Winter conditions bring warnings
Okotoks: Emergency services urge residents to stay off ponds, exercise caution
Wednesday, Jan 10, 2018 06:00 am
Emergency service workers are reminding Okotoks residents to take extra care when the snow falls and temperatures drop.
Okotoks fire department and municipal enforcement personnel are urging people to exercise caution and adhere to bylaws this winter, especially given the amount of snow that has fallen in the past month.
Fire chief Ken Thevenot said his department is asking residents to remain aware of fire hydrants on or near their properties during snow removal. Some hydrants may have been covered by snow or made inaccessible due to shoveling or snow plowing, he said.
“It hasn’t been an issue for us yet, but it does take us a bit of extra time,” said Thevenot. “We’ve got all the snow clearing going on and we are making efforts to go around to clear them but it takes us a bit of time, so we’re just asking if residents do have one on or near their property if they could help us out.”
He said residents can help by digging out around fire hydrants, making sure not to cover them with snow and even clearing the areas leading up to the hydrants so they can be accessed easily.
As well, drivers are reminded to be cautious on snow and ice-covered roads. With temperatures fluctuating from well below to just above zero, he said the roads are very slippery and require extra attention.
The acronym SAFER is being used to remind drivers of their responsibilities on winter roads, he said: Space (allowing safe following distances and paying attention at intersections), Attitude (being patient), Foresight (being aware), Eyesight (keeping a constant visual scan on the road) and Responsibility (getting home safe).
“It’s about defensive driving, being safe on the road and being prepared and aware,” said Thevenot.
In addition, he said homeowners should be aware high levels of snow can block vents to the outside. It’s important to ensure furnace, hot water heater and dryer vents have not been blocked by snow, he said.
Those with wood-burning fireplaces are also reminded to check their chimneys, because the fluctuating temperatures can lead to a build-up of creosote, a carbon mass formed inside chimneys that is highly flammable and toxic, he said.
“This can be a concern especially if you’re not burning very dry wood,” said Thevenot. “It’s important to keep the chimney clean-burning.”
Another safety concern is people walking or skating on storm ponds in town or even on the Sheep River.
Though the ponds may be appealing when the surface freezes, Thevenot said they’re not made of “true ice,” because the water contains different sediments like road salt that change the stability of the ice and the water is moving below the surface.
“We had some pretty extreme cold, but still there’s moving water in the river and in the ponds and we had a snow load on top of the storm retention ponds,” said Thevenot. “With the insulation from the snow, you never know how that ice has formed.”
Municipal enforcement officer Sam Burnett said venturing out onto storm ponds is a violation of the Town’s open spaces bylaw at any time during the year, not just in the winter.
“It’s a major safety issue as well as a concern over maintaining the wetland areas as well,” said Burnett.
In the summer, people can get caught up in weeds or deep mud in the storm ponds and in the winter they can fall through unstable ice, he said.
The fine for entering onto a storm pond, for the first offence, is $100, he said, but when officers respond to a call about someone on the ice, or see people on the surface, their priority is to get people to safety, then educate them on what the bylaw says and why it’s in place.
“With all our bylaws it’s always education before enforcement,” said Burnett. “There are signs at our storm ponds, but they do get missed and we just want to educate the public not only on the rules but on the why behind them as well.”
Burnett said the department has very rarely issued a ticket to anybody for being on a storm pond. The only time it might happen is if someone has received a warning and is found back on the ice, he said.
Most of the time people are understanding, and municipal enforcement officers direct them to the outdoor rinks located around town, he said.
Parks manager Christa Michailuck said there were five outdoor rinks open in Okotoks as of Jan. 5, after getting off to a rocky start with above-average temperatures prior to Christmas and extreme cold during the holidays.
“We had done some floods on all the rinks before the big snowfall, and then the snow came and it was just slush underneath all that snow and it was a mess,” said Michailuck.
So far, rinks are open in Suntree Park, Ardiel Park in the Rosemont area west of Veterans Way, Cedar Grove Park on Lock Crescent and Hughes Park on Woodgate Road. The Kinsmen Rink is also open outside the Okotoks Recreation Centre, she said.
The Town asks residents to stay off outdoor surfaces if they get too soft from warm temperatures or just after flooding, to keep the integrity of the ice, Michailuck said.
Information on outdoor rinks, safety and bylaws can be found at www.okotoks.ca.