By Rob Evans
May 10, 2016, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – I recently commented on social media about the fact that I needed to get back to blogging for Fire Fighting in Canada. My absence from the website has been way too long and it just did not make sense that I was slacking off on something I truly enjoy. Now, this is not meant as a "woe-is-me" type of return to Size-up, but a little bit of background is necessary.
Last June, I suffered a serious heart attack that changed my life. I wrote a few times after that, but not as often as editor Laura King or I would have liked. I have to admit that I felt a little sorry for myself and that feeling took over. I returned to work in the new year and was ready to return full-steam to blogging; it was then that my wife and I were involved in a major rollover in our minivan. Well, if that did not knock me off of my feet again, I'm not sure what would.
Fast forward to the beginning of May when I posted on social media about needing to get back to the keyboard. The drive was there, but the inspiration wasn't. How was I to return to sizing-up? Sadly, last week's wildfire in Fort McMurray was more than what I needed to get back to blogging. And boy, there was no more feeling sorry for myself after seeing my friend, Wood Buffalo Regional Fire Chief Darby Allen, on the news those first couple of nights.
Allen is normally a very happy, uplifting guy to be around, but he looked beat down. I wished that I could go up north and help him out. I wondered if how Allen looked is how I looked after the 2013 floods in Alberta, which we in Redwood Meadows Emergency Services were in the middle of. I understand how and why he looked so tired.
I watched as the man I know fought tears while talking about fighting "the beast" – a nickname given to the fire by Allen and adopted by media. As any fire chief should, Allen cares for his community and more so, for those who live and work there. Caring is why we do what we do – not to get the T-shirt, as Fire Fighting in Canada columnist Gord Schreiner often says. And speaking of T-shirts, right now there are hundreds of different fire-department T-shirts on the backs of firefighters from all over Alberta and beyond in Fort McMurray, and each and every one of these departments and their members make us all proud.
Many people asked me last week if I wanted to be in Fort McMurray; that is a tough question. I spent time as a dispatcher helping during the 2011 Slave Lake fire and I have seen first-hand the destruction that a wildfire brings to a community.
While in Slave Lake, I was fortunate enough to become friends with Fire Chief Jamie Coutts and I remember seeing him before and after getting some much needed sleep. In Fort McMurray, more command and control help recently arrived on scene; this has obviously allowed Allen to get some much-needed sleep, as the videos he has been posting show a rested man. Allen refuses to be called a hero, just like any of us, and deflects the praise to all first responders. The chief was emotional in his video address on Sunday night as he referenced the death of Emily Ryan. Emily was the daughter of Cranley Ryan, the deputy fire chief for Saprae Creek in Wood Buffalo, one of the department's volunteer halls. Emily was one of two people killed in a vehicle collision while evacuating Fort McMurray. Allen's concern for Deputy Chief Ryan was etched in his face.
Sizing-up the job that Allen, first responders, residents and businesses have done during this horrendous event makes me so proud to be a firefighter, an Albertan and a Canadian. We are Alberta Strong, and everyone is behind you, Fort McMurray, Chief Allen and all first responders in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Rob Evans is the chief fire officer 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 captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof