Ten members from various Search and Rescue (SAR) chapters headed up to Fort McMurray to assist Team Rubicon in sifting through the devastating amount of ash left behind from the massive wildfires that engulfed the city.
Bryce Bodner (Fort McMurray SAR) and Gord Larin (Cochrane SAR) were both part of the team that logged over 1000 man hours over a three week time period.
Bodner says although physically challenging the search impacted the members on every level.
"It was the mental aspect as well, when you are dealing with 14 hours a day for a week straight of loss and devastation, it definitely becomes wearing on the members; but to bring objects out for individuals it made everything worth it."
It wasn't necessarily what they recovered but the silver linings in the items they didn't expect to find.
"The fire burned so hot that the majority of everything was ashes, we had found some pretty interesting things. Myself, I ended up finding two photo albums from a lady that was in her mid 50s, and the photos were of her childhood; it was in about three feet of ash they were wet from the rain, but they were completely untouched, undamaged."
The group was able to locate urns of loved ones and recover remains of pets that had unfortunately perished. Bodner says homeowners were given the opportunity to name items of importance.
"We had every owner identify 5 top things, where they wanted us to search, draw schematic maps, and we tried to be as effective as possible given the time constraints."
Jewellery while they did locate some, was difficult to find.
"The fire burnt so hot, jewellery typically was melted and fairly difficult to find."
The team concentrated efforts on the most severely damaged areas trying to search as many properties as possible.
On return many members will be debriefed.
"Search and Rescue, most units if not all, have a member trained in a mental health aspect so that helps with the debrief process. Being able to analyze and identify potential health concerns of our own members. We want our unpaid professionals and members to be switched on when going into a task and in the long run to have them protected and have them resilient, so they can help out in the future is our utmost concern.
At this time Search and Rescue has not heard if they will be tasked to help out in the future.
Bodner shares that as things get back to a state of normally (whatever that is), residents are still under high emotion.
"It is difficult, the municipality has put in some measures to assist. My background is in Emergency Management and one of the biggest things you are always trained is the quicker you can get a community back to normal function the more the resilient and the easier the recovery process in the long run. They have definitely put in measures to help us recover quicker."
Bodner thanks efforts of Larin, as well as Cochrane Search and Rescue, to loan equipment and vehicles to aid in the recovery.
Bodner says the efforts made by communities and on a Provincial level are another example of Alberta Strong.
"We've had a rough couple of years in the oil industry up here so it is one more kick, but we are a resilient bunch up here. (Thanks to) organizations in your community that have definitely helped us get back on our feet."