Ice Rescue!

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I like to volunteer. I don’t know why I enjoy it so much, but I do. For about three and a half years, I was a volunteer for the Victim Support Unit (VSU), a role that stretched me and helped me develop my sense of empathy and sympathy. I learned so much. I had several profound experiences while helping individuals and families, including one instance where I became empathic. I was assisting family members of a recently-deceased woman to view the body in the morgue and their grief and anguish was so strong, I actually felt their emotions. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that experience.

For reasons I won’t go into, I resigned from the VSU. I gave myself a short hiatus and then decided to join the volunteer fire department. I had been thinking about joining for about a year, but didn’t feel I had the time. So, I’ve been going to the fire hall on Monday nights since mid-September, starting the training. It’s been extremely overwhelming. Not since I started VSU training have I felt this out-of-my-element. I don’t know anything about fire fighting. I don’t know most of the people there, I don’t know where anything goes, I don’t know which truck is which, I don’t know how to use any of the equipment… you get the idea. Nevertheless, I think it’s good for me to try something completely new from time to time and really stretch myself. This week, I certainly did that when I jumped into a hole in the ice to rescue a drowning person!

You see, the fire department is the workhorse of the emergency services. When there’s heavy or hard work to be done, the fire department is the one who responds. It’s not just about fire; we attend vehicle accident scenes and cut cars or trucks open to get to injured patients. We can be called on by the paramedics to help lift a particularly large patient. We are the ones who will rescue people who’ve gone through thin ice into the freezing water below, which is what we practiced on Monday.

the dry suit

The first time I heard about this, I was taken aback (but of course, I played it cool). πŸ™‚ Go into the water to rescue the person?!? Isn’t this what my parents said never to do? Hand them a pole, throw them a rope, but don’t go in there with them or you’re likely to end up a frozen victim yourself! Yes, that’s what they said. And this is very good advice for regular people, but with the help of dry suits, members of the fire department will readily slip into the freezing abyss to get a rope around a half-drowned person. The victim will either be hysterical — which I can only imagine makes roping the person harder than wrangling an alligator — or hypothermic — which makes getting a rope around them easier, but you must do it with the utmost speed and gentleness (two things that don’t usually go together). Of course, you always encourage the person to pull themselves out first, but if they had been able to do that, don’t you think they would have? And you can always try throwing him/her a rope, but ultimately you have to be prepared to get in the water with them so others on shore can pull you both out.

When Monday night rolled around, I can’t deny I was a bit nervous. I can swim, I’m not afraid of water (I did two solo paddling trips, remember 1. 2.), but when it’s -12 C, it just seems so wrong! That water is so cold! I was able to pin down what was making me so antsy: I was afraid of the cold. One by one, every volunteer firefighter who hadn’t done it before shlupped into the dry suits, got tethered to a safety line and went in the water. I was on the pulling crew, which was easier than I thought and we pulled some people out a little too fast at first. Some of them looked like they were having fun, but I was still nervous! Until I got the suit on, then my whole frame of mind changed: I had a job to do, so I’d better do it. And I did! I rescued my partner and she rescued me, and then she rescued me again using a pool-noodle device (which was a pain in the a**) and then we co-rescued our Fire Chief in a slightly different scenario. The ice was about 8 inches thick so he’d cut a hole in it with a chainsaw, meaning the scenario of “thin ice” wasn’t entirely accurate, but it was sure good training. I was surprised how warm it was in the suits. At -12 C, the water is definitely warmer than the air and it was pretty comfy, except that I had a leak at my left wrist, where the mitt/glove joined the suit, and my whole arm was soaked in frigid water in about a minute. But you know, it wasn’t that bad! I more than “survived” — it was fun, and with a great team of people behind me, I can now rescue a person in icy water! How about that!

It’s interesting how something that seems so bad or scary usually turns out to be much better/easier/not scary once you actually do it. Our imagination is a powerful thing and we can get ourselves into quite a knot if we let it run wild. There’s such a great feeling of accomplishment from doing something difficult (that’s why I like That One Damned Phone Call), tricky or just plain scary. In many ways, you aren’t really living unless you’re facing your fears. You can’t keep avoiding them and when you face them and see that they aren’t as bad as you thought, you’re empowered!

Avoidance is never the answer for anything. Face what you’re afraid of, just a little at first if that’s all you can do. If you feel anxious, nervous, short of breath or uneasy and don’t know why, sit down quietly and take a few deep breaths. Just breathe. And as you do, if something bubbles up and you think that might be what you’re so afraid of, let it be. Don’t judge yourself. Just accept it, accept yourself, and when you’re feeling positive, do something to face that fear. Don’t wait until you feel courageous — the courage comes after the action starts. Take a small step, keep breathing, and you’ll be able to face your fear! And when you do, celebrate and bask in the feeling of accomplishment that follows! (I’ve got a whole chapter on fear in my almost-complete book.)

Back at the firehall, we’re going to practice cutting cars and trucks open on Saturday. I’m really looking forward to this — I think it will be tons of fun and (don’t tell anyone) it’s half the reason I joined the fire department — to cut cars open! I can’t wait! And it’s the most fun in training because there’s no injured person awaiting medical care. I might not enjoy the real thing quite as much, but I’m sure going to have a hoot on Saturday! πŸ™‚

(Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the training. There was one person taking pictures, so if I can get my hands on a good one, I’ll add it later. This is pretty much what we looked like, except it was dark when we did it:)

Related posts: My First Fire Fighting Calls | Exhausted But Happy!


More Paddling Adventures

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Just thought I’d drop a quick line on the latest paddling adventures. My sister-in-law and her 2 kids were visiting us last week, so Darren loaded up the canoe and took them to Footner Lake. They are pretty little (6 and 8 yrs old), but both had paddles (kayak paddles split in half) and were helping in the boat. Their dog, a small bijon-poodle cross, was along for the ride and behaved well; at one point, he was even sitting on the bow, calmly enjoying the ride. I guess he didn’t know that at any moment, one of the girls could cause a major upset and he’d be swimming!Β  πŸ™‚ But it all went smoothly and everyone had fun.

And then my sister and her 2 kids arrived! So, we had a house full! We wanted to take my niece and nephew out paddling too β€” they are older (8 and 11), and my nephew was positively bent on fishing, too. So, we put the canoe on one car, and the rack and the 2 kayaks on the other car. There were 5 of us after all, so we needed all 3 boats! (I’m so glad we bought them!) My sis and I went out in the kayaks first, with a little help from Darren to stabilize the boats while we climbed in. The dock at Footner is so high, you have to step down into the kayaks, which is brutal. We might make a shorter dock that can just be added onto the side of the main one. The dock is meant for float planes β€” which we’ve seen lately at the lake β€” and it’s perfect for them. Anyway, my sis had never been kayaking, so I gave her a lesson and away we went. She did great and seemed to really enjoy herself. Then my niece wanted to go, so we went back to the dock and did the boat switcheroo. I took the larger kayak and my niece the smaller one. She’s only 11, and probably weighs 80 lbs soaking wet β€” which we didn’t get, thankfully! β€” and she did great, too. She kept up really well and we went almost as far as before the switcheroo.Β  πŸ™‚ I think she enjoyed kayaking, too. There’s something about having your own boat, that you alone are responsible for, that is so rewarding! Meanwhile, Darren was in the canoe with the nephew and whoever wasn’t kayaking! We are so blucky (blessed/lucky) to have lakes nearby for paddling in!

I finally have some days off (in a few days), so I am planning a paddling trip on one of the major rivers around here. Not sure which one, but I’m excited! I’ll be sure to write about it.

A Paddling Adventure

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About 5 years ago, I was lucky enough to live in a city with an active canoe club on a gorgeous lake in the middle of the city. It was a short walk from my house to go for a paddle after work, which I did 2-3 times per week. I signed up for kayaking, and after the orientation session (which was free the year I joined but not in the years following) was issued a key for the building and could just let myself in and go whenever I pleased. I miss those days; the glassy water, the smooth flow of the paddle… I even miss the days of wind, waves and whitecaps!

After being away from paddling for almost 2 years, I simply had to do something about it. I booked a May paddling trip with Pacific Northwest Expeditions based in Nanaimo, BC. What a great time I had! It was a 4-day trip at the Broken Group Islands, a wonderful area on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The guides were great, the food was fantastic, and the paddling unique.

Well, it’s been another 2 years, with just a little dragonboating, and the itch was starting again. Darren and I talked about it, and one day he said to me “why don’t you just use your days off to go to Edmonton and buy a kayak for yourself?” I love him so much! What a guy! So a few weeks ago, I did just that.

I spent a total of 5 days away from home β€” 2 travel days, and 3 days shopping, Kayaks on carcomparing and debating. I decided to buy not one, but two kayaks. I really fell in love with a 17-foot Prijon kayak. Great quality, nice lines, and an all-around great expedition kayak, which is what we wanted. The problem was, it was a bit of a monster (2 feet longer than my car) and quite heavy. I wondered if it was more kayak than we really needed. I wouldn’t be able to load it onto my car alone, which was something I wanted the freedom/ability to do. So I picked out a shorter, lighter kayak for day trips by myself β€” who says you have to have matching kayaks? We’ve gone on 2 short paddles and one “expedition” so far.

I started reading everything I could about reading rivers, the dangers of moving water, and the particulars of corners, sweepers, and sand bars. All my kayak experience was on lakes or the ocean (with great guides). Poring over the many maps I bought, we finally decided what to do. It was Darren’s idea, and although it sounds tough at first, it was a good way to go. We would go upstream on the Chinchaga River, that way, we could just float back downstream on the second day and not have to worry about getting picked up and dropped off. That’s the trouble with canoe/kayak trips on rivers β€” getting someone to pick you up at the end, and fetching the vehicle

Chinchaga River, at our put-in spot
Chinchaga River, at our put-in spot

you left at the start.* We checked the water levels from the government monitoring stations and packed our gear, despite the warning of high water levels.

The water was fast. It was a little churny where we first put in. It was exciting. It was tough! I set up for a good, strong pace I knew I could sustain, and as I glanced at the shore I realized I wasn’t moving! It was a like a treadmill β€” work, work, work, and never make any ground! Ack! So I turned up the power, and managed to go about an inch a minute! Geez! I admit, I got a bit discouraged, but we got through that tough spot to a better area, where the river widened. We had a few more really tough spots, where it took maximum force to make ground, but most of it could be paddled at a reasonable rate. We stopped at a huge sand bar to rest, then went a bit farther, but there were no better places to camp, so we floated back to the sand bar. We were exhausted, but it was so great to get out into the wilderness and onto the water! What a great day we had!

The next day we slept in, had breakfast, packed up and floated downstream for 50 minutes what had taken us 4 hours to paddle the day before! The GPS measured a floating speed between 5-7 km/hr. So maybe we were a little crazy to go upstream! And maybe buying that 17-foot kayak was a little crazy too, but it had more than enough room for everything we needed, and I’m glad we did it.

Going the easy way isn’t usually the most rewarding. Going upstream is harder than floating with the current. But as with life, it gives you confidence and helps you grow stronger, knowing you can do it, you have done it, and it was worth every bit of effort.

*I am planning on starting a paddling outfitting company, to help people with the pick-up/drop-off problem, and rent kayaks/canoes and other supplies. It’ll be fun!

Chinchaga River

Special Treatment

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Piles of lumber near the town mill (summer 2007)

There are some changes underway in my town. You probably have similar changes going on in yours β€” jobs being lost or changed, wages being frozen, people moving away to find work, and/or people feeling more anxious about the future. In some ways, my town has been affected more than others, but then again, I suppose some places have it worse. When I moved here about 3 years ago, there were 2 lumber mills, one of which touted to have the greatest production capacity of a mill of that type in North America. That one closed a little over a year ago. The other one closed down about 6 weeks ago, and no one can say when it will open again, although people hope it’s not permanent. My job is on the line, too, as my employer is downsizing considerably due to national revenue shrinking.
So I was going to write a strongly-worded letter. Yup, I’m Canadian through and through, and that’s what we do β€” at least that’s what I like to do! It beats complaining incessantly without doing anything. So I’ve been cooking one up in my head for about a week or so, since the idea hatched. It goes something like this:

Dear Mr. Member of Parliament,
High Level is only 190 km by road (154 km by air) from the Northwest Territories, and I think that we should have the same protection that the NWT has in some areas, so that essential services cannot be removed. We are so close and yet so far from having these privileges and I think we deserve them. In many ways, we are more like the NWT than Alberta; our produce in the grocery store is pathetic, and often certain items are not available. The broccoli is bendy more often than not, and the onions are moldy. We pay more for vehicles at the dealerships, due to transportation costs. Many things are hard to get, and although we do have hardware stores, we often have to special order items to get what we need. Most items have to be shipped 800 km from Edmonton. We are only served by one scheduled airline. Our hospital is small and only handles minor emergencies and surgeries; everyone else is shipped out on medevacs. I think you get the picture.
Is there any way to make special allowances β€” or introduce a bill β€” that gives remote Canadian communities some special treatment when it comes to services and programs?
I am tired of people in big cities who live across the country deciding things about rural and small-town Canada without having ever been there. The small towns always seem to get the shaft of things!

Okay, so letter written, right? Wrong. It occurred to me to think this fully through – what if they actually did give special allowances for small towns… do I want to live in a Canada where there is special treatment for everything? Not really! When I do see special treatment, it’s frustrating! I want to live in a Canada where people are open minded, and don’t make decisions for others without consulting them and getting to know what their needs really are. I want to live in a Canada where opportunity abounds, and if things are tough, people don’t complain, but get resourceful! They don’t demand a buy out and whine for things to go back to how they were. We can work together to diversify and change our economy, instead of competing for jobs and believing in a lack of opportunity. There’s no lack of opportunity, and any challenges we face just help us learn to think outside the box, redefine ourselves and get more reasonable about our standard of living. It’s not going to go back to being the way it was – it can’t, and come to think of it, nothing ever can. Stop pining for the past – you can never go back there!– and see the potential in the present! We have the opportunity here and now to define what will happen and how the future will unfold.


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The Sun advances
And the sky alights.
Clouds that were grey
Turn incredible shades
Of pink, orange, red,
The sky on fire.

As first light appears, I realize
That we aren’t standing still,
with the sun approaching.
We are on a massive, turning sphere,
In continual motion, dynamic.
I can almost feel the motion…

As the sun breaks the horizon –
Orange, blazing, blinding –
The clouds are now yellow
Or white, or grey again.
Why don’t I notice the
Gradual change? It’s
Only when I glance away
And back again that I see
The beauty anew,
The dynamic sky,
So awesome,
So beautiful,
It strikes a chord in me.


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I can tell her anything,

She will never judge.

She’ll always motivate me

When I need a little nudge.

He’s someone who will listen

To ramblings, ponderings, all.

He wonders how I’m doing

When I just can’t call.

She cares about the deepest

Me, the one with no defences.

He’s there to cover my back,

Without any pretenses.

They show us love, believe in us,

More precious than diamonds or pearls.

What would we do without them,

Our very best friends in the world?

Infinity, Eternity

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I gaze up at infinity

In the clear blue sky.

And in the crisp, starry night,

I hear infinity cry.

Expansive, unreachable, unimaginable.

But I find eternity

In every conscious moment,

As infinity collapses down

To this very moment.

Time stops… I engulf it…

And I abide in eternity.