Not all superheroes wear capes. Some don ashy coats, sweat from the heat of the fire and boots while others wear dog tags, battle fatigues and mud.
The City of Wetaskiwin recently held a specialized training day that included members of council trying their hand at a firefighter’s duties. To me it seemed like a great opportunity to capture some insightful photos for the paper and really show how the fire department uses it’s time to keep their skills sharp and keep us all safe.
I planned on sticking around for an hour, maybe an hour and half, before returning to non-journalistic activities. But what came from that experience was so much more than a spread of photos.
Not long after I walked through the front doors of the department several members, as they suited up, encouraged me to slip — or in my case — struggle into an extra set of gear and participate. As they told me, it really could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
First, the heavy protective pants, then the heavier steel-toed, steel shanked boots, the balaclava and coat. I was sweating before I even got across the foyer to the bay where the rest of the equipment is kept.
Onto my back they loaded an oxygen tank and I was outfitted with a mask and helmet.
In turn each of the irregular participants, including myself, crawled their way through a maze made of tables laid on their sides and a wooden tunnel filled with wires, roped and bars waiting to snag anything within reach.
I wouldn’t call the tunnel a claustrophobic experience, the walls didn’t close in but it was like trying to fight through a sticky net while upside down in clothing so bulky you aren’t even sure where your arms are.
This exercise was followed by two vehicle extractions and some fire demonstrations.
But what’s weighing on me — even more than the equipment—is one small event that took place that has grown larger and larger in my mind. One member of the department, Tyler Gandam, was expertly making his way through the tunnel when one of the wires got caught inside a closed clip on his coat. He wasn’t just inhibited or stuck, he was completely trapped and not able to move forward or backward without help.
In a real situation firefighters have knives and other tools to help them cut their way through obstacles such as that and it was said by a member of the department it is a worst case scenario when a firefighter only has one route to escape.
But it just goes to show how something so little can have such an impact on the safety of the men and women who consistently risk their lives battling blazes and other dangerous situations with such bravery, determination and open hearts.
Just as a community has its own heroes, Canada as a whole also has an extraordinarily important group of heroes: war veterans, past, present and future.
Each year in the days leading up to November 11 the country is swept up in a flurry of poppies and Remembrance Day ceremonies. But this year I noticed there seemed to me there was just as much arguing about when to start honoring the monumental occasion and whether or not to put Christmas decorations out before of after November 11.
What I feel people are forgetting is that throughout history Canada’s soldiers have fought — many paying the ultimate sacrifice — to make this a county where people have the freedom to make that choice.
The real disrespect comes with how little veteran accomplishments are remembered the rest of the year.
We have Veterans Week and Remembrance Day but is that all the thanks our lives are worth? Thankfully, ever since I was a little girl, I’ve seen huge strides in how communities approach Remembrance Day; with a growing attitude that education of younger generations is the best way to ensure the memories and actions of Canada’s brave military heroes are remembered for years to come.
Unfortunately I did not make it to Leduc or most of the communities the Pipestone Flyer serves for any of their Remembrance Day activities this year but what I saw in Wetaskiwin and Millet warmed my heart.
Honour was plentiful and passionate, whether it came in the form of poppies laid on grave sites, school participation, tulips planted commemorating Canada’s involvement in the liberation of the Netherlands, parades and marches, or a handmade Quilt of Valor.
Lest we forget.
Amelia Naismith is the new reporter/photographer for the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular opinion column.