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Dispatches: January 2013

When I sat down to write this column, Hurricane Sandy had just devastated the eastern seaboard of our neighbours to the south.

December 28, 2012
By Jennifer Grigg

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When I sat down to write this column, Hurricane Sandy had just devastated the eastern seaboard of our neighbours to the south. Where I live in beautiful Waubaushene in central Ontario, we were relatively unscathed. A little rain, a little wind, power outages here and there. Typical fall weather, really.

We had training at the fire hall the night Sandy was to hit our area. As we wrapped up our discussion of the Emergency Response Guide, the Canadian Transport Emergency Centre (CANUTEC) and hazmat responses, our conversation turned to the impending storm. We talked about emergency preparedness and the recommended 72-hour provisions – the ones that I (for one) couldn’t say for sure that I had. And I know I’m not the only one . . . We figured we’d all just end up at the fire hall because we knew the generator would be on and there would be heat, hydro and water; it would just be a fight for the one cot that is stored in the corner of the meeting room.

We joked about it at the time – the irony of us being emergency-service workers and not actually being prepared, but as one captain said quite seriously, “You have to think of your family at home and make sure they’re taken care of.” However, his next comment to me was, “But in your case, you’ll both be on the trucks anyway.”

Which of course, then led to joking about me and my significant other both being out on calls and the kids and dogs being home alone to fend for themselves. As the laughter died down and the conversation carried on, I found myself thinking about my two daughters, who are 11 and 13. What would I do if they were home with me (as opposed to being at their dad’s) if a storm hit and the pager went off? Easy. I would stay home with them. I’d get to the fire hall when I could to help out however I could, but my kids would come first.

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If they were at their dad’s and a major storm hit, I would obviously respond to the call(s), knowing that they are safe at home with him, but guaranteed, I’d call them frequently to check in. (I say that now but in all honesty, I’d probably have to go see them first before I would be able to respond to any call. Being a mom, I’d have to know first and foremost that they are OK. Any of you with kids will appreciate what I mean.)

It’s easy for me to say what I’d do while sitting in the fire hall, warm, dry and safe. But what about those who were caught off guard by Sandy? Although the media advised everyone of the storm well in advance, there were still people caught in the midst of it. They may have thought that they were prepared, or perhaps that they were far enough out of harm’s way to even worry about it, and yet, many still found themselves in dire circumstances.

I read something on Twitter about how emergency-service response times were being criticized by the same people who were ordered to evacuate in the first place. Crazy.

Speaking of Twitter, I also read one tweet about FDNY using Twitter to receive calls for service and respond to them when the 911 lines were overloaded. How great is that? Not great that the 911 system was overloaded, but fantastic that social media was used to keep emergency services going. There were reportedly thousands and thousands of tweets using #sandy during the storm, and almost as many pictures were posted. What a great way to keep people informed, especially with phone lines overloaded and cell service interrupted.

Where am I going with this? I can’t help but feel sorry for the residents of New York and New Jersey, as well as other affected areas, but those especially. It seems that not that long ago, they were struggling to rebuild their lives, their homes and their cities after the devastation from 9-11. However, out of that disaster came stories of many unsung heroes, a new respect and admiration for police officers, firefighters and EMTs, and the incredible strength and courage of everyday people in the face of fear.

We will all experience difficult times in our lives, but how we react is what really matters.

Maybe that’s something that I have learned through the fire service, or perhaps it’s just life experience (or a bit of both), but one thing I know for sure is that life is always about moving forward. Sometimes you go with the flow and sometimes you’re dragged along, and one way is definitely easier than the other.

Disasters, fires, floods, car accidents and medical emergencies are going to happen; all we can do is listen to, and actually follow the advice of those in the know (evidently, that was not me, up until now, when it came to emergency preparedness) and do our best to be prepared.

And then, the rest is up to the emergency services that will come to your aid.


Jennifer Mabee is a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario. She began her fire career with the Township of Georgian Bay in 1997 and became the department’s fire prevention officer in 2000 and a captain in 2003. She was a fire inspector with the City of Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services before taking time off to focus on family, and is excited to be back at it. E-mail her at jhook0312@yahoo.ca and follow her on Twitter at @jenmabee


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