In June 2013, Alberta experienced flooding that earned the notoriety of being the costliest disaster in Canada, with five billion dollars in damages that will take years to repair.
Emergency responders expressed that the timely and effective allocation of all available resources was one of their greatest challenges during the flood crisis. There are multiple ways to reduce this challenge. While the development of strong relationships between planners and operational personnel is probably the most sure-fire approach, ensuring proper training among operational personnel will also improve the likelihood of the right resources being in the right place at the right time.
To bridge this gap, Raven established the Flood Legacy Bursary. The bursary is delivered in the form of a free Rescue 3 International SRT1 course, and helps emergency responders obtain the right certifications to operate safely during Swiftwater and flood incidents. Flood waters are considered “Swiftwater” by the NFPA, and our SRT1 course includes the knowledge and skills needed to deal with flood related incidents.
We want to tell you a little about some of our 2013 recipients. While we initially aimed to award only one bursary per department, High River stood out as needing more support than other departments. The following recipient stories are from High River.
Dorin was a volunteer on shift Wednesday night when the flooding began. At 0400 on Thursday morning he began assisting with the setup of the Emergency Operation Centre for his jurisdiction. After heading out at 0600 to place flood tubes on the northwest side of town, Dorin’s crew was heading back to the hall when they received a request to rescue a lady trapped in her van on 12th Avenue.
“I could not be part of the crew that tried to save her, because I was not trained for swiftwater rescue,” recalls Dorin. The woman ended up being rescued by helicopter, and Dorin spent much of the rest of his day transporting victims rescued by helicopter to safety. Dorin got back to the hall at 1600 for a thirty-minute break and his first meal in twenty-four hours. He was back to work transporting victims until 0100 on Friday morning, and then headed home and immediately fell asleep.
“At about 5:30am on Friday I heard people talking on the speaker, and I thought I was dreaming about the day before,” says Dorin. He pulled himself out of bed and, “going to the window, I saw water rolling on my street.”
Dorin’s first response was to knock on the doors of his neighbors, and then get to the fire station. He grabbed his fishing boots and left the house behind without trying to save anything. Dorin initiated a post with some volunteer firefighters on an airboat where they moved citizens to the fire station – he spent the entire day working there, while the Bow River peaked at 1400 at a staggering 1,740 cubic metres per second.
“The days after the flood was sad and quiet,” remembers Dorin. “The town was a ghost town. There were no people on the streets, no cars and no children playing. There was only water and a strange echo.” Dorin’s house was damaged by the flooding and he spent a few nights sleeping in one of the fire trucks at the hall. When he was able to access his home two weeks after the crisis, he encountered a water-logged pile of debris.
During the 2013 flood, Tim underwent one of the greatest challenges that can face an emergency responder – a simultaneous hit on the professional and personal front.
In the years prior to the 2013 flood, Tim’s mom became very ill and was hospitalized for liver disease. She was on the transplant list to receive a new liver, but unfortunately the transplant never came to pass.
On the morning of Thursday, June 20th, Tim was at the hospital with his mother when he received a call from his Chief asking if he could go to High River to provide help. Tim’s mom supported his work as a first responder, and demanded that he go. He spent the next 10 days working in High River during the day and returning to Calgary at night to be with his mother. She passed away on June 30th after a long, hard fight.
Tim’s reflections on his experience speak to the sense of brotherhood within his team; “I am very grateful for all of the support I received from friends and co-workers at the High River Fire Department while many of them were also dealing with their own hard times… it was amazing to see how people would go very far out of their way to help someone else out.”
Tim received an award from the High River Fire Department and the MD of Foothills in recognition of his service during the 2013 flooding, and offers this perspective on the work he does “To be able to help a stranger on the worst day of their life, and help ease the pain, gives me a lot of pride in what we do.”
Dan Hartmann was called in at 0430 on Thursday, June 20th, to help set up flood tubes and prepare the Emergency Operations Centre. His crew faced a busy morning of calls coming in, over and above flood-related issues – they responded to alarm bells at a school, and a cardiac arrest. They were heading back to the fire hall when they were tasked to get a boat to the traffic circle located west of the firehall.
“We headed out in that direction,” recalls Dan, “and we made it about two blocks to find the streets covered in four feet of water. There was no way we could get the boat to the traffic circle, so we launched the boat then and there.” Dan stayed at this location through the rest of the day, where his team continued to execute rescues with boats and combines. Yes, that’s right – combines.
“We had two full-sized combines travelling back and forth,” says Dan. “People were being loaded up in the hoppers. There was a Case dealer on 12th Ave that someone grabbed the combines from.”
That night, Dan’s crew headed back to the hall and helped EMS with flood victims. They also helped people out of rock trucks that had traveled safely to the fire hall. At 0400 on Friday morning, Dan was sent to the northeast of High River to evacuate people from their homes with a ladder. Dan recalls that water was still coming into town fairly quickly. “Throughout the day we performed rescues by loaders and rock trucks, until the rock trucks got stuck in about seven feet of water.” From then on, rescues were made by boat.
“Those first few days seem like such a blur. Many of us didn’t get any sleep for days, and we had no homes to go to. The fire hall was now our new home.”
Dan’s home was severely affected by the flood. He had six feet of sewage water in his basement, and the foundation was damaged. “My wife and I were finally able to bring our family home to stay on December 11, just in time to enjoy Christmas. It was great to be home after being away for six months.”
Learn more about the flood legacy bursary (including how to sign up for a reminder to apply!)