How do you thank thousands of people? I’m not entirely sure, but I am going to try.
My name is Rob Baker and I am one of the 13 firefighters from the Wilson’s Landing Fire Department who lost their homes during the McDougal Creek Wildfire.
It is coming up on a month since the fire swept into our community, and it is time to acknowledge some of the help and great good that came out of this awful tragedy.
Thank you to our brothers and sisters from North Westside Fire Rescue. You sent everybody and everybody came. You fought the great retreat and evacuation with us. Then, you came back in. You fought elbow to elbow with us and together we saved many lives and homes. You joined us day after day. We will never forget how much you gave to help our community.
Thank you to the many structural departments from across the province. You were the army that knocked down a hundred fires and drowned a thousand ash pits. You made a smouldering and smoking community safe and stopped the fire from taking any more homes. Some of you have also done fundraising on our behalf, which will help us get back up and running at full capacity. Others have offered training and mutual aid while we work through how to provide fire coverage to our area with so many of us out of our homes.
Thank you to the men and women of the BC Wildfire Service and the contractors who worked with you.
You fought the fire alongside us, and in the woods beside us and above us. You are truly the backbone of an effective fire attack. You created retardant guards, humidity bubbles, machine guards and hand guards. And when the fire breached the defence lines, you attacked the outbreaks with vigour. You burned off the fuels that still endangered us.
You cut down danger trees to keep us safe while we moved through the community. You created layer upon layer of protection from the beast that is still very active behind our communities.
Thank you to the structural protection crews who gave the next communities a good chance of escaping our fate.
Thank you to the volunteers with Central Okanagan Search and Rescue – for leading the charge on the evacuations of the communities ahead of the fire.
Thank you to the RCMP constables who came from all over the province to keep the fire zone and the lakeshore clear. You made sure that the only thing that firefighters had to deal with was the fire.
Thank you to the officers of the Conservation Service who helped protect our borders and to end the suffering of the animals who were mortally injured by the fire.
Thank you to the many private contractors who kept our trucks fueled up, and our generator going, and to the septic volunteer who kept the firehall from exploding when Station 42 was the hub of the local fire attack.
Thank you to the many Okanagan restaurants and the Salvation Army for feeding us and keeping us strong enough to do our job.
Thank you to Mamas for Mamas and to the many charities and businesses who gave us food, clothes and toiletries.
You enabled us to get clean, fresh and recharged.
And most of all, thank you to the firefighters and officers of Wilsons Landing Fire. You gave everything you had, and more to fight a beast that seemed untameable. You fought the fire for 21 hours the first night, then came back over and over to fight it again. You were evacuated from the region, but you came back shift after shift. You left your day jobs to stay and help. You stayed and patrolled the area 24 hours a day until Westside Road was reopened yesterday. You allowed the rest of us to sleep and to get on with life and recovery.
You are an amazing group of people.
You have displayed the very best of professionalism, commitment and caring during this crazy time. We have been forged by fire into an even stronger team.
I am honoured to be one of you.
Marsha and Chuck, thank you for taking us in and giving us food and refuge. You took our dog for walks. You gave us a base of operations and a home to come to. And then, when we found a place, you made sure we had the essentials to start living.
Thank you to the people of Wilden who watched the fire from across the lake, and then gathered together to support us with kind words, and many gift cards. You gave us gas for our tanks, a cold drink after a long shift, and a giant hug from the other side of Okanagan Lake.
Thank you to Mountain Equipment COOP who clothed and outfitted the 13 who lost their homes.
Thank you to Chief Dutch for supporting those who lost the most, from your own retirement funds.
Thank you to all the people who supported the 13 firefighters through the GoFundMe pages.
You made sure we had the funds we needed to get started, no matter what our situation. You enabled us to carry on by making sure that we had the funds to land on our feet.
Thank you to the many hundreds of people who reached out to us with words of encouragement and offers of support. When we took breaks during the fire, our phones were lit up with messages of thanks and offers of help. It made us feel a lot less lonely out there.
Thank you to the staff and administration of Kelowna General Hospital. You allowed me the time to help with the firefight. Some of you literally gave Annick and me the clothes off your backs. You gave us the financial means to take care of ourselves and to escape from our odd new reality. You furnished our temporary apartment and made a space into a home.
Annick deGooyer. You are my wife and my partner. While I went out and fought the fire, you did everything else. You got out of our evacuation box. You made sure our dog was out and safe. You dealt with the evacuation. You dealt with the insurance company. You were the communication link to all our friends and family.
You found us a place to stay, then a place to live.
You dealt with a tired, grumpy, and smelly firefighter who had little emotional reserve left. You kept my head together and my spirits up.
There are no words to express how grateful I am for everything you are, and everything that you’ve done.
I feel beaten and bloody.
I am so very, very tired. But thanks to all of you, I am not broken.
You, the people of the Okanagan, have held us up. You have been our strong fortress. You are amazing, and generous and kind.
I speak for all the firefighters of Station 42 when I express my profound gratitude for everything you have done.
We are humbled by your generosity.