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.
“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.