Calgary Deputy Fire Chief Ken Uzeloc remembers that day during last year’s June floods vividly. Already stretched to the limit in the city, firefighters were dispatched south of Calgary to rescue a woman stranded by the flood waters.
“They were sent out by Longview for a woman who was on top of her camper,” recalls Uzeloc. “Unfortunately about three minutes before our crews arrived, she was lost and taken by the water.”
The woman, 35-year-old Amber Rancourt, was one of four people who drowned in the floods.
“They subsequently rescued her husband from on top of his vehicle, and another gentleman from Okotoks from atop his mobile home who was there for five hours.
“But being that close to being able to help, but not getting that opportunity, is really tough for our people.”
Those on the front lines frequently risked their own safety to get the job done.
“We had a jet boat hit a fire hydrant and sink on Erlton Street,” says Uzeloc. “The firefighter was thrown out – he was one of our aquatic rescue people. He was holding onto the rope and he was dragged bouncing along the jet boat. He ended up with a concussion and he’s good now, but who would have thought you would have hit something going down the street?”
READ MORE: Flood stories – At the centre of the storm
Uzleoc has nothing but praise for his department.
“A lot of our staff were doing that with their own homes and own families affected. We had a number of people who lost their basements in Calgary and High River and they still came to work and did their job. So that’s kudos to them.”
“When I went down into Stanley Park and took a tour, they were there covered in mud and debris, pulling things out of basements. They had a smile on their face and they didn’t care that it wasn’t their job.”
Uzeloc is also proud of how the department handled another dangerous situation just as Calgary was slowly recovering from the flood – a partial train derailment on the Bonnybrook bridge.
“We had six cars derail over the bridge and in 22 hours we dealt with that by removing the product, emptying the cars, getting them out of the way with no injuries.”
“That was probably one of the proudest moments, is to have a department that could do that kind of work, and all of that work, all at the same time.”
“Everybody learned something about themselves and the department during the flood, but most of all what it showed is that we’re a pretty damn good department and we did some good work.”