One helped a pregnant mother find dry land. Another airlifted a family of hikers to safety after raging waters swept away a bridge. Others were armed and stationed outside the Calgary zoo in case a wild animal escaped. Hundreds of other committed JSG staff helped out in a wide variety of ways, and one thing united them all – the desire and dedication to go beyond the call of duty to help Albertans affected by this unprecedented emergency.
“This is the largest emergency ever to hit Alberta,” said Terri Savitsky, JSG’s consequence management manager. “The affected area spans from Banff to Sundre to Drumheller and south to Lethbridge. All the communities in that geographical area have been significantly impacted with loss of their transportation and utility infrastructure. The damage to about 40 communities is massive.”
When the floods hit On June 20, traffic sergeant Ryan Suffesick’s vehicle shuddered to a halt in High River. But the quick-thinking sheriff borrowed an ATV to help his law enforcement colleagues rescue others stranded by the rising water.
“A mother was concerned for her daughter’s safety. Her daughter was seven months pregnant and had a three-year-old child with her,” said Sgt. Suffesick. “So I helped her onto the back of the ATV and she directed me to her daughter’s townhouse complex. By this time, the water was flowing through the complex at an alarming rate, but I was able to ensure they got to a safe place.”
At the same time, fish and wildlife officer Stan Hawes was launching a jet boat on High River. “I’ve never seen anything like it in 37 years,” said officer Hawes. “People were up in trees and hanging off rooftops. Combine harvesters, front end loaders and manure spreaders were used to rescue residents. We were extremely busy all day, ferrying Albertans to safer ground.”
Fish and wildlife officers also used their boat operation skills to help inspectors examine bridges, and enable ATCO engineers to check for gas leaks. At Calgary Zoo, they delivered animal feed, and were on stand-by to ensure no dangerous animals threatened public safety. They were also instrumental in saving more than 960 pets in High River.
Conservation officers also played a vital role, and their immediate focus was to evacuate trapped campers and visitors from the parks and backcountry area, often airlifting folks in need of immediate assistance out of Kananaskis. They undertook constant air surveillance, and set up road blocks to stop people visiting dangerous places. In one of 25 air missions, a helicopter team evacuated 40 children from a school. In another, CO Arian Spiteri helped rescue a family of hikers trapped when floods swept away a bridge.
“CO Spiteri and Kananaskis public safety officer Jeremy Mackenzie did a fantastic job helping to heli-sling the family to safety,” said Luc Nowicki, director of conservation officer programs.
Commercial vehicle enforcement officers also helped rescue trapped residents, and teams staffed many barricades – often in bear country – across Highways including 1, 1a, 1x, 2 and 40.
“I’m very proud to work with a team of such dedicated people. We worked 24-7, and I’m still amazed at how many officers stepped up,” said CVE Sgt. Arlen Masson. “Everyone wanted to help.”
One of the sheriffs’ duties was to provide security at affected sites, and they worked long hours to coordinate safe delivery of relief ATM cards to eligible families. Justice staff provided legal advice where required, and helped ensure Albertans still had access to court services, while the Alberta First Responders Radio Communications team set up a temporary radio system over the flooded area and provided 300 radios to Calgary emergency staff. A provincial operations centre was established to coordinate GoA’s emergency response, and many staff, including correctional peace officers, gave up their own time to support affected southern Alberta communities.
“Our law enforcement officers have been working around the clock in the provincial operations centre – alongside civilian colleagues – and in the field to ensure Albertans are safe and comfortable,” said Savitsky. “The sacrifices they have made, and the teamwork they have exhibited, has been exceptional.”