WHEN THE IDEA for FARM 911 was first conceived five years ago, a small volunteer group set their sights on servicing the four counties of Hastings, Lennox and Addington, Northumberland, and Prince Edward with civic address markers on vacant farmland and fields.
Since then, more than 50 municipalities across the province have adopted the program, posting emergency signs throughout rural Ontario. The ongoing efforts to clearly identify field locations are meant to save precious time and help emergency vehicles locate their destinations in the event of a farm accident, and ultimately, save lives.
“We started working on the project in 2016 and launched the following year, with a focus on our surrounding four counties,” explains Resi Walt, FARM 911 committee member. “Since none of our original committee members lived outside of our immediate area, we knew it would be difficult to champion the project in other regions. But slowly and surely, we are making our way across the province, advocating the need for address markers on farmland.”
FARM 911, also known as The Emily Project, was inspired by Emily Trudeau, a young girl from Hastings County who died in a farm accident. At the time of the accident, when seconds counted the most, emergency responders were unable to locate the farm property and site of the farm accident. Walt says Emily’s family was the root of this project, working to ensure no one else had to go through the same experience, and they continue to be involved in the project today.
“The Trudeaus’ are at the heart of every decision we make as a group in our efforts to spread the message about this important initiative. Their blessing of this project is what makes it all worthwhile.”
The project committee easily met and surpassed their initial goal of installing signs across the four eastern Ontario counties in the first year of the project. Since then, they have adjusted their commitment to become an awareness campaign for the rest of the province. The volunteer committee, with in-kind staff support from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, now works as a resource, answering inquiries from farmers and municipalities across the province and providing presentations, letter writing, and media releases.
“Municipal governance is often a slow process and taking project proposals to each municipal jurisdiction can often take more than a year from start to finish,” explains Walt. “As farmers, we think of the project as a very straight-forward, non-controversial idea, so it can be frustrating sometimes when proposals get bogged down by bureaucracy. Patience is key, and the more people championing the cause to keep it moving through the channels, the better.”
MOVING UP THE MUNICIPAL CHAIN
The project saw a big endorsement boost earlier this year when the Region of Durham bought into the project, allocating $300,000 in their budget to be dispersed amongst their member municipalities to install emergency 911 signs in field entry ways.
“It feels like a huge win every time a new upper tier municipality endorses our project,” says Walt. “While the Covid-19 pandemic has made it difficult to celebrate project milestones like this one, the achievement really speaks to the scope of this project and how seriously municipalities are taking it.”
The pandemic also brought an unexpected wave of interest from municipalities in central Ontario. Walt says that up to this point, most of the interest from municipalities has come from eastern Ontario, so she was pleasantly surprised to receive inquires and see a spike in website visits. And since traditional face-to-face meetings to explain the project were out of the question due to the ongoing pandemic, the Farm 911 volunteer group made the decision to invest in a website upgrade. The new site, farm911.ca, will be launched this fall, providing a first-stop resource for municipalities to learn about the project and get started implementing the program to post rural 911 emergency signs in their own area.
The success has surpassed initial expectations, and as Walt says, the FARM 911 project is slowly, but surely making its way across Ontario. The program even got picked up by the CBC radio morning show on every station across the province, recognizing the program’s unique approach to farm and rural community safety. The program is grateful for ongoing community support and funding to help them continue their work.
Walt says the program isn’t slowing down and encourages anyone interested to reach out to FARM 911 to learn more about how to establish the program in their area. “Our biggest achievement is that we took an entirely grassroots idea and made it into something real.”
For more information, visit farm911.ca. •