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International Operating Engineer - Spring 2017

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The quarterly magazine of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Canadian News

Canadian News Remembering the Fort McMurray Wildfires One year later, a union and community continue to heal FLAMES CRAWLED ALONG the roadway as panicked residents of Fort McMurray tried to evacuate on May 3, 2016. The grass covered highway medians were littered with abandoned vehicles that had run out of fuel or had caught fire. The roadway itself was packed with residents fleeing for their lives, but getting nowhere. They moved slowly, watching the fire inch closer. “Are we going to live, Daddy?” Chris Flett’s terrified 7-year-old daughter asked as he maneuvered his truck into traffic, attempting to avoid the flames. Although he tried to reassure her, fear knotted his stomach. Chris Flett is an IUOE Local 955 Business Agent who has lived in Fort McMurray most of his life. With no evacuation order issued, Chris had to make the difficult decision to leave everything behind. It took Chris Flett and his family three days to reach safety. They stopped often, either to refuel or rest. They ended up at a Christian youth summer camp in Dapp Alberta called Teen Time Ranch. It was set up with cabins, food, clothing, donations and everything a camp would supply such as boating, fishing lessons and riding lessons. The children even participated in the local school program at one point. All expenses were taken care of. Chris and his family stayed at Teen Time Ranch for nearly five weeks before Chrissy and Jessica headed back to Nova Scotia where her family is from. Chris stayed behind and worked in Leduc until authorities said it was safe to return to Fort McMurray. “My house was completely gone,” said Chris. “It’s hard to imagine, but when you go through something like that, every emotion you can think of goes through you. It was frustrating, depressing, and scary.” It was quite a different story for Dan Madden and his wife Tracy. Originally from the United States—specifically Seattle, Local 302—Dan moved to Fort McMurray in 2012 and worked as a Crane Operator on a Travel Card. After an extensive kitchen remodel of their rental space and moving the remainder for their belongings, Tracy and Dan finally felt at home in Fort McMurray. “When I got home I got a call on Dan’s cellphone, because he was working nights and sleeping at the time. It was Damien Stanley, the Business Agent in Fort McMurray. He said the fire was in Beacon Hill and looked like it was coming for us soon. He called back a half hour later and told us to get out.” Tracy woke Dan, but in a fog he didn’t quite believe what was happening. They packed a few things, but both Tracy and Dan thought they would be back. They didn’t think they would lose their home, their belongings or their livelihood in Fort McMurray. “By the time we got to Waterways it was fully engulfed,” remembers Dan. “The fire was on both sides of the road. We went by the skidoo dealer and it was blowing up—parts of the skidoos were coming down in chunks. You couldn’t see what was on the other side of the smoke either. You knew you had to go fast enough to get through it, but if someone was stalled on the other side you would smack right into them.” Approximately 90,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray. Out of the 2,200 structures that were destroyed by the fire, over 200 of those buildings were members’ homes. There were no serious injuries or fatalities directly related to the wildfires, however, the level of devastation made the Fort McMurray wildfires the worst natural disaster in Canadian history. Despite the chaos, trauma and sadness at this time, both Chris and Dan were grateful to have the Union to fall back on. Both members headed to the Edmonton hall to collect the 0 emergency visa cards that IUOE Local 955 was handing out. In fact, for most members, this was the first relief payments they received. Some residents had fled the city with only the clothes on their back. To them this funding was a life saver. “That money got you the basics like clothes, food and a toothbrush,” said Chris. “Honestly, there was something soothing about coming to your Union to get the credit card and seeing your Brothers and Sisters that evacuated and did the same thing. It was a healing experience to be there and see that everyone was safe and in good spirits. It was miraculous how quick they were able to get people in and out.” In order to help members in a timely manner, Local 955 had to act fast. On May 3, Business Manager, Bruce Moffatt notified IUOE Canadian Director Lionel Railton about the fires. That evening General President James Callahan phoned Bruce to offer assistance as well. After an emergency Executive Board meeting, the 0 relief payment was approved and prepaid visa cards were ordered. Approximately 450 cards were given out starting Thursday, May 4. In total, Local 955 supported 1,773 members from Fort McMurray. After the hall ran out of visa cards, they began working with members to get banking information set up for direct deposits. The Union was also offering members a chance to view aerial shots of their homes to see the extent of the damage. It was a very emotional time for members. “This is what unions are there for. We’re here to support members in times of crisis,” says Bruce Moffatt, Local 955 Business Manager. “My heart goes out to all of the people affected by the wildfires and I know that the effect of this is still being felt today by our members in many ways.” Across Canada, IUOE Locals were donating per member directly to Local 955. The International had also jumped into action, sending letters and cheques totalling 00 USD to [opposite page, top] Abandoned vehicles litter the highway in May 2016 as citizens of Fort McMurray evacuted the area. [photo] Chris Schwarz, Gov’t of Alberta [opposite page, bottom] -- Business Manager Bruce Moffatt talks with members who gathered at the Local 955 Edmonton Hall to apply for relief funding and to receive the 0 emergency VISA cards. [above] - Business Agent Chris Flett surveys the charred rubble of his home. 18 INTERNATIONAL OPERATING ENGINEER SPRING 2017 19

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