The United Church provided a cool space to escape the heat at the end of July and over the BC Day long weekend. Photo: Jim Bailey

The United Church provided a cool space to escape the heat at the end of July and over the BC Day long weekend. Photo: Jim Bailey

Trail church not cool enough for heat emergency

Trail United Church opened its doors as a cooling station despite reservations

The Trail United Church originally said that it would not run a cooling centre this summer, but as temperatures increased the church opened its doors for another record-setting heat wave.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) released a heat alert that daily temperatures would reach 40C in downtown Trail for the week leading up to and including the BC Days long weekend. During the 2021 heat dome that baked cities across the province, the United Church offered its basement for a cooling space, and provided bottles of water and food to more than 700 people in just over a month.

The United Church responded again, despite a growing concern that the cooling centre facility is inadequate, and they have received little direction or support from local governments.

“Last year, we saw that it is not the right location, we don’t have air conditioning, it is just a basement and not a proper cooling centre,” said member Bill Van Beek. “In November we started pressuring the city, Interior Health and the Regional District saying, ‘Hey what are we doing for the upcoming year, because the church is not the correct place or responsible party for a cooling centre.’ And everyone said, ‘Not their responsibility.’”

Last month, the City of Castlegar announced its agreement with three separate locations to provide cooling centres during the heat wave. When the Times contacted the City of Trail, the city deferred comment to the Regional District Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) and the Emergency Manager.

“To guide our Emergency Management Service, the RDKB has developed an all-hazards Emergency Plan, which includes actions to be taken in response to the various hazard types impacting our region, including weather events like heat waves,” said Mark Andison, Chief Administrative Officer of the RDKB. “The plan identifies heat waves as being within the jurisdiction of the Interior Health Authority (IHA), like other types of health emergencies, and directs that the RDKB provide assistance to that lead agency.”

IHA and the RDKB take direction from the ECCC regarding extreme heat episodes. According to Andison, there are emergency plans that are implemented, however, the recent temperatures triggered a “heat alert” where the temperature reaches 35C during the day and 18C at night for at least two consecutive days.

“The ECCC issued only a heat alert, without escalating the declaration to an extreme heat emergency,” Andison explained. “Meanwhile, IHA and BC Housing have been working with local shelters within the RDKB to address the heat situation for the vulnerable population using those facilities.”

With the heat warning in effect, a local agency approached the Trail United Church asking them to open as a cooling space. However, Van Beek says potential government funding was not secured because a “heat emergency” was not declared, despite daily record temperatures.

According to the province’s Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide, ambient temperatures over 31C can overwhelm the body’s natural cooling systems, especially for older people and those who have chronic health conditions.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about heat warning, heat emergency, and the rest of it,” said Van Beek. “And the other problem we have is there are much better locations. If you look at the guidelines, people can go to the library, they can go to the arena, they can go to the mall. The real hazard is at night, when we don’t run, we only run to 6 p.m.

“If you look at the City of Castlegar, they organize and train different churches to run cooling centres. They have three of them, our municipality didn’t even think it was worth going with one.”

The community did step up and an individual provided the necessary funds to keep the church cooling space operational, while city council members and volunteers from a variety of organizations lent a hand.

“The person doing the organizing wasn’t a member of our congregation, and a lot of the volunteers weren’t, so it really was a community affair,” said Van Beek. “We had people from all the different churches volunteering, we had Rotary and all sorts of people, so it really was a community response that just happened to be in our basement.”

Volunteers, in spite of their good intentions, are not the best people to be taking care of a cooling centre. Most do not have medical training to treat people suffering from adverse effects from the heat, in addition to helping the homeless and those with drug addictions and mental illness. Liability is also an issue.

The RDKB and Interior Health released a comprehensive guideline for residents to follow through various social media platforms and on their respective websites. As with other forms of emergency, the RDKB’s Emergency Management Program says it is imperative that residents adequately prepare for potential emergencies including excessive heat.

”Given these circumstances, the RDKB’s Board of Directors discussed the situation at its regular meeting last Wednesday and concluded that the RDKB should continue distributing messaging, focusing on messages that assist residents of the region to adequately prepare themselves for the hot weather by seeking out cool public spaces, checking on neighbours, and by preparing themselves personally for hotter weather,” added Andison.

“During the seven days of the Heat Alert, the RDKB Emergency Management Program received only one call from a citizen seeking information about cooling centres.”

Still, for those without access to social media, the Internet or a home, there is concern that the message won’t reach them.

And the overriding question remains: when is it hot enough to declare a heat emergency?

“There is no objective criteria for when to declare an emergency,” said Van Beek. “There is for a warning … there are all sorts of guidance documents, but there is no objective criteria for a heat emergency.”

For more info on how to prepare for an emergency visit

Read: Emergency cooling centre closing, need for larger shelter

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