‘He’s a hero’: Veteran Alberta firefighter in coma after wildfire injury

Click to play video: 'Volunteer firefighter in coma after wildfire injury in northern Alberta'
Volunteer firefighter in coma after wildfire injury in northern Alberta
When East Prairie Metis Settlement in northern Alberta caught on fire, volunteers stayed behind to help save homes. But it's work that's not without incredible risk. Morgan Black has the story of father-of-three Frankie Payou, also a veteran Alberta wildland firefighter, who is now in a coma after a tree fell on his head on May 14. – May 16, 2023

A veteran Alberta wildland firefighter is in the hospital after suffering a serious injury while battling the wildfire in his home community.

On May 5, the wildfire hit East Prairie Metis Settlement quickly, as fires broke out across the province. Within minutes, residents were fleeing for safety — relatives came to Frankie Payou and Melodie Robinson’s home to warn them it was time to evacuate.

Robinson, five-months pregnant, collected their three children, including their eight-month-old daughter who was days out of a kidney operation. Payou stayed behind to help battle the fire that was ravaging his community.

With 14 years of firefighting under his belt, Payou fire-proofed the family’s home, then started to do the same for others.

He was gone not even 15 minutes when his own home caught fire, said Jessica Supernault, a relative of Robinson’s. His mother’s house also caught fire and burned.

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In total, 27 homes in the community were destroyed by the fire. Despite losing his home, Payou continued to fight the fire for days, until a tree he was attempting to fell cracked and landed on him.

On May 14, Robinson, who was staying at a hotel with her children, received a call that Payou was being transported to the hospital after a tree fell on his head, leaving him unconscious.

His crew called Air Forestry, which took him to High Prairie. From there, STARS Air Ambulance transported Payou to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, where he remains in a coma, explained Supernault.

“He has bleeding in the brain. He has kidney and liver damage. He also has broken ribs and they were waiting for a spinal surgeon to come and see how fractured his C-7 was,” said Supernault, who is acting as the family’s spokesperson.

“She misses her daddy, Melodie has been telling me,” she said of the couple’s baby. They also have an eight-year-old and a 15-year-old. “We’re all praying for a full recovery for him. He’s a hero.”

A GoFundMe was started for the family after news broke of their home burning, but the cause of the fundraiser shifted after Payou’s accident.

During Tuesday’s wildfire update, the province said there have been no injuries reported to the Emergency Coordination Centre since the wildfires first broke out at the end of April.

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“That doesn’t mean local authorities aren’t having any injuries and aren’t tracking them,” said Colin Blair, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency during Tuesday’s briefing.

“The good thing is we haven’t had a fatality at this point in time.”

On Wednesday, officials confirmed an injury.

Click to play video: 'Alberta wildfires: Officials confirm firefighter seriously injured'
Alberta wildfires: Officials confirm firefighter seriously injured

— with files from Morgan Black, Global News

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