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People of SFU
People of SFU: Meet Darrell Akerstrom, VPFA’S Safety and Risk Services’ Coordinator, Emergency and Continuity Planning
This is a story in our People of SFU series, where we’re celebrating SFU’s unsung heroes—those who go above and beyond the call of duty to create community, advance SFU’s mission and make the university a great place to work and learn. You can read more stories here.
When members of the SFU community participate in a fire drill at any of SFU’s three campuses, volunteer fire wardens move people to a safe location and ensure everyone is accounted for. Darrell Akerstrom, coordinator, emergency and continuity planning, for VPFA’s Safety and Risk Services is the person behind these drills and the training volunteer fire wardens receive.
Akerstrom joined SFU in 1997 in the bookstore at the Vancouver campus. He had recently moved to Vancouver from Edmonton and his 12 years career at the University of Alberta bookstore paved the way for his new role. “My colleagues at UofA must have oversold me and I was offered a position at both SFU and UBC’s bookstores,” explains Akerstrom with a chuckle. “After a few years of doing both, I stopped working at UBC so I could enjoy my weekends again.”
After just over a decade at the SFU Bookstore, which included a number of years in the bookstore’s fast-paced warehouse, Akerstrom transitioned into his current role and celebrates 13 years in August. “I train and help people prepare for enhanced life safety,” Akerstrom describes when asked what the coordinator, emergency and continuity planning role entails. This includes managing the Burnaby campus Emergency Volunteer Team (EVT) of student, faculty and staff volunteers. The EVT provides short-term assistance to the SFU community during an emergency incident and pre-COVID-19 has been instrumental in managing weather disruptions and assisting with informative events like ShakeOut and Winterfest.
Interaction with people across the campuses is one of the things he enjoys the most in his role, especially in relation to training and orientation. Part of his job is fulfilling fire-safety responsibilities, including the fire-safety training for SFU staff who volunteer to be fire wardens. At least 200 staff complete the training each year and he estimates he’s trained upwards of 2,600 staff over the last 13 years.
This training includes teaching people how to use a fire extinguisher. In a controlled environment, Akerstrom demonstrates the proper technique for using a fire extinguisher and each person takes a turn putting out a fire. His approach is calm, reassuring and he is supportive of each person’s learning process. “When someone is apprehensive about using a fire extinguisher and they have a big grin on their face when they put out the fire, it makes me feel good about the work I do.”
There is no typical workday for Akerstrom, which he enjoys. Behind the scenes, he’s the person acquiring and lugging supplies to various stashes on campus for Emergency Operation Centre's and EVT's purposes as well as performing monthly checks of satellite phones and intermunicipal radios with the Province of British Columbia. He also ensures that the publicly available AEDs (automated external defibrillators) across the three campuses are always at the ready. He also ensures updates are made when needed and recommends where to expand the program to annually.
Akerstrom describes himself as a “boots on the ground” type of guy and enjoys connecting with colleagues over common creative pursuits. Currently, he enjoys lapidary. Exploring the world of cutting and polishing rocks is a way for him to decompress especially after tiring days. “To just cut and polish a stone to make something gorgeous and shiny, it’s meditative for me.”
When asked what one thing he would tell a new employee about working at SFU, Akerstrom had this to say, “SFU is a great place to work. If you have any concerns of any kind, there are multiple pathways where you can reach out and have any issues resolved in a very kind way. You are part of a very large organization that can address many types of situations. It has been a wonderful place for me. Get involved, get to know SFU in a bigger way outside of your own group.”
Akerstrom encourages everyone in the SFU community to tap into the resources available through the VPFA’s Safety and Risk Services to get prepared for an emergency disruption. “The bottom line is we as individuals know the comfort level we have in unusual situations and what things make us feel better. It’s up to each of us individually as to how we prepare ourselves.”
Thanks to Darrell Akerstrom for sharing a brief glimpse into his work as part of VPFA’s Safety and Risk Services. The VPFA provides leadership in foundational, day-to-day operational and administrative support services to meet the needs of SFU’s students, staff, faculty, and wider community across all three campuses. You can learn more by visiting the VPFA website: www.sfu.ca/vpfa.