In the wake of the wildfire: Fort McMurray bolstered by ‘brother’s keeper’ safety mentality

Fort McMurray Search and Rescue benefits from Enbridge’s Our Community Partners volunteer program (Part 3 in a series)

It’s been two years since a wall of flame raged across northeastern Alberta.

And while terrible damage was done—it was the costliest disaster in Canadian history, with an estimated cost of CAD$9.9 billion—the Fort McMurray wildfire also galvanized a community.

“You hear about large-scale disasters and how communities rally together to support one another through tough times. That was definitely the case in our neighborhood,” says Ryan Lowe, a Fort McMurray-based maintenance supervisor with Enbridge.

“At work, we had people who stepped up to help, despite all the chaos. For the first week after the evacuations, we had a skeleton crew shutting down operating assets and keeping the diesel-loading facility operational to provide fuel for emergency crews,” he adds.

“After that experience, everyone was really looking out for each other. That ‘brother’s keeper’ mentality of safety was evident during that time, and those relationships have been stronger ever since.”

Last year, partially as a result of the wildfire legacy, Lowe joined the Fort McMurray Search and Rescue Society. This group of highly trained volunteers supports RCMP and emergency services, in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and surrounding Indigenous communities, with:

  • Emergency ground, air and water rescues and searches;
  • Swift-water rescues;
  • Cold-case evidence searches; and
  • Child and adult wilderness education.

In 2017, Fort McMurray Search and Rescue volunteers devoted more than 5,000 hours to incident response—and given that 50% of that response time was water-related, the organization began a fundraising campaign in January to get its hands on a shallow-water rescue boat.

Safe Community First Responder Program

Since its launch, Enbridge's Safe Community program has invested more than US$16.6 million (more than C$21.5 million) in first responder organizations near our pipelines and facilities.

A rescue boat, says society president Ron Lamoureux, would be vital for residential evacuations, underwater sonar searches and night searches.

Enbridge’s No. 1 priority is safety—it’s the foundation of our business—and we recently made a $10,000 donation toward a water rescue boat from our Safe Community program, which offers grants to emergency responders for equipment, training and education.

That’s not the only way Enbridge and its employees support the community. Three Enbridge employees and contractors are members of Fort McMurray Search and Rescue—which sees direct benefits through Enbridge’s Our Community Partners volunteer program.

“It makes you feel good to know you’re doing something for the community,” says David Buckley, an Enbridge pipeline maintenance technician who’s been involved with the society for more than five years.

“In a lot of ways, this group is like a second family,” adds Buckley, who estimates he volunteered more than 400 hours with the society in 2017. “And being involved in searches brings its own sense of adventure-slash-meaning to it.”

As part of Our Community Partners, Enbridge employees volunteering more than 40 hours of service to a non-profit organization are eligible for grants each year—up to $500 a year in Canada, and $250 in the U.S.—that are provided by Enbridge to those non-profits.

Under the program, Enbridge will also match employee donations of up to $10,000 for our regional United Way campaigns, and give employees one paid day off a year to volunteer.

“Every dollar counts when it comes to a volunteer organization. It goes a long way,” says Lowe. “And it definitely makes me proud to know that Enbridge cares about the community.”

(TOP PHOTO: In 2017, Fort McMurray Search and Rescue volunteers devoted more than 5,000 hours to incident response.)