Family of heroes

A mother’s reflection of leaving her husband and sons behind to fight

By Tracey Carnochan, Special to Connect

Terry Carnochan (middle) with his sons Ryan and Tyler in Abasand during their fight against Fort Mc- Murray’s largest wildfire. Tracey Carnochan shares her experience of evacuating on her own and leav- ing her firefighting family behind. Supplied photo

Terry Carnochan (middle) with his sons Ryan and Tyler in Abasand during their fight against Fort McMurray’s largest wildfire. Tracey Carnochan shares her experience of evacuating on her own and leaving her firefighting family behind. Supplied photo

It’s always an interesting conversation when people find out I was one of the evacuees from Fort McMurray on May 3. As I’m currently in Osoyoos, B.C., there is always the usual questions: “Did your house survive?” and “How did you get here?” These are easy to answer.

The one question that is a little more challenging for me is when people find out that my husband Terry, is a firefighter and both my sons Tyler and Ryan are as well.

Terry is a former firefighter for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), and now a Senior Emergency Response Officer with Suncor Energy. Tyler is an Acting Captain with the RMWB, as is Ryan.

That knowledge creates a general gasp, and then the indubitable: “How did you handle that?” The answer to that one takes a little more thought. It also comes with a lot of different emotions.

Let me start with the lack of concern I had in the beginning.

As a longtime resident of Fort McMurray for over 30 years, I have seen surrounding communities evacuated, lived through Highway 63 closures, as well as experienced the heavy smoke due to close by and far away fires. (Besides, I was also rest assured knowing someone in my family would let me know if there were ever any issues.)

Next was my questioning.

As I heard of the stages of evacuation – and then the conflicting information, this seemed counter to the quite confidence that had been portrayed by the crew at my sons’ BBQ the previous day on May 2. It was their house that I was in after leaving work on May 3. And stayed in, until I evacuated to our family RV location.

Then came the confusion at the time.

What was the correct information, and where do I go? In essence, I was on my own as there was no one in my immediate family to reach out to.

Relief came to my mind next, as a connection was made with my brother-in-law Scott and sister-in-law Kim.
I then had someone to share some of the decision making with for the journey out of the community. Grabbing both dogs (Nova who was ours and Dusk who was Ryan’s), I hopped into an already packed car and headed to meet them to head out.

At approximately 9:30 p.m.; Scott, Kim and myself were in three vehicles (along with three dogs and two cats) headed south out of the city. Driving past the flames, I was concerned.

The logical side of me understood that firefighters train long and hard for such occasions.

But the safety of them, and the other members of their team, were on the top of mind. The emotional side of me was very concerned for the safety of my sons, along with many others that I know that work in emergency services.

The next feeling was determination as I headed down the highway, I knew I was not going to be of concern to my firefighting family members any longer.

It was during this long twelve-hour journey that I saw the fortitude of those leaving their homes and their community, as well as, seeing the compassion of those that reached out in many ways to assist in making this journey a little more easily.

It was also during this trip that the first connections were made with my family.

First, it was with my husband to see where I was and he updated me on the situation in the community, and at his location where evacuees were arriving.

Next was with my younger son Ryan, as he finally took a moment to let me know that they were okay – that he was exhausted, but okay. He was also checking to see if I had taken his dog with me.

After those two conversations, it left me energized to continue the long journey to St. Albert.

It helped that, during the long drive, the appearance of fire apparatus and a bus load of fire personnel were seen heading north from Edmonton and area – assistance was on its way.

Upon safely arriving at my mother’s house in St. Albert; the worrying now began as images of the fight of so many, and of the ‘Beast’ itself, began to be portrayed on all media available.

The stories abounded and ate up large portions of each day as I tried to stay on top of what was happening and how it affected my family.

Thankfully, one or both of my sons would text a brief message daily, so I knew they were okay and Terry was able to connect via phone conversations.

This helped my state of mind greatly and allowed me to answer all the inquiries of friends and family that were sent my way.

Especially after the picture. This picture is a shot of all three of the members of my family standing together with a curtain of flames behind them when they were in Abasand.

It definitely intensified the worry factor, which was not appeased until all the members of our family were back together and we were able to sit down and have that ‘all important’ family supper (with all the extended family close by).

Happiness is hugging your children even if they are 30 and 29 years of age.

After this, I was able to move forward and head out to Osoyoos, knowing that the resources in the community were magnified by the assistance arriving from all corners of Alberta – Canada, let alone internationally.

My sons had rooms at a local hotel and now had some idea of when time off would next happen. My husband would continue to do his job at Fort Hills and would join me in Osoyoos on his days off.

While life had not returned to its usual rhythms and was not likely to do so for some time, there was some semblance of order established.

The last note on this would be the pride I have for my family.

My husband continues to be the rock I have come to value greatly and was an outlet for our sons to discuss what they were facing – he gets it.

My sons defer any thanks given to them, instead they point out that they have trained for such events and that those that deserve thanks are the support crews that stayed or returned to the community.

While I understand that I am not the only one that has a spouse that is a firefighter, nor am I the only mother of two firefighters, I do have to admit it was a bit frightening to know that when a community is rushing out (myself included) my entire family was rushing in.

– Connect Weekly –