Since the middle of last week when the Wollaston Lake fire forced the evacuation of the community to Prince Albert and to two locations in Saskatoon, I have been handling food services at the Saskatoon Kinsmen / Henk Ruys Soccer Centre for the Salvation Army EDS since the first evacuees arrived. What generally happens is that one of the officers handles the overall effort and gets to go to the meetings while staff from Beaver Creek Camp and the Centre handle the operations. The officers miss out on some of the physical work but they have to listen to us complaining when we get over tired and they have corporate credit card to solve some of our problems. I have been in some of those meetings as well and Iâ€™d prefer to be setting up food for the next meal. The Salvation Army uses the Incident Command System and it works pretty well.
I have run the food service job a couple of years ago but it was for a far smaller number (around 100 people if I remember correctly). The soccer centre had 650 to start (the numbers dwindled as the arrests continued) and two incompatible gangs which meant that there was a few incidents that needed some intervention. Despite the bad press, the situation inside was quite relaxed and cheerful once the gang issues was sorted out and they were given more secure accommodations. It was crowded as three of the four soccer pitches were needed for cots and sleeping. Our area was the farthest from water supply and also was used as a recreation area by the Red Cross which was different than other evacuations where we had our own space and our own water supply. After hauling hundreds of gallons of water, Wendy dropped off some additional water jugs. We still had to haul water across the complex but in fewer trips.
Several of the staff who helped out know this first hand but there is a physical toll in working the hours (I rolled in before six a.m. most days and didnâ€™t leave until mid to late evening on some of them). I strained my back, hurt my shoulder, burnt my hands and legs fighting with hot food, bruised my knee after I banged into a bumper while unloading a Cambro, and burnt off some of my eyelids while blowing out a can of fuel. I also took a chunk of out of finger which while minor, really made me whineyâ€¦ a least internally.
I spent a lot of time with some kids that are FASD. I donâ€™t really know what to say but they are going on seven or eight years of age with the mental capacity of a two year old. One day I was really tired and I was trying to get some fuel lit to heat up the chafing dishes. They burn blue and the kids kept wanting to touch them. It was the only one there, exhausted and pissed off that I was the only one there. My back was hurting and these kids kept wanting to touch that flame and wouldnâ€™t listen to me. I was thinking, â€œwhat is wrong with these stupid kids, they are going to get hurtâ€ when it clicked in, â€œFASDâ€. So I quickly told myself off for being a jerk and got a serving insert and one of the fuel cans. I tore off a bit of napkin and lit it on fire in the metal insert. The kids said, â€œhurtâ€ and they got it. Of course I couldnâ€™t help visualize the headline, â€œWollaston Lake residents sent back to forest fire threatened community because former Salvation Army employee burnt down Soccer Centre and part of River Heightsâ€ That was my last fire demonstration.
So today I was relieved by some Salvation Army officers. My rotation is done and I needed the break. Despite being surrounded by food, I went three days without eating because I was too busy and/or preoccupied to think about food. I would come home at night and just fall asleep on the sofa. Iâ€™ll head to the Soccer Centre for one more 6:00 a.m. tomorrow to show my replacement the ropes and take off before breakfast is served. Hopefully it is all wrapped up by Thursday night and we can plan for the next one.
It was mentioned to me today that Saskatchewan has forests that have a natural cycle of 100 years and with fire suppression, we are hitting about year 130 which means when they do start on fire, they burn badly. Factor in flooding and it means that the Salvation Army and the Red Cross do this a couple times a year. I have a feeling this evacuation wonâ€™t be my last this summer.
One thing that did make me a bit sad is that it will be the last evacuation with the same officers and staff that we have been doing this for years with. The officers that were at the Centre when I started are being transferred to Vancouver and the camp directors are retiring. For years it was just automatic who would be there and take charge. There is a lot of experience, dedication, and problem solving ability being lost. Iâ€™ll miss them.
Thanks to my staff and co-workers who put in some long hours down there and have the same cuts and bruises that I do. It caused problems for childcare, sleep patterns, and added some stress to their already busy work weeks. Despite that they are a lot of fun to work with. They were at the Soccer Centre, Cosmo Civic Centre, and driving all over the place doing whatever they needed to do. I appreciated the help, the companionship, and their ability to listen to me be over tired. Thanks to Wendy as well who showed up with a large cooler of Coke, Diet Coke, and bottled ice water for staff and volunteers. You forget how much you nice a cool pop can be when it is hot in there. As a very happy Red Cross volunteer said while sipping a Dr. Pepper, â€œYour wife is an angelâ€. She is.
One last thing. Donâ€™t donate goods to evacuations unless requested by the government or an agency. Stores and malls have been collecting material goods for Wollaston Lake residents but they had zero property loss and it is a HUGE logistical nightmare for agencies like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to store, collect, and transport these goods. In the case of Wollaston Lake, they would have to be flown in on an aircraft that has STOL capabilities and of course those planes are either really small or in short supply. If you want to give, give cash. It allows the residents or the agencies to get what they need, and it doesnâ€™t put a big burden on other agencies who are stuck with trying to figure out what to do with your old curtains. In several disasters, the costs of handling the donated goods were more than what it would have cost new and much of it is sent to the garbage. I know cash isnâ€™t as personal as a quilt but you get a tax receipt and it allows the victims to get what they need.