May 22, 2012 – Family. We have all heard the cliché speeches about the firefighting family. A couple of weeks ago we welcomed 10 new members to Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES) and at training we spoke to them about our family. This came after a training session at which the normal jabs were thrown back and forth across the room.
At my “paying” job as an emergency communications officer, I had spent that afternoon dispatching fire departments in and around Calgary. Toward the end of the day, I sent crews out to two horrific collisions outside of the city. One to the north involved a fatality after a car collided with a dump truck and burst into flames. Responders included Rocky View Fire Services from Balzac, Cochrane Fire, Alberta Sheriffs, RCMP and Alberta Health Services (AHS), as well as the call-takers and dispatchers, the extended family of emergency responders. Almost immediately, after crews began arriving at this accident, we were sending crews to another serious accident east of Calgary.
Again, the call-takers and dispatchers were sending our extended family to a fatal accident. This time, children were involved and the information coming through our call-taker indicated that this was going to be a difficult one. It turned out to be even more horrendous than the first. One child had been thrown from the car, two others were in the back and were not doing well. Two adults in the front seats were also critically injured. One of the kids passed away on scene. The others were transported by ground ambulance to hospitals in Calgary. This time, our family involved Chestermere Fire Rescue, Rocky View Fire Services from Langdon, RCMP, paramedics from AHS and the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society using STAR-1 air ambulance.
From a dispatch perspective, we all leaned on each other after the call. It was at the end of a long, first day of the tour and we were all spent. We dispatch calls like this daily but this day, and the circumstances surrounding the second accident, seemed to take a little out of all of us. It was nice to lean on my public safety communications family. It was also nice to get home and be greeted at the door by my eight-year-old, Nick, and my six-year-old, Michaela. It’s always good to come home to hug therapy. Michaela is autistic and non-verbal, but she didn’t have to say anything – the hug from her said it all.
Back to the training we had at RMES – it was nice to see all the new members and have some laughs. I try to keep the two sides of the radio separate but it was hard, especially with the kids involved. I really wanted to be at the scene and help out. The crews that were on both calls handled them well, but like all of us, I feel the need to be hands-on and help out.
The most important part to remember in all of this is that real families have been affected. We all do what we do so that families can be assured that someone who is caring, competent and professional is available to respond to their emergencies. Families turn to each other when their loved ones are killed or hurt. When we respond to their emergencies, we need to turn to our fire fighting family to reduce the pain. Talk about how you’re feeling and if you’re not necessarily hurting, be a leader and let your crew lean on you.
Rob Evans is the fire chief for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a firefighter/EMT with RMES, and three children.