Pulled from training, recruits played key role in flood support

It was something that Calgary Fire Chief Bruce Burrell never expected to see.

During the recent flooding and local state of emergency, the Calgary Fire Department’s newest recruits found themselves unexpectedly pulled from their training and thrust into front-line duty alongside other emergency services personnel.

Reassigned from their training program to assist Canada Task Force 2 — one of four multi-discipline national teams charged with leading responses to large-scale disasters — the recruits assisted with neighbourhood evacuations, pumped out basements, and helped remove garbage and other debris from homes. As the flooding receded, they worked in community support centres to help evacuees make transitions back into their homes.

After two weeks of flood duties, the recruits resumed their training.

Speaking at the recruits’ recent graduation ceremony, Burrell observed how remarkable the situation was.

“For the first time in my career — close to 34 years now — I have never seen this happen before,” Burrell said.

The ceremony was unique for another reason: the 40 recruits became the first class to graduate to probationary officers without first finishing their training.

Recruits assigned to assist special task team

Burrell said that once the the “magnitude of the impact of the flood” became obvious, the city’s Emergency Management Agency mobilized as many of the city’s uniformed personnel — including transit police and bylaw officers — as possible in the interest of public safety.

During the worst of the flooding, 103,000 Calgarians — nearly 10 per cent of the city’s total population — were displaced, said Burrell, who briefly stepped down as Fire Chief to act as the director of Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency. As well, Burrell said that call volumes to the Calgary Fire Department increased by 38 per cent.

Although the recruits were only six weeks into their firefighter training when they were reassigned to assist Canada Task Force 2, Burrell said that they were up to the task.

“Regardless of the challenges that they faced, they constantly upheld the values of this department — professionalism, teamwork and respect.”

‘All hands on deck’

“When the State of Local Emergency was declared, it was all hands on deck and recruits were no exception. They were in the middle of their incredibly demanding training and we needed them.”
– Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary

Mayor Naheed Nenshi thanked the recruits for their public service during the floods.
“It’s been chaotic, overwhelming, exhausting and, in many ways, unbelievable,” Nenshi said.

“When the State of Local Emergency was declared, it was all hands on deck and recruits were no exception,” Nenshi said. “They were in the middle of their incredibly demanding training and we needed them.”

The mayor said that the recruits’ work on the disaster’s frontlines — alongside firefighters, police officers and other first responders — was essential to the city’s welfare and safety.

“They helped people at the lowest point in their lives to understand that their community was there for them, was keeping them safe and was looking after them.

“They did incredible work,” Nenshi said. “This will really set them off in a career in public service and help them understand the potential of what they are able to do.”

From teacher to firefighter

Katherine Parcher is one of 40 new recruits who graduated from the Fire Taining Academy

Photo by Karry TaylorKatherine Parcher, a former elementary school teacher and member of the recruit class, said that the ceremony marked “the culmination of a lot of hard work.”

“It’s been a long road,” said Parcher, noting it took her about eight years to achieve her goal of joining the Calgary Fire Department.

Parcher said that while being assigned to duty during the flood came as a surprise; the experience was very beneficial for the recruits.

“We were able to do invaluable training – it’s something that we were very lucky to experience as we begin our careers,” Parcher said.

Parcher was one of two female recruits in the graduating class. Carol Henke, the department’s public information officer, said that of Calgary’s 1,400 firefighters, fewer than 40 are female.

“We are growing in numbers,” Parcher said.

After the graduation ceremony, Parcher and her classmates resumed their training.
With the graduation scheduled prior to the flood, the Calgary Fire Department decided to go ahead with the ceremony as planned.

The graduating recruits will finish their final training requirements and exams in the weeks following the ceremony. Once their training is complete, they will be assigned to fire stations around the city as probationary firefighters.

ktaylor@cjournal.ca