The Bucks stopped here

Wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray

Let’s take responsibility for Emergency Preparedness

For supper later, Lindsay Buck put a ham in the slow cooker that day. With two young boys and a third baby on the way, it was nice to get a break and have lunch with her friend. She was on her way to work that afternoon when she got a call from the daycare.

“You have to come get your kids,” said the voice on the other line, “We are being evacuated.”

2021 marks the 25th annual Emergency Preparedness Week (May 3-9). The COVID-19 global pandemic has the entire world living in a crisis situation. This situation however, should not stop us from being prepared. In Alberta, we have also experienced our recent share of natural disasters that lead to local emergencies:

  • The flood of June 2013 was the largest flood in Calgary since 1932. Five lives were lost and there was as much as $6 billion in financial losses and property damage across southern Alberta; and

  • In 2016, the Fort McMurray fire forced the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta's history. More than 88,000 people were forced from their homes; approximately 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed; another 2,000 residents in three communities were displaced after their homes were declared unsafe due to contamination. With an estimated damage cost of C$9.9 billion, it was the costliest disaster in Canadian history. The fire started on May 1 and was not declared extinguished until August 2, 2016.

It was in Fort McMurray that our story began. Everyone was aware that a fire was burning somewhere in the distance but everything happened so fast.

It was supposed to be an ordinary weekend for the Buck family. Steven, Lindsay’s husband, rapidly rushed home to quickly get their sons ready to leave. Grabbing clothes to last them until Monday, they packed their marriage certificate, all other important documents and a few of the boy’s favourite things.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon and the Bucks had no idea of the magnitude of the situation. They tried to leave but the highway was blocked off. Nobody could get anywhere in unmoving bumper to bumper traffic. For many hours, everyone stayed in the grassy area on the side of the highway.

It was a surreal experience for everyone there. People were just walking around. Music was even playing. And everyone was asking themselves and each other, “What are we doing on the side of the highway?”

Finally, at around 11 o'clock. They hear that the highway has been opened. Steven looks at Lindsay and asked, “Should we go?”

“Yes. Let's do it!” Lindsay replied.

Wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray (WikiMedia Commons, Photo taken by DarrenRD)
Wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray (WikiMedia Commons, Photo taken by DarrenRD)

As much as traffic flowed, it flowed very slowly. The Bucks were running out of gas and so was everyone on the road. People’s vehicles were breaking down everywhere. All the gas stations also had emptied their supplies at that time. It was midnight. Lindsay was disheartened at not being able to help the people with their hands in the air on the side of the road.

Knowledge is helpful. To better prepare for emergencies, disasters and life’s inconveniences:

  • Know the risks – if you know the hazards in your community, you know how to prepare for them.

  • Download the Alberta Emergency Alert app – Alberta issues alerts to provide critical information about an immediate disaster and what action you need to take to stay safe.

  • Create community resilience – neighbours often lend a hand first when an emergency or something unexpected happens. Build strength in your community by getting to know one another.

  • Start a conversation. Talk to your friends and family about what you can do to manage emergencies, disasters, and unexpected inconveniences before they occur.

Steven’s brother drove up to bring the family two jerry cans of gas. It worked! They had a refilled full tank of gas with another jerry can to spare. They left the spare gas on the side of the road for someone else who needs it. The Bucks drove all night. They arrived in Fort Saskatchewan at eight in the morning.

Locally in Fort Saskatchewan, residents are advised to sign-up to Fort Sask Alerts and other subscriptions that can keep them informed. With the present COVID-19 situation, local updates can also be found at: fortsask.ca/COVID19. Following the City’s social media channels will also keep you in the know.

Lindsay recalls coming to the Legion (Royal Canadian Legion Branch 27) and it was packed with recently donated stuff. It was amazing to her how much people gave. She remembers volunteers asking, “What do you need?”

“Everything!” Lindsay replied.

For all of us wanting to help in times of need, research suggests that the best donations for emergencies are cash. In-kind donations, while well-meaning, can create an emergency in itself. It creates challenges in storage, transport, plus additional needs for labour and management. Financial donations are also preferred by people affected by disasters because it provides them the dignity, control and flexibility to manage their needs in these trying times.

Emergency Preparedness Week is an opportunity to encourage Canadians to take concrete actions to be better prepared to protect themselves and their families during emergencies. Preparedness is a challenge for us all. By breaking it down into simple steps and making preparedness a habit, we can be ready for anything.

  • Build a kit – when an unexpected situation occurs, it is easier to prioritize your safety and well-being if you have an emergency kit you can grab and go at a moment’s notice.

  • Gather supplies – having the supplies you need on hand helps keep you, your family and pets safe, and provides peace of mind, even if services are unavailable.

  • Make an emergency plan – think about your personal needs to create an emergency plan that works for you and your family. Being ready can reduce the disruption to your daily life.

Fast forward to present day, the Buck brood has grown. Lindsay & Steven now have three sons and a daughter. In fact, their daughter, Sophie was born here in Fort Saskatchewan.

A few other Fort McMurray families have also moved into Fort Sask. They would all surely have stories we can learn from too.

 


Fortitude – The idea for Fortitude came from wanting to both educate and entertain our readers. This City blog seeks to tell noteworthy stories through a different lens than a typical news story. Expect tales about how City programs and services impact our life here in the Fort. We would love to hear your thoughts and your story ideas.

The City of Fort Saskatchewan is a vibrant economic and cultural hub located just 15 minutes northeast of Edmonton on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Home to nearly 27,000 people, the City proudly manages state of the art recreation, culture and historic amenities including 80 km of outdoor trails, a performing arts theatre and fitness centre within the Dow Centennial Centre and the 1875 – 1885 NWMP Fort Representation in historic downtown. Fort Saskatchewan is the largest urban centre with the Alberta Industrial Heartland region.