Wildfires Bring Humanitarians to Serve a Nova Scotia Community
Team Rubicon Canada volunteers help a community recover
“The structure was gone in 15 minutes,” said Del Arnold. Everything except the contents of two suitcases had been destroyed in a fire. Arnold’s loss was part of Canada’s worst fire season on record: over 120,000 Canadians evacuated, and more than 20 million acres burned by the end of July.
Arnold had recently moved to Tantallon, near the provincial capital of Halifax, to build his retirement home on a small parcel of property. He grew up in Nova Scotia, but is currently living with his wife in Calgary, running the cardiac diagnostic department in a local hospital. Arnold had been sleeping in an abandoned trailer on the property until he could complete the new house.
When wildfires erupted across the nation, Arnold’s wife convinced him to buy a smoke detector that woke him up on the morning of July 4 at 4:45 a.m. Getting up, he realized there was a rusty, deep-orange glow shining outside – fire. He grabbed two suitcases and ran out of the trailer, calling 911. He was unable to retrieve anything else.
When firefighters arrived at his property, he was sitting on one of the suitcases, in what was left of his yard. The firefighters tried in vain to extinguish the fires engulfing the trailer. Ultimately, more than 200 homes and other buildings were razed in the small communities like Tantallon surrounding Halifax, Arnold’s property included.
The morning was still breaking, and he didn’t know what to do but the fire chief had suggested he take a shower at the fire station. Next door to the station was a Canadian Legion Hall hosting a Team Rubicon Canada Forward Operating Base (FOB) with Greyshirt volunteers who had come in from across the country, and locally, seeking to serve a community in need with wildfire recovery efforts. Arnold went inside and met the incident commander, who offered him a place to sleep. He met a number of Greyshirts at the FOB that day and their presence was comforting. “Having a normal conversation that morning was very important,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, humanitarians in grey continued arriving with Team Rubicon Canada to help Arnold’s community recover from the devastating wildfire. A group of volunteers from Taskforce Kiwi in New Zealand, and over 120 Canadians from around the country stepped up to serve their neighbours in need.
Dakota Walker was one of those humanitarians; a Greyshirt and volunteer firefighter from some 1600 kilometers away in Ontario, who stayed in Tantallon to help Arnold rebuild his home. “I’m a carpenter,” Walker explained, “I have the skillset and the means to help Del.” Doing a little bit more is what he’s used to as a firefighter, and as a Greyshirt. He remained in town for several weeks after the wildfire recovery operation ended to assist Arnold – going from sifting through the ash and debris of burnt homes as a Greyshirt to helping build a new home as a carpenter.
“Staying on to help Del rebuild seemed natural,” says Walker. “The work I’m doing here is exceptionally meaningful, beyond just doing a good job – this is helping put the fire into the past.”
As the operation continued, as more strangers arrived to help, more humanitarians emerged. The helpers were being helped and Walker’s assistance to Arnold was made easier by Jim Miller, a local man who could not watch Greyshirts serve and stay still. He signed up with Team Rubicon Canada and served as a Greyshirt himself, afterwards donating a cabin to Walker to stay in as he helped Arnold rebuild.
Arnold didn’t sleep at the FOB for long though. Since July, he’s been sleeping in an RV on his property – courtesy of another Greyshirt, Brandon Daniel.
A Canadian Army veteran, Brandon got to Tantallon the first day of the operation, but he had been there before. He lived nearby, in another small community on the verge of evacuation. He knew Arnold’s neighbors, the former owner of the property he was building on. “It’s a tough thing to see…driving through a neighborhood you know and the houses on both sides of the street are gone. So, they may be 45 minutes away, but they’re still neighbours and, for me, you just need to help your neighbour,” says Daniel. His wife, Tiana, agreed. She signed up with Team Rubicon Canada as well and served with her husband in Tantallon in her grey shirt.
The Daniels had just bought a new RV for their security company, but they also had a new neighbour whose home was gone. “Someone’s got to step up.” Daniel says, “And I had the opportunity.” Arnold has a safe, warm place to sleep while he finishes his new home. The home he’ll be deploying from as a new Team Rubicon Canada Greyshirt, serving neighbours in need.
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