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Castlegar volunteer honoured by province for decades of service

Castlegar’s own Deborah Chmara has been named 2019’s Public Safety Lifeline Volunteer of the Year by Emergency Management B.C.

Many locals will recognize Chmara’s name from her 35 years of teaching English and Social Studies, first in Blueberry, then at Twin Rivers, then Kinnaird Middle School and finally Stanley Humphries before she retired.

What many don’t know is that she’s been an emergency services volunteer for even longer, and started Castlegar’s first Red Cross branch (just last year, she was given her certificate for 50 years of service with the Red Cross).

Chmara, 66, is the Emergency Social Services director for Castlegar and RDCK Areas I and J, the Canadian Red Cross Emergency Team leader for Castlegar – and the go-to gal in the event of a crisis or catastrophe in our community.

”In the event of an evacuation, municipalities are required to provide care for a minimum of 72 hours,” she said, “and you need a team of people to do that. We’re the ones who set up a reception centre if one is required and arrange for basic necessities.”

She said it’s not just in the event of a massive fire or flood – it could be a single house fire, a gas leak, flood or landslide of any scale, anything that results in people being evacuated from their homes.

Chmara coordinates a team of about 30 volunteers here in the area, who can be deployed in a moment’s notice – but also she travels and pitches in anywhere the Red Cross may need her.

 “She’s been deployed all over the world, and she’s been everywhere in B.C.,” said Castlegar Fire Chief Sam Lattanzio, who, along with Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Program Coordinator Duane Monsen, and Deputy Fire Chief Nick Ahlefeld, nominated Chmara for the award.

“Just the sheer amount of time and commitment and training and passion she has to ensure herself and volunteers are ready to go at any time … if anyone deserves this kind of recognition, it’s her.

“This recognition award is long overdue.”

Chmara said she was shocked when she learned of the award.

“I was so surprised – I had no idea I had even been nominated,” she said. “I think it meant even more that I was nominated by our own community, our own fire department. Our program has grown tremendously thanks to the support of the fire department – it’s them and the volunteers who make it easy.”

Anyone interested in volunteering is welcome to contact Chmara via the Castlegar Fire Department, but she cautions against doing so lightly.

“It’s a big commitment because you have to do a lot of training,” she said. “Our volunteers can also be deployed to other parts of the province, and you have to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

Chmara’s achievement will be formally recognized by the provincial legislature on April 10, a ceremony she has been invited to attend.

And from the Castlegar Source: Congratulations, Deb, and thank you so very much for your service!