by wildfires in British Columbia over the years. The organization is called the Western Canadian Powerstrokes Emergency Response Team (WCP), but their group is actually known by many names.
“We’ve been called the Fort Mac [Fort McMurray] Angels, we’ve been called Northern Alberta Truckers, a lot of different things depending on who we’re dealing with. They kind of pick up nicknames for us because we haul a lot of product to a lot of people when they’re in trouble.”
The WCP got started pretty simply, said Woolner.
“We watched what was happening during Fort Mac and we couldn’t sit here and not do anything.”
Woolner explained that his involvement with WCP started after he and wife, Tia, found a truck club online.
“They were just a normal special interest group on Facebook, but these guys were willing to help.”
Through a collaboration with WCP, Woolner and his wife were able to get in contact with local donations and evacuation centres to find out what supplies were needed.
“When people would call out on social media, we’d pass lists on,” said Woolner, who explained that in the beginning, he and Tia were not official members of the group. “We’d reach out to WCP and they’d haul for us. It didn’t take us or them long to realize that we work really well together.”
The Woolners were soon invited to become members and their emergency response team grew from there. The group of volunteers shares a spirit of generosity that has enabled the development of a real response team that now works to make a difference in Canada, in real-time.
“Everybody in the club will chip in a couple bucks here and there to fuel us, to keep us rolling and buy supplies,” said Woolner.
In November 2018, WCP decided to become an official registered non-profit in Alberta, but Woolner says that hasn’t stopped them from offering support to British Columbians, as they did when they saw a need for help during the unprecedented wildfire season of 2017.
“We started helping out via the Kamloops Food Bank, and then we reached out to Bob [Hicks] at the 100 Mile Food Bank,” said Woolner. “Kamloops and 100 Mile were our distribution points. We were sending three to five tractor trailers of food a day.”
The WCP Emergency Response Team’s primary assistance comes through the hauling of supplies to areas in need.
“Our purpose is to provide immediate, short-term solutions during disasters,” explained Woolner. “So, we don’t wait on paperwork, we don’t wait on registrations, [and] we don’t wait on that kind of thing. It’s immediate, short-term solutions.”
Woolner is one of the directors on the WCP board, where he primarily takes on the role of community engagement coordinator, fundraising and collecting donations. Still, he calls himself a small cog in the machine.
His family first got involved with WCP during the Fort McMurray wildfire. Other members, such as the group’s president Jason Klapstein and director Marty Frost, both fought the Fort McMurray fires and relied on the WCP to remain fed and fueled.
Tia Woolner is the secretary and treasurer of WCP but also serves as a dispatcher. Her admin positions on two wildfire support pages in B.C. and Alberta allow her to provide accurate information about what’s needed where.
“Before we became a non-profit last year, we were just a truck club,” said Woolner. “We would hang out and have meets, talk trucks, that was it. The need came up and some of the group was willing to go help others.”
With a little bit from everyone, Woolner argues that tackling emergencies becomes manageable: “No one person can make any of this work. But a little from everybody, and suddenly you’ve got two truckloads of product that goes to the people that need it.”
Looking ahead to summer, Woolner is hoping to see a lot of rain: “We are in deep trouble out here. These fires are big and we need all the support we can get. ”
If you or someone you know needs help or has an idea for a fundraiser, send the WCP Emergency Response Team an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, readers can learn more about their emergency response efforts by visiting their Facebook page, where donations are also accepted via e-transfer.