"We didn't think it would happen to us either": The importance of planning ahead

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For those of us living in Canada, 2016 was a year to remember. It was in May of that year that the largest wildfire Alberta has ever seen swept through the community and surrounding area of Fort McMurray, Alta. 88,000 people evacuated Fort McMurray — the city that only has one way in, and one way out — with many of their houses smoldering behind.

Darby Allen was the fire chief at the time for the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo, Alta., where Fort McMurray is located. Allen led a keynote speech at FarmTech 2020, at Edmonton, Alta., which brought many emotions for both him and the audience out, and which led a packed room to a standing ovation.

Although the story, of course, is the wildfires, and the incredible amount of work that went into making sure everyone was safe, Allen highlighted the importance of people.

“The most important thing in any job, any life, is people. I think that we need to focus on those people, and look after people,” he explains in the interview below, “whatever they are going through in their life. Today was to celebrate those amazing first responders who tried valiantly and bravely to do as much as they could.”

When it came to the support of people, Allen says it really was second-to-none. He was incredibly humbled when he even received the support of the people who had their homes burnt down. When it came to reaching out for some help himself, Allen said it was an incredibly hard thing to do, even with the mental wellness professionals on the scene since day one.

“I was asked on many occasions, do you need to talk to someone, and I’m like ‘no, I’m good, I’m fine, I’m busy, I’m fine.’ And I didn’t seek help. It was probably a good six or seven months after the fire, and I knew that I wasn’t quite right. But I thought I was OK,” Allen explains.

It took a long conversation with his wife — and knowing that when a spouse needs something, you listen — to realize that talking to someone outside his circle of people was needed. “Seeking help took me from a place of feeling bad and remorseful about the 20 per cent lost, to celebrating the 80 per cent that we saved, and celebrating that we saved everyone’s lives. That’s important. ”

As many are fully aware, the wildfire situation across the globe isn’t getting any better. Although Allen thinks that global warming may be attributing to this, it’s not the only reason there are fires. Disaster can strike at any moment, whether you are prepared or not.

“I think what most people don’t realize, in a lot of these fires, you’re not going to stop them. You’re not going to put them out. Especially one the size we had. So we need to plan for “what do we do if”, and that costs money. And sometimes funding is not available for those types of things, because they think “it’ll never happen to us”, and my message is ‘we didn’t think it would happen to us either’. So think about it, and try to fund it as you can.”

Check out the full conversation between RealAgriculture’s Kara Oosterhuis, and Darby Allen, below:

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