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Dummy drama unfolds at Jackfish site

Elizabeth McMillan
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 5, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - A routine training exercise at the Jackfish Power Plant sent emergency crews into a frenzy Tuesday at noon as they responded to reports of a body hanging from a power line close to Highway 3.

NNSL photo/graphic

The NWT Power Corporation held an exercise Tuesday to train workers on how to rescue a person caught in power lines. But unaware of the exercise, emergency personnel raced to the scene after someone reported seeing a dead body. - Elizabeth McMillan/NNSL photo

The body was actually a headless dummy, strung up on power lines to simulate an emergency response situation.

"I guess a passerby thought it was real," said Dave Moline, a power line manager with the NWT Power Corporation who was running the training exercise.

Moline arrived with his crew shortly after RCMP and ambulances realized it was a false alarm and left the area, just 100 metres from the Jackfish Loop in plain sight of motorists.

He said 13 linemen from across the territory were in Yellowknife Tuesday for training. They were going to practice securing the dummy with ropes and bringing it to the ground safely.

"We're just practising tower rescue," Moline said.

Yellowknife Fire Chief Darcy Hernblad said one command vehicle, an aerial truck and an ambulance responded but didn't know it was a training exercise until they arrived.

"No one informed us so we had to treat it as a real call," he said. "The call came in that it looked like a worker was hanging from the tower and was slumped over and looked like he was unconscious."

He said it was a natural reaction for someone to report it as an emergency.

"When the general public, they see something like this, they see someone hanging from a tower and it looks so real, because it was all dressed up in a proper uniform, anyone driving by would think it's a real thing."

Hernblad said organizations should inform them about training exercises that could be misinterpreted.

"It's only appropriate they let emergency services it's going to affect know," he said.

He said false alarms are always a concern.

"It takes us away from the calls where we could be truly needed at."

Const. Todd Scaplen, an RCMP spokesperson, said officers responded because they weren't aware it was a mock scenario.

"A motorist or someone passing by thought there was someone in distress and it came through to us," he said.

Scaplen said ideally, the police would have liked to know about the exercise in advance.

"These things happen and some people don't think all the time about every aspect. We know now," he said.

Scaplen said someone from the NWT Power Corporation had contacted the RCMP following the incident and assured them the corporation would be putting out public service announcements about future training.

Mike Bradshaw, director of communications with the Power Corporation, said he didn't see the need to inform the RCMP or fire departments beforehand unless there is a requirement to do so and he didn't see that changing in the future.

"I'm not sure it's an issue now. I think someone assumed something," he said.

"It's a fairly benign situation. I think we could overreact to it but it's ongoing training and this is the first time it's happened. "

He said it was the first time anyone had mistaken a dummy for a real person in 15 years.

"It's not a real body," he said. "We've done this training around the NWT and this is the first time someone has called it in. I'm not sure we'd change a policy or implement a new policy because of it."

He said he'd be reluctant to give a heads up about training in case a real emergency happened.

"It's highly unlikely we give anyone advance notice," he said. "If they'd driven past somebody's home and you were cooking in the kitchen and you're not a very good cook and there's smoke coming out, and they call that your house is on fire when all you're doing is cooking, who's to say?"

Bradshaw said the dummy would be down by the end of yesterday and no further outdoor training was being done this week.

Adding to the unusual cluster of uniformed personal gathered at the roadside were members of the Canadian Forces, wearing full camouflage gear, complete with helmets, backpacks and guns.

They were simulating patrols on the Power Corp.'s property, part of a separate military tactical training exercise called "Sovereign Grizzly." Approximately 120 soldiers are in town until May 8.

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