Firefighters: We salute you

Member of Legislative Assembly Report

By Brian Jean, Leader of the Official Opposition

BRIAN JEAN, MLA of Fort McMurray-Conklin

BRIAN JEAN, MLA of Fort McMurray-Conklin

Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

This inspirational adage should hold extra meaning for Albertans in the wake of this past spring’s Fort McMurray wildfire.

The Horse River Fire was a beast – wild and unpredictable – potentially the most dangerous fire of its kind in our province’s history. Millions of people watched this disaster unfold in real time, and what we witnessed was both heartbreaking and inspirational. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of firefighters did their job, even as their own homes burned.

Firefighter Mark Stephenson, 43, was one of them. He stood helplessly at the end of his driveway, watching his home go up in flames and taking with it his cherished 1969 Pontiac Firebird. He took a short video – a goodbye of sorts – then summoned the will to get back to work. He counted himself fortunate that his wife, his nanny, his two children and his dog escaped.

Acting Fire Captain David Oger remained on duty dousing spot fires late into the night, knowing his home was threatened. During a break, he was able to circle through the area, and rescue his dog Riley as the flames approached his house. But when he returned the next morning, the entire house was gone.

Firefighter Damian Asher also lost his home, a 3,700-square-foot bungalow he built in his spare time. He can build another, but he cannot replace his grandpa’s wartime keepsakes or his late father’s rifle.

These are just three of the heroes of the Fort McMurray fire. More than 20 firefighters lost their own homes as they worked selflessly to protect lives and major infrastructure in the city they call home.
Their efforts aided the evacuation of some 80,000 residents, the largest peacetime evacuation of a major urban centre in Canadian history. The city lost 2,400 buildings, but more than 25,000 were saved including the hospital, municipal buildings and schools. About 90% of the city still stands, thanks in part to their courage and fortitude in the most dangerous of circumstances.

Fort McMurray’s firefighters did not stand alone.

From major urban centres to rural fire halls, hundreds of firefighters from this province were dispatched to the scene bringing sorely needed equipment and supplies. They were joined by reinforcements from across Canada, not to mention those from as far away as South Africa. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of folks took it upon themselves to do what they could to help, providing temporary homes for evacuees, offering assistance where possible.

In retrospect, seamlessly martialing a response of this magnitude seems miraculous. There is no question that this speaks to the character of our province. We are dedicated, driven and resolute. When adversity strikes, there are no more resourceful and selfless people.

This character is best exemplified by the firefighters who gave up their homes, set aside a torrent of emotions and focused on protecting others.

This Fire Prevention Week, we salute them.

We offer our deepest thanks to Fort McMurray and surrounding areas for all the dedicated volunteers, staff, firefighters, pilots and other first responders who worked so hard to keep our communities safe. Your support and dedication to help your fellow Albertans will not be forgotten.

Brian Jean is the Leader for the Official Opposition Party and Member of Legislative for Fort McMurray-Conklin. Jean can be reached by email at fortmcmurray.conklin@assembly.ab.ca or by phone at 780-588-7979.

– Connect Weekly –