The long road home
Susan Mackenzie deployed to Slave Lake three times during the course of the relief and recovery phase of the Northern Alberta wildfires response, volunteering for a total of 11 weeks.
“The acrid smell of smoke hangs in the air, burning my nostrils and throat, as we approach the small town of Slave Lake. I see a red forest in front of me and soon realize the trees, bushes and the road are coated in fire retardant, sprayed in attempt to extinguish the fires that have engulfed and destroyed much of the town. Overcome with sadness, we continue to drive and a hand-made sign emerges: We will rebuild, it reads. Goose bumps begin to trickle down my spine.
People come in to the centre and tell me stories of heroism, of utter chaos. Men tell stories and anguish is written all over their faces, others are holding back tears, many have lost so much. Still, through the devastation, a contagious sense of optimism and hopefulness penetrates the air that and I am inspired. No matter what happens, we have each other.
In an area surrounded by loss and destruction there is a sense of determination that is a constant reminder of why I am here, and why I am a Red Cross volunteer. As one resident explained to me, ‘We will make it.’ Out of an unspeakable disaster has come a tremendous amount of strength, courage, and support in the small fire-stricken community.
While many are mourning, for some, humor was the way to cope. When one of the town’s police officers found his home in a pile of ashes, he took a picture of the empty site and posted House for sale: some smoke damage.
Determination, strength, frustration, anger, love, loss, fright, sadness and hope roll in waves through the evacuees and my fellow volunteers as we take in the desolation. Seeing the fortitude of everyone I am surrounded by gives me strength to keep going, to keep volunteering, and it makes me want to make someone’s day a little bit brighter.
When the reality of the situation begins to hinder my sprits, I will look to the townspeople and my fellow volunteers and know, that together, we will rebuild.
I deployed for a total of 11 weeks. I loved being a caseworker and dealing with the clients face to face. We handled a couple over the phone as they had relocated but still had some needs that Red Cross Could meet for them.
It's the ability to be able to think ‘out of the box’ and to be comfortable that you are making the right decision. We want to assist as we stand by one of the guidelines of ‘do no harm.’ We want to help people to help themselves and to empower them in their road to recovery.
I learned to drive the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle when I was up there; we also went ice fishing and enjoyed a fish fry in the evening at one of the volunteers friends’ homes.”
Susan deployed to Slave Lake three times during the course of the relief and recovery phase of the Northern Alberta wildfires response, volunteering for a total of 11 weeks.