August 27, 2015
Written by Rob Evans
A roadside memorial that Rob Evans passes by many times each week has him evaluating the effect that these displays have on first responders.
A roadside memorial that Rob Evans passes by many times each week has him evaluating the effect that these displays have on first responders. Photo by Rob Evans
Aug. 27, 2015, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – While I have been off work recovering from my heart attack I have been driving around the area a lot trying to relax, taking hundreds of pictures. Photography has always been relaxing for me and it has been a good release while getting stronger. Sometimes I go out by myself to shoot, other times I take the boys or the entire family for a drive.

During a recent drive with the family we passed by a roadside memorial. My wife Jennifer, who is a captain and EMT with Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, commented that it is hard to pass the memorial without remembering the response to the call 13 years ago for a head-on collision between a tractor-trailer and an SUV. Two local boys were in the SUV; one was dead in the back seat, and the other died shortly after a lengthy extrication by our crews. The scene was on a busy two-lane highway that runs between Calgary and Redwood Meadows. Jennifer and I travel that highway many times each week. I told her that I can still see the scene as clearly as I did the afternoon I gave the initial report.

Roadside memorials are not uncommon: families and friends place crosses, flowers and other keepsakes at crash scenes more and more often, it seems. Memorials ease some of the pain in dealing with the losses, but at what cost to our members? By no means am I suggesting that memorials should be banned because of how they affect first responders, but perhaps we need to consider how these shrines impact our members.

There are at least eight memorials along highways in our response area. I can remember each and every one of the calls. Most do not trigger memories like the one I just mentioned, or the one for a soldier who committed suicide in a Christmas Day crash in 2013. We all have calls during our service that stick with us, and there is nothing strange about remembering those we have helped, but how healthy is it to be reminded daily of certain calls? Perhaps we could move on from some of those memories if it were not for these roadside displays?

I wonder if others think about these memorials in the same way. Do they even notice displays along the sides of roads? The memorials could very well hold back first responders from moving on so it’s worth asking: do they really help others with their grief? Are those families able to move on? Should these displays have time limits imposed on their placement?

There is also an ongoing safety aspect that needs to be addressed. Many sites are very close to the roadside and can distract drivers, particularly if they are elaborate. If people who frequent the sites park roadside, there are now people in possibly dangerous positions – a recipe for further crashes.

I really do not want to seem callous. I really do care about these families and their losses, but I also need to look after our firefighters at Redwood Meadows. Public safety and roadside safety at these sites are also our responsibility. Maybe if those skis at Josh and TJ’s memorial went away I would be able to see them pumping my gas at the local pumps and not inside the SUV.

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

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0 #4 Pat 2015-09-02 08:59
Hi Chief

Very happy you are recovering. I too have seen many roadside memorials that trigger not only the response but other calls as well. It is tough when you are with the family driving and all of sudden you relive that call in your mind and get quite or emotional and have to explain to your child why daddy just became sad. Chief in no way, shape or form do you sound callas, to me you sound caring and compassionate for your fire family.

Keep up the great work you do and get well
0 #3 Mac 2015-09-01 14:44
Good article Rob. I share your mixed feelings about roadside memorials. I know of a few myself that I relive the call every time I pass them.

Take care Chief!
0 #2 Rob 2015-08-28 12:41
Thank you very much Eric. I'm doing well and actually having a good time in the rehab program. Down two pant sizes, although not loosing a lot of weight... I keep getting told not to worry about scales. haha
+3 #1 Eric Miller 2015-08-27 13:15
Hey Chief - glad to see you are well on the road to recovery. Take all the time you need - your team needs you at 100 %.

Your column certainly brings back memories for me. Several memorials where I can still see the face(s) of those who perished. Sometimes there are no memorials, but I "know the exact spot" where a fatality occurred. I can still picture the "victim' my crew removed from a fatal fire over 12 years ago. I don't often see people gathering at the memorials, except for the day they are erected, or on the anniversary date of the incident.

Our department is excellent in providing after incident care through after incident crew debriefings, hot defusings if necessary, and CISD's. As much as it can be a sad reminder, remember the great work your crews performed, and take comfort that you all did the best job possible.

Take care and stay safe !!

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