Sappers put their skills to work supporting ice storm cleanup

Article / May 9, 2017 / Project number: e-ar-17-05-09-sappers-op-lentus

By Lieutenant Matthew Clancey, 4 Engineer Support Regiment

Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) responds to domestic emergencies like flooding under the banner of Operation LENTUS (Op LENTUS) and events are numbered sequentially. The current one is Op LENTUS 17-03. Under the leadership of Public Safety Canada, the lead federal agency for such events, CAF personnel are always ready to offer assistance in responding to natural disasters.

On January 25th, 2017, a destructive ice storm hit the Acadian Peninsula in Northern New Brunswick. The ice storm damaged or destroyed more than 400 transmission poles and left 22,000 citizens without power.

By January 29, the situation had not significantly improved and the Province of New Brunswick requested support from the Government of Canada in the form of CAF personnel and equipment.

By first light on January 30, the main body, led by combat engineers – commonly referred to as “Sappers” – from 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR) were rolling through the affected towns offering assurance to the local population. By the end of that same day, the 200-person Joint Task Force – Atlantic (JTF-A) Immediate Response Unit (IRU) Vanguard Company (Vanguard Coy) was in place in the town of Lamèque and prepared to support emergency relief operations.

The IRU lead alternates in Atlantic Canada between 4th Artillery Regiment (General Support) (4th Regt (GS)) and 4 ESR, both based out of 5 Canadian Division Support Base (5 CDSB) Gagetown. At the time of the January ice storm, 4th Regt (GS) had the lead and deployed the bulk of the Vanguard Coy. The request was made by 4th Regt (GS) to the Commanding Officer 4 ESR to provide a troop-sized element in order to have engineer specific capabilities on the ground.

This composite troop was generated from 42 Horizontal Construction Squadron with support from the entire regiment, which included a headquarters, reinforced reconnaissance detachment, two field sections, a heavy equipment section and an integral Mobile Repair Team (MRT) provided by 48 Combat Service Support Squadron. Subsequently, 4 ESR would also deploy a Geospatial Support Team (GST) with two Geomatics Techs and additional officers to supplement the Vanguard Coy headquarters. In total, the composite troop numbered 38 personnel and 32 vehicles.

The composite troop would remain on the ground to provide both engineer-specific and general support throughout the operation until its termination on February 6. Specifically, the combat engineers provided three unique capabilities to the Vanguard Coy. The first was with their reinforced reconnaissance detachment. With two senior non-commissioned officers and four junior members, the detachment was able to split into two teams and survey every main and secondary route in the area of operations.

In total, they would complete over 1,600 kilometres of route confirmation, recording obstacles on the roads, downed power lines and transmission poles, and contact local community centres in order to network with the people that needed help most. Their data was given to the Company Headquarters and was crucial in the planning of subsequent tasks.

“Overall, Sappers did what Sappers do best: work hard. With their chainsaws, integral Light Armoured Vehicles and the support of the Heavy Equipment assets, the field sections went to work clearing obstacles on roads, removing hazards that would impede access to houses for emergency vehicles, working with New Brunswick Power (NB Power) to remove damaged poles and cables and going door to door delivering water and firewood to those in need,” said Lieutenant Matt Clancy, the 4 ESR Contingent Commander for Op LENTUS 17-01.

Lastly, the assets in the GST allowed Vanguard Coy to create and print their own geospatial products to include aerial imagery for the liaison zone for the Prime Minister, power outage map overlays and topographical maps for the troops on the ground.

Throughout Op LENTUS 17-01, the task force would go door to door to over 5400 homes, delivering 34 truckloads of firewood, support NB Power clearing operations and provide peace of mind to the citizens most affected in the Acadian Peninsula, some of whom went 10 days without power. 4 ESR’s Sappers and Officers played a significant role in Vanguard Cy’s operations and are very proud of what was accomplished.


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