Answering the call to help northern First Nation communities battle COVID-19

It started with a call from the Chief of Shamattawa First Nation. In the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, the community located about 360 kilometres east of Thompson was looking to Manitoba Hydro for some help.

“When the pandemic situation worsened, we stopped going into First Nation communities unless it was an emergency, like a house fire or a power outage,” said Ed Danyluk, a manager from Manitoba Hydro’s Northern region.

“Now the Chief was asking if we could send in a crew to connect new residences that would help with spacing people out for isolation purposes.”

Employee works atop a hydro pole outside an Oxford House home.

Manitoba Hydro’s Jayde Petrowski connecting a new house in Oxford House to electrical service last week. The house is 1 of 9 new builds that will be used by the community to provide more space for isolating.

Enlarge image: Employee works atop a hydro pole outside an Oxford House home.

In response to the ask, a line crew along with 1 estimator/planner and 1 electrical inspector from Thompson flew into the remote community to connect a 6-unit residence originally built to house teachers.

The crew of Jared Flaman, Kyle Froese, Zechariah Sather, Jayde Petrowski along with Alex Bates and Shawn Melsted also took the opportunity to deliver 40 boxed lunches to the community’s nursing station.

“I don’t know if they were expecting it or not but the woman who met us out front was very surprised and appreciative,” said Jared.

Shamattawa wasn’t the only First Nation to call on Manitoba Hydro. Over the last month, Chief and Council from both Oxford House and Wasagamack in north central Manitoba also asked for service connections to new houses to help with their local COVID-19 responses.

After completing their work in Shamattawa, the crew flew on to Oxford House where they were joined by Kraig Cober and Steve McDonald. Over a single day they connected 9 houses, including upgrades to wires for the services and installation of a new transformer.

“We had a wicked crew in there,” said Jared. “And, we weren’t working out of a bucket truck – it’s all climbing and slinging equipment using ropes.”

Earlier in December, another line crew out of Island Lake including John Mason, Darcy Klassen and Darcy Franz travelled to Wasagamack and connected 11 new houses as well as 2 existing homes to be used by elders in the community.

Three employees wearing non-medical masks hold boxes filled with bag lunches outside the Shamattawa Health Centre (Kisemattawa Minoyawin Waskihekan).

Manitoba Hydro staff out of Thompson respond to Shamattawa First Nation’s call to connect new housing, which will help as the community battles a COVID-19 outbreak. While there, they dropped off boxed lunches for front line workers at the nursing station.

Enlarge image: Three employees wearing non-medical masks hold boxes filled with bag lunches outside the Shamattawa Health Centre (Kisemattawa Minoyawin Waskihekan).

Asked whether he or the other crew members worried about flying into communities experiencing outbreaks, Jared was quick to say COVID-19 wasn’t holding them back.

“None of the crew were very concerned. We didn’t really have to interact with anyone in the communities. We just followed the safety guidelines and did our work – pretty much business as usual,” said Jared.

“Our guys really deserve a shout out,” said Marshall Shust, supervisor from Manitoba Hydro’s Thompson Customer Service Centre. “They take a lot of pride in their work and these trips into First Nation communities shows their willingness to do whatever it takes for our customers, wherever they are.”