A Burnaby firefighter volunteering in High River, Alberta takes a lunch break amid the piles of garbage removed from the basements of flooded homes.
Article From the Burnaby Newsleader, by Reporter Wanda Chow
July 16, 2013 - Seven Burnaby firefighters recently volunteered to lend a hand, then drove 11 hours to do so, helping flooded-out homeowners muck out basements in High River, Alberta.
From July 5 to 9, firefighters Jamie Buis, Steve Leslie, Doug Petti, Rob Hourigan, Danny Ciolfitto, Mike Tennerelli and Johnny Panichelli were in the town ripping out wet basements down to the studs, allowing them to dry out before mould could set in.
The volunteers were responding to a call for assistance from the International Association of Firefighters on behalf of the Calgary firefighters union. They used vacation time or time off within their four-days-on-four-days-off work schedule to make the trip, recruiting other firefighters back in Burnaby to help cover some shifts, said Rob Lamoureux, president of the Burnaby Firefighters Local 323.
Burnaby Fire Department supplied an 11-passenger van and equipment, Penske loaned them a five-ton refrigeration truck, Chevron supplied $750 in gas cards, and the Marriott Hotel in Calgary gave the firefighters a discounted rate despite it being the week of the Calgary Stampede.
High River has a population of about 12,000 and half the town was affected by last month's massive flooding, said Capt. Jamie Buis.
In some houses the basements were completely filled with water, which reached up to the kitchen countertops on the main floor. In other homes, after the water receded it left behind six inches of mud from the river silt, said Buis, who added there were parts of town still under water when they left.
He estimated the Burnaby firefighters worked on about a dozen homes. While they started out working on the homes of Calgary firefighters, they soon were going wherever they were needed.
Buis said he was struck by the amount of garbage everywhere.
“You drive down a street and people had been let back [home] a few days before so all of their garbage from their basement, everything, appliances everywhere, couches, drywall, it's all piled up on their front lawns. Streets full of piles, garbage. It almost looks like a hurricane went through there.”
He was also impressed at the number of volunteers helping out. Those that couldn't help with hard labour were busy making lunches for those who could.
“There was one day we could've had lunch at six different places, everybody's trying to give us food,” Buis said with a laugh.
The refrigeration truck and barbecue they brought along was loaned to local firefighters in Calgary who used it to help feed volunteers themselves.
Lieut. Doug Petti recalled a pervasive smell of sewage and damp river silt in the air and high water marks two to three feet high on the main floors of houses.
“There was a lot of people that lost everything. From what I could see, entire homes that are going to have to be torn down, possessions everywhere, toys, clothing, photo albums destroyed, computers, fridges, stoves,” said Petti. “The big thing was people’s memories were destroyed.”
Petti also remarked on the sense of community. “The entire community seemed to be working together, everybody seemed to be on the same page.”
It didn't take long before people in the town started to recognize the firefighters and that they had come all the way from Burnaby, he said.
“People were very, very thankful we were helping them out,” said Buis. “It's overwhelming [for flood victims]. We were able to help at least a little bit there and get them on their way as far as being able to recover.”
Brian Herrmann emailed to Burnaby Fire Chief Doug McDonald to express his appreciation, saying he arrived in High River to help out his in-laws there.
“To my surprise there was already a crew of people stripping down the basement, eight random volunteers, my four friends, and seven wonderful Burnaby firefighters.”
The crew was able to finish stripping the basement down to the studs and clear out the garbage in just a few hours.
“There are no words to fully describe what the firefighters did for us and the rest of the community, to drive the 11 hours to come out here to help and without their help it would've taken longer to clean up even with the other volunteers,” Herrmann wrote.
He ended the email with this happy-face-adorned statement: “P.S. Having their presence there was lifting a lot of spirit in the area, especially some of the female volunteers. I even caught my wife checking a couple of the boys out.”