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Living on an island during a disaster

By Tetiana Psaras, Canadian Red Cross Digital Volunteer
Photo of Grand Manan Island
Have you ever wondered what living on an island is like? On Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, living on an island is reality for myself and the rest of the population of 2,360 people.

Grand Manan is a fishing community, located in the Bay of Fundy, that is only accessible by ferry boat or by air. Life cannot exist without the ferry on Grand Manan nowadays as our community receives everything from the mainland. Many people take daily trips to and from the island, whether it is for shopping, on business, or medical appointments.

When you are isolated, you have no other choice but to pitch in. Most people wear multiple hats in the community. The rule of survival is to help your neighbours, friends, and family. 

The one and only fire department on the island shared that they’re entirely staffed by volunteer firefighters and currently has 28 members, with 75% of their crew also certified as first responders. The nearest Emergency Department on the mainland to access to other specialized services, even under the best circumstances, is an hour and a half away from the island. The firefighters here must use all tools at their disposal to support the community.
Photo of volunteer firefighter
 In a small community like ours, you know everyone very well. The responders shared that when they get a call about the fire, the first thing that goes through the mind is not about the fire, the question is – who is it? A volunteer firefighter shares, “We feel very blessed and thankful for being supported by the community and the village council. We are a tight group, and when you commit yourself and join us – you join the family. We laugh together, and we cry together.

The firefighter crew is accustomed to cancelling their travel plans and medical appointments on short notice to deliver the proper emergency coverage. You may find them on the road when answering an emergency.

Most of the emergencies that we face on Grand Manan Island are weather-related. We get everything from snow storms, to dense fog, to hurricanes. The non weather-related emergencies are usually house fires, motor vehicle, and boating accidents. I’ve noticed that living in such a remote community creates a different sense of urgency and need for preparedness. Many households have backup generators in case of a power outage or rely on the wood heat throughout the winter. As the entire community receives water from wells, the water supply pretty much stops along with the power. Therefore, many people store drinking water along with water used for household chores such as, washing the dishes and personal hygiene.

I asked my neighbours how they prepare for emergencies and it turns out that most of the preparedness tips are the same throughout Canada, with a few exceptions. Our remote households on the island prepare for emergencies with the following:
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First aid kit with prescribed medications supply
  • Flashlights, spare batteries, axe and waterproof matches
  • Pet food supply
  • Shovel, windshield scraper, and windshield washing fluid supply
  • Water supply. Some prefill their bathtub with water a few hours before a storm.
  • Alternative heat sources, blankets and sleeping bags
  • Portable propane and camping stove burner
  • Portable VHF radio
  • Full tank of gas and filled gas cans
  • Non-perishable food, Brunswick sardines, and snacks such as storm chips are popular
Learn how to be ready for emergencies and disasters in your community.

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