The 88,000


Photo Courtesy Mel Angelstad

As I begin to write this, I sit 30,000 feet in the air above the empty city of Fort McMurray. A place where for the past week my boots have been on the ground fighting the most merciless and unrelenting fire I will likely ever see for the rest of my career as a fire fighter.  My city, my home was under siege; fire on all sides.  In the end no house was safe and no neighbourhood would remain untouched.

Surrounded by a wall of fire, we took a stand.

This has been a week of polarized emotions.  Fear and courage; despair and hope; loss and triumph.  Wins have felt few and far between and in that first 48 hours there were some deep moments of pain.

“Abandon Abasand”

“Beaconhill is lost”

“We are going to lose the airport”

“The water treatment plant is on fire”

We were losing.  Damnit, we were losing this thing.

But when the dust settles and smoke clears, the city I love is still going to be there.  That’s because Fort McMurray’s greatest asset is not the Oil Sands.  It isn’t the money or the work it provides or the houses and city streets.  Fort McMurray’s greatest asset is its people.  The 88,000.  It’s the strong, tenacious, and loving people that is its greatest natural resource.  This week a few of those people got a chance to show just how deep that well goes.

People like Stephen and Tia Morari, parents who are both firefighters. Who in the first hours of the fire were forced to leave their kids at Fire Hall 1 while they both left to try and save lives.

People like fire fighter Jamie Germain, who toiled in vain to stop his twin brothers house from burning to ground.

People like fire fighter Neil Hasenuik, whose home was lost in the first few hours but continued to fight to save your house, and my house.  Knowing he was left with nothing he selflessly soldiered on.

People like Fire Fighter Nathan Gilchrist and Curtis Robinson, who in a town that had been evacuated for a week, organized a church service for all the first responders.  A place to decompress and to refocus.

People like my Captain.  When he heard that his house was lost, he could have given up or walked away.  Instead he held his post at Incident Command, did his job, and kept the rest of us safe.  Days later when he would be able to survey the smoldering wreckage of all that he owned, he found the only unburnt item that survived.  His mother’s ashes and her wedding ring, the only true thing of importance to him.

The truth is fire has no conscience.  It burns up everything in its path with no remorse.  But the one thing it cannot destroy is the unshakable heart and soul of the men and women who call this beautiful city home. It tried to end us, but it has only made us stronger.

#ymmstrong #ymmfire




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115 thoughts on “The 88,000

  1. herdepressionstory says:

    This is an amazing piece! I love your writing! Check out my new blog sometime!

  2. Heart felt, thank you for writing this, I did have family there but they moved recently to different town.

  3. azariab says:

    My heart goes out to them and you. This is amazing

  4. Iriz Chan says:

    Sad to read such situation but you established a strong attitude at the end. Yes, this kind of devastating events in our lives just makes us stronger in the end.

  5. […] via The 88,000 — Filthy and Faded […]

  6. anneusha says:

    All of you are heroes

  7. This is truly beautifully written, it brought tears to my eyes. thank you all for your service.

  8. Nicky M says:

    Brought tears to my eyes – cannot imagine what you’re going through. In times like these we amaze ourselves by our strength and solidarity. Stay safe 🙂

  9. Gail says:

    We are strong and we will return..

  10. Nancy Foreman says:

    Firefighters do it all.., of my brothers is a volunteer fire fighter who fought forest fires for 14 years. He is on call now for California State fire as he lives there. He has seen these horrific events. God Bless All who answer this call.

  11. Linda says:

    I’m overwhelmed by the firefighters in these too common disasters. I’m scared for this summer. Be safe you awesome hero’s. God forbid these fires are started by human stupidity. How disgusting that these hero’s are risking their lives for stupidity.

  12. ishanalways says:

    Wow it made me believe in superheroes.

  13. Beautifully written on such a disastrous event. Hugs from London, thinking of you all. Michelle x

  14. Jean says:

    Best wishes for disaster recovery in Fort Mac. (And hope you always wear your SCBA in fighting fires, even if smouldering.)

  15. Excellent and thoughtful.

  16. humblehousemouse says:

    You’re all such beautiful people with such brave hearts. Thank you all so very much, beyond what words can express. You are extraordinary.

  17. kirizar says:

    What a beautiful testament to a town and the selfless people fighting to save it. I was moved by the gut wrenching retelling. So matter-of-fact, honest and hopeful. I salute the courage and efforts you have all made.

  18. Randy Bellin says:

    i think that people who have shown so much courage and selflessness need to be honoured act like what these men and woman have done are extreme examples of the humane spirit i think a monument to this spirit needs to stand at the entrance to our home for all to see for ever

  19. Shawna says:

    Well said! My thoughts were on Tia and her family, as she is more than a beatific woman who lets me spend a couple hours with her awesome personality to get her hair done on my salon with me every month. She tells me stories of her work and how hard it is having her husband also a firefighter and balance their shifts and very small children! She is one tough mama! I’m so glad everyone is safe! Thank you to all of our first responders, who give selflessly everyday! Love Shawna

  20. Gayle Christie says:

    These thoughts were very well written and inspiring. People fought that fire for their town and people. Even though they were suffering themselves. They are courageous and never gave up on each other.

  21. nannygrannie says:

    Inspirational. Completely amazing. Good on you and everyone else involved.

  22. carolhouts says:

    My daughter is a wildfire firefighter in the US Southwest. We are sending all our love and prayers to all of those that continue the fight in Fort McMurray and we hold our breathe as fire season begins for many high risk places around the world.

  23. beguiledbibliophile says:

    This was a very touching post. I have family who have lost their homes in Fort Mac, and my thoughts and prayers are with all of the families who have and may still lose their homes. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Nicole says:

    Beautiful!! And soo true! God Bless!

  25. thesmilingpilgrim says:

    As a canadian and someone in the Prairies this has been incredible and heart wrenching to watch.

    A lot of my friends and such have been affected by events in this region and the fires just put all the much more strain on so many families.

    Thank goodness for so many caring families and people matching contributions. It goes to show that despite divisions and pseudo barriers Canadians do come together when they see others in pain and vulnerable.

    Love my country and so proud of it right now!

  26. Thank-you, for giving us an inspiring view of the brave and self-less people who served in the midst of such tragedy!

  27. ashley101172 says:

    Thank you. For your post and for what you and your co-heros do.

  28. sharingiscaring00 says:

    I pray for you and all that you have done, gone through and know that if 9-1-1 was rebuilt then faith tells me so will all of this. Thank you for all the service men and women who were there.

  29. Rita Lockyer says:

    Your fearless efforts will never be forgotten. God bless and stay safe. Thank you for all you have done🤗

  30. Salute to all of you, the great FireFighters !!
    Hope everything goes well sooner with you and your lovely city. 🙂

  31. mknaturedesign says:

    Thank you! Thank you for your service. My brother was a volunteer fireman and I know that you have made sacrifices to protect people. You are a hero!

  32. Darlene Williams says:

    Thank you so much for saving the homes you could .I love this writing you tell it so truthful I’m grateful for all of you fire fighters and first responders .And a big thanks for your Captain there are so many words to say . Our city,Our place called home .

  33. We watched from Ontario as what started out as another forest fire from the land of forest fires turn into an insatiable monster, hell bent on eating everything in its path. Words cannot express the awe I feel at the tireless energy and devotion from you and your brothers and sisters with your own insatiable desire to stop the beast. You are truly Canadian heroes.

  34. Yvonne Reinders says:

    From Holland: Thank you for the ecxellent words. I visit my son and his family who lives in FortMM . Then the big fire starts.
    I’m so happy to be safe now. My thoughts are with all of you.

  35. OMG….It’s so heart shaking, truly powerful story

  36. michaelkubly says:

    My heart goes towards the victim’s of this truly horribly disaster. I pray that rain comes soon and that those who lost their home will have their lives quickly restored! God Bless!

  37. Very moving tribute, Robin. FM will come back.

  38. Betty Samaroden says:

    Very well said!!

  39. xomorgsxo says:

    Love your courage.. such a powerful story, all of us here in Saskatchewan are praying for you!

  40. Sandra says:

    First of all you are a hero secondly your writing is so eloquent that you have given us insight to what it feels like to experience exactly what was going on while we were being evacuated. I have such respect for all the men and women that stayed behind to help protect our homes. There are no words that could ever express my gratitude. Just know I will never forget your heroism during this horrific event. And you are very accurate in stating that the most valuable asset of Fort McMurray is it’s people.

  41. Thank you for writing this! Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families that lost their homes. We admire the courage of your firefighters’ team and the spirit of a town that comes together in times of emergency. This story brings us hope in humanity which is capable of doing extraordinary things to help one another!

  42. Plover Lock says:

    Thank you.

  43. Don Butler says:

    We thank all the brave hard working people in Fort McMurry and Canada for stepping up and saving our Town!
    We spent 13 years in Our Towm (1975-1987) our heart is still with you all.

  44. Michael says:

    Thank u Lucas it is a honor to know u and it was a bigger honor to work alone side your fellow firefighters it gave me a greater and deeper respect for u guys and gals who gave it their all to save this city BIG UP AND ONE LOV.
    Michael Rose

  45. Eric Thunaes says:

    Thank you all so much. We had to leave so that you could carry on with your selfless work.
    At times it must have seemed futile but just look at what you’ve accomplished!
    All the ground troops,,pilots and coordinators are our HEROES!
    All the Municipal firefighters who worked through exhaustion along with their support teams, HEROES, ONE AND ALL.
    Thank you.

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