Tag Archives: Fire Fighters

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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Man Down

Fire Hall

It’s just another day at work.  I sit at the table in the kitchen of the fire hall, the smell of food cooking on the stove.  The sounds of the guys talking about their families, and what they are going to do for shortchange.  Someone tells a joke and the room erupts in laughter.  With a  screech the radio cuts through the laughs “303 from 304, I just received a call for a man down, pulseless and not breathing”.  As if shifting gears, the team launches into action and suddenly the kitchen is a ghost town; eerily empty and quiet; food still sizzling on the stove.

There are lights and sirens, more radio calls.  The smell of diesel exhaust.  Traffic is tight, and it’s a battle to get through.  There’s a palpable sense of urgency. We know that if there’s any hope for this guy, adequate CPR needs to start within 4 minutes.  Every second counts.

We pull up on scene, a man in his late thirties lays lifeless on the gravel in the middle of a parking lot.  His friend leans over top of him, sweat pouring down his face, frantically trying his best to revive his friend whose heart has been stopped for almost 5 minutes.

I put my hand on his shoulder, “Good Job Buddy, let me take over”.  He moves aside, and I get down low next to my patient. I interlock my fingers and push down on his chest.  I feel  his ribs bend, and eventually break as the chest compressions cause his belly to rise and fall.  There is nothing clean or beautiful about death.  It is ugly and it is bitter.

Someone opens his airway, as someone else places pads from the Defibrillator on his uncovered chest.   His heart has been stopped a long time now, too long.  His only hope is that we can jump-start his heart with a jolt of electricity.  The unit powers up and the paramedic says “Everybody clear!”

Time slows down for a moment.  This is it.  His last chance.  Hope hangs precariously in the air.  Were we fast enough? Can we bring him back? Or are we too late.  The button is pushed and electricity washes over him as he arches his back and falls still again.  There is a quiet pause.  Did it work? I feel for a pulse.  Please… let there be a pulse.

Against all odds, his heart is beating again.  His lungs fill with air.  It is not his day to die.

Life and death are part of the job.  Each day I go into work knowing my actions could mean the difference between a daughter running into her fathers arms as he steps off the bus, or a husband getting the unthinkable phone call that his wife won’t be coming home.  It’s my job to try and give people second chances.  To do everything in my power, to use all my skills and training, to push back the inevitability and hostility of death.

But I know a man’s story is not solely defined by the beating of his heart.  We are not merely flesh and bone, destined to be dust.   But our story is about how we separated our selves from God. How our sin, our pride, fractured our relationship with the creator. How our sin put us at odds with very nature of God. It’s the story of how he was unwilling to stand by and let us parish, though it was what we deserved. It’s the story of how he sent his own Son, the flesh and blood and spirit of God himself, to live a sinless life, to die on a cross, and raise again defeating death. It’s a story of redemption and forgiveness and hope where there was no hope. It’s the story of unwavering, uncompromising love.

“But because of his great love for us,  God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4

Just like that man who lay lifeless in the cold dust of that parking lot, each one of us is dead in our sin.  We are hopelessly fighting against the certain and ever nearing bitterness of death.  We are helpless to save ourselves. But there is hope.  There is a chance to live.  There is a chance to experience the wholeness of life the way God has always intended it to be.

When a person decides to believe in and follow Jesus, they are choosing life.  One of the ways we use to express this choice is baptism.  So when a person is baptized it is this beautiful illustration of them being lowered into the grave. It is a symbol of how they have chosen to die to their sin and leave behind the baggage of their pain and shame.  And from that grave we know it is the life-giving love of Jesus surging through their heart and soul awakening them from the sureness of death, to life in Christ.   Jesus, the Great Defibrillator.

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