Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From the Floor: July 2016

Jay Shaw   

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While tens of thousands of Albertans continue the recovery process, amazing stories are emerging about the heroic, selfless actions of citizens, responders and civic leaders who all pulled together to save Fort McMurray.

Across Alberta and the rest of Canada another story has played out; in fact, this story plays out almost every day in the homes and hearts of families of responders. The sacrifices that our loved ones make so we can “hold thee safe” will always amaze me and, as many of you can relate, our true strength comes from the support and love from home.

The look on her face was confusing. Was she mad at me? Sad? Did she understand what was happening? I couldn’t give her the answers she wanted – I just didn’t know when I would be back. All I knew was that people in Alberta needed help and I wanted, in fact, I needed to go. My young daughter broke eye contact with me as my wife reminded me of the final dance recital dates. I would miss the year-end finale. The mood in the room darkened. Rebecca turned her back, clutching her stuffed rabbit and quietly went up to her room. I knew I had shattered her. I chose work over family.


Can you see her, the young mother, standing in the kitchen, yoga pants and a hoodie with a one-year-old in her arms as she reaches into the refrigerator for milk? Her back is to her husband as she takes a deep breath of the cold fridge air, tries to compose herself and comprehend what he has just told her. Her eyes feel itchy holding back tears; she pauses to make sure her tone is strong and confident, as her knees start to weaken. With a smile she tells him, “It will be fine. Go. You have to go. My mom can move in for a bit to help out with the kids.” Her husband gives her a hug and tells her he loves her and it will be all right. He breaks the embrace, as he needs to find some equipment and start focusing on the mission. She does what she always does – keeps the family together. She will call her mother in the morning and hope she offers to help.

She writes frantically: if she gets her info in early, it will show how interested she is. She can’t find her resume; it’s not needed but she wants to knock their socks off. She searches one more file, finds it and does a quick edit to add the critical incident stress management course she just completed. She hits send. Now she will pray she gets selected, and then she will tell her boyfriend she won’t be able to go to Seattle. He smiles, kisses her on the neck and whispers that Seattle will always be there and she needs to go and help the ones she can.


Dear Sir,
In my life I’ve always known why I wanted to be a paramedic-firefighter, but this opportunity is calling me. I feel like I need to be there and help. I’ve spent time in Fort Mac and I know how tough the people are and I want to help them get through this. I’m not an expert or some kind of super responder; I just feel like I need to go. Please accept this email, resume and copies of transcript documents. I believe we should do everything we can to help our fellow Canadians. If you have any questions please contact me.
Respectfully, Ken

I received more than 90 email applications, attached to heartfelt letters, resumes and supporting documents, in fewer than 48 hours, to prove individual worthiness for a deployment to assist others in crisis. In my short career, I’ve had the opportunity to see and do amazing things, make a difference, and feel as though I’ve been part of something bigger. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service never did get the opportunity to deploy to Fort McMurray, but witnessing the process and sacrifice our WFPS members, their families – and families all across this great country – made or were prepared to make so thousands of firefighters, EMS and police responders could drop everything and deploy, is truly one of my proudest moments as a firefighter.

Our families sacrifice so much so we can help others. The funny part is, WFPS never asked for applications – just names. We needed a list to start the screening process and what we got was so worthy of deployment – I only wish we could have sent everyone. So, to all the families who pulled together, the grandparents doing double duty, the wives and husbands working exhausting hours while their spouses deployed, thank you for your sacrifice and your dedication. We could never do what we do out there, if we didn’t have you.

Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills.  @firecollege

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