Doug's Excellent Adventures with Team Rubicon

Doug's a bit long-winded, so here are some "cut-to-the chase" links:

 Camp Maple Leaf chainsaw training Table of Contents
 Camp Maple Leaf chainsaw training Photos
 Halifax forest fire response Table of Contents
 Halifax forest fire response Photos

 

 

 

This website contains Doug Elliott's chronicles and musings about life as a Greyshirt, created after my first Team Rubicon outing to Camp Maple Leaf, in May of 2023. This isn't an official TR website - I'll take the blame for anything you don't like. Seriously, if there's a photo or description that you'd rather not have displayed on the Internet, let me know and I'll remove it. Email: canoe.eh at gmail dot com. You can find the official TR stuff at https://team-rubicon.ca/

 

What is Team Rubicon?

If you're a Greyshirt, you can probably skip this section which tries to explain what Team Rubicon ("TR") is and does. If you're one of my friends or family who are wondering what exactly I've got myself into, this is for you.

Team Rubicon is a volunteer disaster response group which can rapidly deploy skilled, well-organized and well-equipped teams to parts of the country and world that are affected by disasters.It was started in the US when a small group of ex-marines decided that something had to be done to help Haiti recover from the devastating effects of a major earthquake in 2010 (details more). TR Canada began in 2016 when a wildfire swept through Fort McMurray Alberta, destroying more than 2400 homes and displacing over 80,000 residents (details).

TR volunteers are veterans, first responders, emergency management personnel and "kick-ass civilians". Part of TR's goal is to help military veterans rejoin civilian life by providing a community, a sense of purpose and a feeling of identity. There is an extensive TR training capability provided through online and face to face teaching. My time at Camp Maple Leaf was almost entirely spent in learning about chainsaws and how to use one safely and efficiently. The ICS Incident Command System and NIMS National Incident Management System are used extensively, and TR deploys as a self-sustaining unit.

TR is financed entirely by donations. It has a very small number of paid employees, and the vast majority are volunteers. There are currently over 140,000 North American TR volunteers available to deploy. There is no charge for TR deployments.

The capabilities and services that TR can provide to affected communities include:

Incident management
Debris management
Damage & impact assessment
Hazard Mitigation
Spontaneous Volunteer management
Disaster mapping & Work order management
Expedient home repair

Here's a magazine's overview of Team Rubicon Canada

For more information on Team Rubicon, please visit:  https://team-rubicon.ca/

   

Table of Contents

Pick a link below that strikes your fancy, or continue reading from top to bottom...

      1) Starting Up, and CML Chainsaw Training - May 12, 2023

Click on the Glossary for help in decoding all the terminology and short forms

How I discovered Team Rubicon.  
Sign up wrinkles  
Registering for Camp Maple Leaf
The Greenhorn Geezer Greyshirt prepares  
Company on the Commute  
Photo Gallery  
The Calligraphy Strike Team  
The Easy Parts  
The Hard Parts  
Follow up Items  
Contributions Welcome  
My Feedback  

      2) Op KJIPUKTUK - Halifax Forest Fire Recovery - June 23, 2023

Click on the Glossary for help in decoding all the terminology and short forms

Quick Overview  
My 3 Tidal Waves  
Amazing New Zealand Contribution  
Press Coverage  
The long timeline of sifting a house  
What our Strike Team did  
Photo Gallery  
The Calligraphy Strike Team  
Observations  
Follow up Items  
Contributions Welcome  
My Feedback  

 

----- Start of Part 1 - Starting Up, and CML Chainsaw Training - May 12, 2023

 

How I Discovered Team Rubicon

I've been a ham radio operator for 20 years, and am an organizer with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) which is a group of hams who are ready to step up to provide communications support in an emergency. I was interacting with the City of London Emergency Management to get 3 of my people registered on an IMS 200 course that's aimed at NGO's. On one of the emails, I noticed the usual organizations email addresses: Red Cross, St Johns Ambulance, Search and Rescue, and one that was new to me: TeamRubicon.ca. Curious, I started investigating TR, and never looked back.

 

Sign Up Wrinkles

I think at one point I gave up on joining TR, due to a succession of challenges that seem minor in retrospect. However, at the time I was trying to justify the giant leap of faith that I could trust this organization with my safety when I'm thrust into a deployment in a dangerous environment, doing risky things. First, my background check came back flagged as needing more attention. I'm about as squeaky clean as they get, and another check one level deeper with the local police cleared that up.

Then I went to sign up for a face to face course in Mississauga at the suggestion of a TR leader who thought my background in radio and computer networks would be useful for one of his projects. Got part way through the signup, and had to "sign" a COVID document for geezers saying I didn't have diabetes. Problem, because I do have type 2 diabetes, controlled by meds, don't take insulin. Did some checking, and this was indeed a requirement. Old squeaky clean Doug declined to sign a false document, so I missed the course. I think this was the point where I wrote off TR, but a cheerful phone call from either Andrea or Colette convinced me to hang in there. Turns out this requirement was dropped in the states months ago, it just hadn't made it to the Canadian website. Probably a good thing I didn't know that at the time. Eventually there was a rework of the COVID policy, and this requirement was dropped.

OK, full speed ahead. I get the CML notification, and want to sign up before the slots are all taken, so I jump on the Sawyer prerequisite online course, write the test, and try to signup. No go - because I haven't taken the prerequisite course. Huh? So I write the exam again, but still no go, as I watch the available slots fill up. I had downloaded the Sawyer manual before the veto on geezer diabetics was lifted, so I didn't bother to do that again. Out of desperation, I downloaded it again, and presto, I was credited with the course, and able to sign up for CML. I may have said some bad words about the TR computer people at this point.

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Registering for Camp Maple Leaf

It got a lot easier from this point. The gear list that accompanied the deployment email was amusing because it had sections for people sleeping with the team, or not sleeping with the team. Wasn't sure what transgressions would get me banished from sleeping with the team, or even voted off the island?

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The Greenhorn Geezer Greyshirt prepares

So I've admitted I'm a ham radio operator, and I clearly work on websites, so you're seeing the pattern - pretty nerdy here. A physically demanding day for me is one where I have to double click the mouse a lot. 4 weeks before deployment, I started doing some yoga and exercises, and it was quite shocking. After about 4 days, half my aches and pains disappeared. I had been concerned about my strength and stamina being up to life as a sawyer (chain saw operator), but that didn't turn out to be an issue, overall.

You don't need steel toed boots or safey glasses to be a nerd, so off I went to see what I could find. The boots I got from Mister Safety Shoes are as comfortable as any pair of slippers I've owned. I wore them around the house to break them in (drove my wife nuts) but it didn't seem to be necessary. Since I have the visual acuity of a fire hydrant, I needed safety glasses that go over my regular glasses, and the ones I got from Lee Valley worked out "GreyT". In fact, I got two of them: a clear pair and a tinted pair, partly so I'd have backup.

I've been doing canoe trips all my life, so I already had all the other gear, and a pack to carry it in. Next time I'll bring about 30% less stuff, and will avoid the "just in case" justification.

Eventually, I made up a packing list, which will probably change over time: Here's Doug's packing list

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Company on the Commute

Knowing that there are other Greyshirts in London where I live, I put the word out that I would be driving a van and would gladly pick up / drop off fellow campers on the way. Julie in Oakville took me up on my offer, although I think her husband had misgivings about sending her off with some guy she'd never met before. Maybe he did a background check on me and got the same dubious report TR got initially? I was worried about being late for the ferry departure, so we took the 407 and, uh, exceeded the speed limit somewhat. We got there an hour early, and I made the round trip on less than one tank of gas.

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Photo Gallery

Click on thumbnail for full sized photo. People's names are from left to right.

The crossing on the way to Camp Maple Leaf on Jacob Island in Pigeon Lake. (Kathleen, Adam, Dodie, Indy)
Signing in upon arrival, and getting a bunk assignment. (Kevin, Tony, Drew, ?)
The sunset as seen from the shore as the beer flag was virtually raised Friday evening, and the first campfire was getting under way 
The first campfire. I saw that guitar, and got a little excited. April's (the Camp Director) singing and songwriting was pretty good, but I'm pretty sure this crowd could have really belted out some songs.  
The mess hall, hub of our activities, and home of the Incident Command Post (ICP) (Greg, Jeremy)
Doug the calligrapher (and webmaster for this site) working on putting Breyan's name on her TR Greyshirt.
Adam Potts, chain saw instructor, doing a demo with the pole saw. That saw is a lot heavier than it looks. (Adam, Brett)
Sawyer Strike Team Alpha. I think we were learning the 2 correct ways to start a chain saw here. ( Adam, Brett, Greg, Ethan, Rob, Allison, Kim, Greg (yes, we had 2 Gregs) ) 
Learning to assess and adjust the chain tension. (Kim, Ethan, Rob, Allison, Greg.) 
Getting down to it and "bucking" a tree trunk. (Allison, Greg, Brayden, Jeremy, Brett ) 
Video of Adam demoing the technique to fell a tree ( a small tree, to start). After the tree was down we examined the stump to see how the cuts formed the hinge that helped control the fall.  
Kim bucking, using a wedge to prevent the saw from binding as the log settled during the cut. 
A somewhat sorrowful glance back at Camp Maple Leaf as the adventure drew to a close and we headed back to the mainland.
One of the two camp dogs posing as April takes a picture. April's pants, like her, are a bit on the wild side.
   
   

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The Calligraphy Strike Team

You can add calligraphy (fancy penmanship) to that list of nerd skills I have. Knowing I'd want to inscribe my name on my own shirt, I threw a bunch of pens into my pack, and once word got out at camp, I was pretty popular. (Note: if you want to be a geezer chick magnet, study calligraphy.) April the camp director saw me, and brought out a bucket of wooden medallions which were thin slices of a 4 inch tree with a hole drilled in them. She had a list of about 40 camper nick names, and I was glad to write them on the medallions for camper mementos. I'm working on the role definition for a Calligraphy Strike Team, and the requirements for Calligrapher 1 and 2 certifications.

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The Easy Parts

I had formed this mental image of roughing it including surviving on military rations. Nothing could be further from the truth - the food was delicious and plentiful. Easy to take!

Collaboration. I've been on a lot of teams at work where progress got made in spite of the team, not because of it. TR people seem to have a built in compatibility, the GSD attitude, and the ever present desire to be helpful. It works.

There's way more to running a chain saw than squeezing the trigger and aiming the chain at some wood. The amount of detail was a bit overwhelming at first, but gradually everything came together. I think absorbing all this material was easy because we had excellent instructors, the benefit of a lot of experience, and the ideal combination of classroom style teaching and "hands-on".

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The Hard Parts

Swamping big pieces of tree trunk was definitely the hardest part of my weekend. Lifting and carrying these monsters aint easy, and not being in top shape didn't help. I have some devious plans to use webbing to drag these rather than lift them, and will probably show up at the next deployment with some 15 foot lengths of webbing.

I couldn't keep my chaps snug around my waist, and the belt kept slipping down over my butt. This got really irritating after a while. In retrospect, I suspect the buckle on the belt was threaded incorrectly. Brett's suggestion of suspenders sounds like a good solution, or maybe I need to grow a bigger booty.

That pole saw is way heavier than it looks. I should have used the lanyard to support its weight while I was using it.

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Follow up Items

- up the exercise routine by a couple of notches

- experiment with swamping by dragging

- contact April to see if there's a way I can help with the camp

- be ready to jump on the next deployment opportunity

 

Contributions Welcome

If you want to add your stories, photos or anything else to this website, just let me know: canoe.eh at gmail dot com.

Back to Table of Contents

 

My Feedback

Since I'm telling the story of my TR CML adventure, I might as well include the feedback I gave as requested by Breyan. There'll be some overlap with other parts of this website, and I've added in some feedback I got from Brett the chainsaw instructor to share with other sawyers.


Philosophical and mushy stuff:

- In your first TR event, the image you've built up of TR based on emails, websites and videos gets transformed to a clearer new perspective based on experience and reality. This was an extremely positive experience for me, and the TR patch I was given will be going on the chest of my jacket, because I think it's appropriate since my heart's behind TR.

- When  April the camp director was describing what Camp Maple Leaf does, and the groups that it serves and supports at the first campfire, there was a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes. I'm going to try to find a way to contribute to CML, which will be challenging from London, but maybe I can provide certificates of recognition etc. I think April already has some ideas (as well as my contact info).

- I've done a lot of canoe trips, and have noticed that the more portages you've done, the nicer the people you run into are. The people with the coolers of beer and a boom box do at most 1 portage, and those with ego issues don't get much further. After 3 portages, you only find thoughtful, considerate people who care about other people, respect and love the land, and are a pleasure to be with. I see the same filtration effect with TR. It's not surprising that people who give up their own time, the ultimate non-renewable resource, and expend a lot of effort to help other people who really need help, tend to be very awesome people. What a great group to be part of!


The T-shirt Calligraphy Strike Team

- Knowing I wanted to put my name on my first TR greyshirt, and being an amateur calligrapher, I threw a bunch of my special pens into a ziploc bag and brought it along. People saw me doing my shirt at the mess hall table, and I offered to do shirts for others. The camp director asked if I could put names on some wooden pendant she wanted to give to campers. Soon, my spare time was pretty well all spent writing, and I missed the second campfire altogether to catch up on demand <grin>. Never would have thought calligraphy would be a talent I'd be using for TR, but I had a blast doing it. I think every deployment should have a T-shirt Calligraphy Strike Team, probably reporting to the logistics section chief?


Sawyer Stuff

- Having been involved in technical training in the past, I know how hard it is to find people who are subject matter experts as well as highly skilled teachers. Adam and Brett absolutely nailed it. I can't imagine a better approach to learning safe and effective use of a chainsaw in disaster response circumstances.

- I suggest that the standard hand signals used to communicate with a sawyer be reviewed in the course. Some of them I figured out, but a couple baffled me. I'm sure you'd pick that up pretty quickly in the field in any case.
BRETT> For the hand signals: I am not sure what you saw, but there are no standard ones. People tend to mime things out in a way that makes sense to them. The only thing that we tend to teach is that you ensure sawyer and spotter are on the same page and able to communicate effectively.

I believe there is a glossary of the (many, very many) acronyms, and if I can find the link I will send it to you. In any case, you are right to point this out, and I doubt you are the only one that experienced this. We should have been a bit more careful in our usage - apologies for any confusion.

- I've been retired for 6 years, so you know I'm a geezer greyshirt. The only activity I found that brought me to the edge of my capabilities was swamping bucked trunk sections of trees over a foot in diameter (30 cm for you young whipper snappers). I found them to be extremely heavy both to lift and to carry. To reduce wear and tear on swampers, I've suggested a method to Adam and Brett where we'd use a length of webbing to drag these rather than lift them. Don't know if it's feasible, but I think it would be a lot easier, and probably safer. Ya, I know, I need to kick my physical fitness up a couple of notches. I'm on it.
BRETT> Ropes for dragging, or webbing, is a good idea, but this isn't something we have tended to formalize. On ops you will find the sawyers and swampers tend to figure out what works best for the team and the terrain. We have used ropes, sleds, tarps, bucket lines, trucks or gators, or just brute forced it. It isn't a one-size-fits all thing. Certainly something you can feel free to share and implement on your strike teams though!

- By far the most irritating part of my weekend was the problems I had keeping my chaps from sliding down, because the adjustable belt buckle kept loosening off. The webbing passed around the middle bar of the buckle once, and indeed, this slips quite easily. I've run into this before, and I know there's a better way to thread the webbing onto the buckle, but I couldn't remember it, or figure it out. I asked a couple of the experienced guys (although not Adam or Brett, which I should have) and they all said they're always done the way mine was. Maybe it's just the geometry of my butt? Anyway, I should do a web search to see if I can get an illustration of what I'm talking about....OK, I'm back. This one is probably what happened, and how to correct it:
     https://www.medicalsearch.com.au/how-to-correctly-thread-a-buckle-onto-a-webbing-strap/f/21404
The method I was thinking of is more complicated and has 2 layers of webbing over the middle bar. It's virtually locked in place, but much more difficult to adjust. I couldn't find any online examples of it, so there's a good chance I came up with it on my own and normal people don't use it.

BRETT> The standard solution to this is suspenders :). They can be had for <$20 and solve the problem well. There are more than a few guys over 50 that need them, as our geometry tends to slip from holding pants up to pushing them down. ;)


General Stuff

- Maybe there was one that I missed, but I think there's a need for a glossary for acronyms and specialized terminology. I had a head start on some of the codes because I've been through IMS 100, 200 and 300, but I bet the alphabet soup confused some people in the crowd. I still can't figure out what type 4 and type 5 deployments are.
BRETT> I believe there is a glossary of the (many, very many) acronyms, and if I can find the link I will send it to you. In any case, you are right to point this out, and I doubt you are the only one that experienced this. We should have been a bit more careful in our usage - apologies for any confusion.

- The food at CML was awesome - my compliments to the kitchen crew. However, I suspect that other deployments might not have this luxury, so I'm trying not to set false expectations.
BRETT> Yeah, it can be variable with the urgency of the situation, but TR takes care of the team and we usually eat pretty well.

- I haven't figured out what part of TR's activities I want to focus on. I originally planned to work towards the planning and operational support side of TR operations (which I guess is C&G) based on applying my ICS training, and radio/computer network communications background. However, the operations side ( Sawyer work, Mucking out houses, etc.) has also started to appeal to me. Just as TR tries to apply it's capabilities where they'll do the most good, I'd like to work towards a TR role where more resources are needed. It's not been an easy task to figure out where the greatest need is within TR, because everyone says "you can do whatever you want". For now, I plan on taking whatever training opportunities come up for either approach, and try to get some more deployments under my belt. My detective work says C&G has the bigger need, but I'll see how things play out.
BRETT> C&G is a short-hand for Command and General Staff (the ICS command team) and I think you are right that this is generally the bigger need, but I hesitate to push anyone into a direction in TR. However, that kind of road is two-way in this organization - so if you decide to try it and don't like it you can always hang up the vest(s) and head out as a sawyer or general responder, or vice-versa. Or mix-and-match.

I suggest you start with whichever appeals most for now, and see how it goes. Kathleen or Jack can better advise on what the gaps are in the ON provincial team, and can point you to the Incident Management team for further input on the broader needs.

- One good thing about the CML event is that it convinced me that I'm physically capable of doing the sawyer task, with some conditioning improvements.

Back to Table of Contents

 

-------- Start of Part 2, Op KJIPUKTUK - Halifax Forest Fire Recovery - June 23, 2023 ------

Click on the Glossary for help in decoding all the terminology and short forms

Quick Overview

If you only have a little time to spend, look at the photo website of Heather Milne, the New Zealand photographer. It's an amazing and thorough look at what went on.

Tidbits:

- maps showing where we worked and slept are at the beginning of photo section below
- 40 to 70 TR members ("Greyshirts") onsite at a time, in 3 overlapping waves each 10 days long
- billeted in Legion at 11169 Peggy Cove Road, Seabright, NS, sleeping on cots
- intense use of ICS (Incident Command System) framework and all the numbered forms
- full Incident Command Post in separate 20 x 40 tent with own generator
- gourmet food provided by "OnlyJerry" who I think is an ex navy cook
- lights on at 06:00, lights out at 22:00, followed by the snorchestra recital
- 3 sifting strike teams, each with a pickup truck and a big red trailer full of gear, doing 2 houses per day
- 151 homes were destroyed, and over 107 of them asked us to help them
- sifters wear sealed hazmat suits, and get parboiled in sunny weather
- homeowners and community were extremely grateful for our assistance
- after supper "stories of the day" time brought both laughter and tears.

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My 3 Tidal Waves

In retrospect, maybe I should have called these epiphanies, "an experience of a sudden and striking realization". But to me, the intensity of these insights was like being hit by a tidal wave. Actually, tidal wave zero would be my investigation of TR after accidentally seeing some TR email addresses, and realizing this is EXACTLY what I want to do.

1) Team Rubicon people are incredible. I thought everyone was constantly trying to help others, until I realized they're not making any extra effort at all. Helping others is in their DNA, and it's automatic and continuous. Eventually, I internalized that "Built To Serve" isn't some PR slogan, but is a driving character trait common to all Greyshirts.

2) The Team Rubicon organization is an extremely efficient, adaptable, well oiled machine. Training, provisioning, communications, and team care all fit together in order to smoothly and effectively complete a very difficult mission.

3) The results we achieved are extremely valuable. Over and over homeowners told us, often during teary hugs, that we'd made a difference in their lives, and that they now had closure and could proceed with a new start. And the overwhelming support and gratitude of the community in general confirmed that our efforts and results had meaning and importance to them.

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Press Coverage

GlobalNews Interview with Bryan Riddell, CEO of Team Rubicon Canada

CBC Interview with Bryan at the Legion

Another Global News interview with Bryan

Story on Melissa du Pree, leader of my first strike team, Bravo

Orillia article on Melissa H. who was on my second strike team, Charlie

CBC News story on one of the Kiwis, Alastair Jeffrey

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Amazing New Zealand Contribution

A Team Rubicon group travelled to New Zealand earlier this year after severe flooding in Auckland that was followed up weeks later by a cyclone that devastated parts of Hawke's Bay. As a result, TaskForce KIWI was formed, and 7 of their members made the long trip to Canada to assist us, and learn more about wildfires, which are rare in New Zealand. One of their members, Heather, is a professional photographer, and her photos are amazing. As you can tell, she brought a drone with her.

CBC News did a story on one of the Kiwis - Alastair Jeffrey.

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The timeline of sifting a house

Some of the steps that happen in the process of retrieving heirlooms for a family:

- the family leaves the house, sometimes just in time, taking what they can
- the wild fire strikes, often driven by high winds, and the home is soon destroyed
- afterwards, electrical crews make sure the power is disconnected
- other utility crews make sure gas and oil tanks are safe
- dog teams are brought in to verify there are no undetected fatalities
- large industrial fencing is erected around the home which is considered contaminated
- the family contacts Team Rubicon for assistance in retrieving heirlooms
- an on-site survey is arranged with the home owner and a TR survey team
- potential heirlooms and their original locations are noted on a map
- a 4 hour slot is scheduled for a sifting team and the home owner to work on the retrieval
- the home owner provides directions, from outside the fence
- TR members show decontaminated found items to home owner & keep ones of interest
- at end of available time, TR team decontaminates themselves and gear they used
- trailer is repacked, and team gets a food break before the next house.

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What our Strike Team did

Teams get reformed as available personel changes, including local people who may only be available on weekends. I was on 2 sifting teams, Bravo and Charlie. News stories on 2 of my team members, both named Melissa, are in the Press Coverage section above

At each location we'd go through a setup process, getting the trailer in position as best we could. Then we mark off the hot zone (contaminated area), the warm zone (where sifters partly undo their suits on breaks) and the cold zone (carefully separated uncontaminated area).

Because my beard prevents a HEPA respirator from completely sealing, I was the "taper/timer", and I operated from the cold zone. My roles included:

- using duct tape to seal the sifter's rubber boots and doubled gloves to their Tyvek suit, and seal their front suit zipper
- write names on the back of their Tyvek suits
- find and repair punctures in their suits
- time how long each team is working in the contaminated zone. In hot sunny weather, 15 minutes is the maximum in the hazmat suits. In a rainstorm, an hour is practical.
- provide sifters on break with baby wipes, lense cleaners, paper towels, drinks, food, replacement gloves, duct tape, etc
- provide hospitality to the home owner: gloves, masks, seats, drinks, snacks, and someone to talk to.
- monitor and respond to the radio, and do check-ins

The sifters search the areas identified by the home owner, sometimes on their hands and knees, and sometimes shovelling ashes and rubble into sifting devices. Found items are decontaminated and shown to the home owner (in the cold zone) for evaluation.

At the end of the available time, the gear used by the sifters is methodically decontaminated, and then they are. The trailer gets re-packed, and the team gets a food break before the next house.

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Photo Gallery

Click on thumbnail to see full sized photo

So where exactly did all this excitement take place?

(You might want to right click on the little map to the left, and open the big map in a new window).
The wildfire was North West (West North West if you're picky) of Halifax in an area called Tantallon (pronounced tan-TAL-en). We worked in one corner of a subdivision, on Carmel Crescent, Hummingbird Lane, and Kata Court. This is the same subdivision that got some attention because there is only one exit road from it to the main highway.

We were billeted in a Legion at 11169 Peggy's Cove Road, which was a ways South, making for a picturesque ride to our first house of the day.

 The first day was largely taken up with training. Some was traditional PowerPoint style indoors training...
..and some was outdoors emulating the set up we'd be using in the field, and the division into the hot zone (contaminated), warm zone (less contaminated) and cold zone (uncontaminated)...
... with a lot of focus on how to wear the hazmat suit: Tyvek suit, rubber boots, 2 - 3 pairs of gloves, goggles, HEPA respirator, helmet. Boots and 2nd pair of nitrile gloves (and sometimes 3rd pair of leather gloves) are sealed to suit with duct tape, and the suit zipper is sealed as well. Name is written on back, and time of hot zone entry is sometimes written on arm, along with a sketch of the home's layout.
We slept in cots provided by the red cross in the Legion at 11169 Peggy's Cove Road, Seabright NS (details in case you want to google.). My orange and black camp chair is facing the cot where I slept. Lights on at 06:00, lights out at 22:00, followed by the snorchestra recital. The PPE tent actually had ear plugs.
The field below the legion, which was once a baseball diamond according to some locals, had 2 more of the huge white tents. One was for overflow sleeping quarters, and the far one was the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) tent, where you could get fresh supplies like Tyvek suits, rubber boots, respirator filters, gloves, etc. Everyone made a pilgrimage to the PPE tent after the initial training to get a big plastic bin, and fill it will all the gear that would be needed, for the first couple of days at least.
The whole operation of the Forward Operating Base (FOB) was based on the Incident Command System (ICS) framework. The Command and General ( C & G) staff worked out of a big white tent in front of the Legion, and the numbered ICS forms were followed rigourously. The photo is the ICS-204 Assignment list for my strike team and its tasking for Sunday June 25. Note the 10 hour operational period from 07:00 to 17:00, although we had briefings outside those hours. The "cold" beside my name indicates that I'll be working in the cold zone, being the taper/timer, because my beard prevents a HEPA respirator from sealing perfectly. "Workforce" is a software system that is used to manage the work orders issued for each house. The form is signed by Janice, the Operations Section Chief.

Click on the Glossary for help in decoding all the terminology and short forms

(Click on the Glossary for help in decoding all the terminology and short forms)

The "Daily Rhythm" posted on the left was the typical schedule for a day.

The red poster on the right depicts Team Rubicon's guiding cultural principles, which are very succinct, but very well thought out in my opinion.
Part way through the process of setting up at a destroyed house. The orange fencing at the back surrounds the house, and possibly the septic tank. We've opened it up and the hot and warm zones extend towards the trailer. The green tape behind the trailer is the warm zone / cold zone boundary. The cold zone area behind the trailer will soon be filled with bins of supplies, personal PPE bins, coolers and chairs
The before picture of one of the houses we worked on, as seen in Google street view
The same house as we encountered it. Garage doors are often a recognizable landmark.
The team is suited up, with boots, gloves and suit zipper sealed with duct tape, and head towards the areas where the site survey says the articles the homeowner wishes to retrieve may be located. Unfortunately, when the burning house collapses, items can move around quite a bit, so a lot of searching is needed.
The 3 sifting strike teams have returned around 5 PM. They'll replenish the supplies, including water, possibly head out for a shower, and relax until supper at 18:30.
The Incident Command Post (ICP) where the senior leaders, the Command and General staff ( C&G) work during the day. Has its own huge generator, and inside it has lots of big computer monitors, printers, workstations, display boards, etc. Most communications with this group during the operating period is done over the radio, and one of their major outputs is the collection of documents called the Incident Action Plan (IAP) which is the directions for the next operational period. Note that the tent "poles" are hollow tubes that are filled with compressed air.
The restaurant at Peggy's Cove, the Sou'Wester, said one night "bring every TR person you have - supper is on us". And they did this for each of the 3 waves of people. The reception we got was unbelievable.
The leader for strike team Charlie, who was known as "Aussie Brett" at this point, walked up to do a survey of the long lane going to our assigned house at the top. When he came back, he said the only way to make it work is to back the trailer up the lane. And then he did it: 45 degree incline, 200 meters, dogleg right. Had to stop a few times near the top because the transmission was overheating, but he got it done. Amazing. No wonder he's a legend.
This is a video illustrating several things: The actual shovel by shovel sifting operations, which are time consuming, although we sometimes had 2 sifters in operation. Very different in a rainstorm, when you're sifting mud instead of ashes. Then you'll notice Brett head to the back corner, and get directions from the home owner on where a particular keepsake is most likely to be. Part way through her directions, you hear the radio on my belt say "Strike Team Charlie, from Incident Commander". That's us, so I stopped the video to answer the radio.
At one point, one of the neighbours came over with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. She suggested that I take one, and then fold the foil over so they'd still be warm when the rest of the team came back. I had thoughts of embezzlement after she left, but resisted.
After arriving at the site, the sifters change from their own work boots to the PPE rubber boots. One of my tasks was to manage the boot camp, but that was a shoe-in. Notice Brett's cute little ballet boots.
A briefing by Mark the Planning Section Chief, with Janice the Operations Section Chief behind him on deck to do her briefing.
The fully set up cold zone is more crowded with each person's PPE bins, the Admin bin with consumable supplies, a cooler with drinks, a cooler with snacks and lunch, and a couple of chairs, usually offered to the homeowner(s).
The decontamination process uses a lot of water, so we carry at least five 5 gallon jerry cans.
On a hot sunny day, the sifters can't work much more than 15 minutes before they need a break, because they get cooked in the sealed hazmat suits. As the weather radar shows, we got some serious rain, and in fact, were on the lookout for dangerous lightning. Rain makes it a lot cooler for the sifters, and working for an hour is practical, although they're now sifting mud rather than ashes.
Video showing operations continuing despite a downpour. Towards the end you can see the roving safety officer, Gaetan, outside the fence at the back in the blue jacket. He and I became good friends, each of us being keen on taking our grandkids on canoe trips.
The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) tent, where we replenished supplies as required.
A 7 person team from New Zealand, called TaskForce KIWI, came all the way to Nova Scotia to help us. Team Rubicon had sent a team to NZ earlier in the year when they had a couple of consecutive disasters, and they were returning the favour. They were easily identifiable in their smart beige uniforms.
I'd had multiple conversations with Val, the Logistics Section Chief, who was working through her duties having just been promoted. She wasn't feeling well on the 29th, and tested positive for Covid. Within hours, everyone in camp had been tested, and she, me, and the Ops Section Chief were the ones with positive tests. More people tested positive the next day, and the 3rd wave had a number of cases as well. Flight arrangements got made, I grabbed a box of masks, and I was home in London by midnight.(Only because I bypassed Air Canada's flight delay to the next day by taking a Robert Q bus). My wife was off babysitting grandkids in Toronto, so being in isolation wasn't too hard.
I banished myself to the nerdpit, and had my robots, radios, this website, and a TR wordsearch puzzle to keep me occupied. I mastered menu design by combining items available at drive-thru's.

After the popularity of my scribbling at Camp Maple Leaf, I brought along some better sized markers, and wrote names on about 15 Greyshirts, plus 2 thank-you shirts (Goodlife Fitness and the Sou'Wester restaurant), plus 2 new official TR nickname shirts (Aussiewood and OnlyJerry) and one sou'wester hat (Shutter Bug), for Heather the amazing Kiwi photographer. I put the correctly spelled version of Melissa on her shirt, honest.

These were the practice papers I had stuffed back into my pen kit.
The Undercover Boss. One day we had a new person show up on our team named Mel. We weren't sure how much training she'd had so we gave her an overview, sealed her into a hazmat suit, and showed her the ropes. Later that evening Bryan the TR Canada CEO introduced her as a member of the board who cared enough to be the first board member to actually take part in a major operation. She gave a pretty inspiring presentation, and we thought we'd give her a souvenir of her time with Strike Team Charlie.
While I was in isolation, before the end of wave 2, I made up a Wordsearch puzzle to give Greyshirts something to play with on the flight home, and perhaps, some reminders of Operation KJIPUKTUK.

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The Calligraphy Strike Team

After the popularity of my scribbling at Camp Maple Leaf, I brought along some better sized markers, and wrote names on about 15 Greyshirts, plus 2 thank-you shirts (Goodlife Fitness and the Sou'Wester restaurant), plus 2 new official TR nickname shirts (Aussiewood and OnlyJerry) and one sou'wester hat, for Heather the amazing Kiwi photographer. Photos of some of my practice papers are just above. I think I'll make up a simple kit that can go to any deployment so if there is someone with calligraphy skills deployed, they can carry on the tradition.

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Observations

Homeowner note to share:

Hello
We just returned from our property in Tantallon,NS where our home was destroyed by the wildfires. Our family would like to thank the organization for helping families through this difficult time, and to especially thank the team of 5 that just spent 4 hours sifting through our ruble to locate some special items that meant the world to my wife, daughter and son. Thank you Shawn, Alex, Allison, Bruce and Garnett. We can’t thank you enough for your compassion and professionalism.
Please pass this along to them
Many thanks and safe travels
-Steve

Anther homeowner's note:

Thank you all for helping us locate some of our cherished items this morning in the rubble of our home. It may look like junk to others but has enormous sentimental value to us. It is amazing that a group of volunteers like Team Rubicon exists. We can't thank you enough!
-David


Other observations:

- The people on my teams are awesome human beings. Period.
- 2 TR members were meeting for the first time since one was loading the other into a Medivac chopper in Afganistan
- seeing the mixed martial arts guy on my team attack a lobster for the first time at Peggy's Cove was priceless.
- another team member heard I'm 72, and wouldn't let me lift or carry anything heavy
- we found very little gold jewelry. Gold melts at 1063 degrees Celsius
- in some houses we found hardly any nails. Steel melts around 1205 degrees Celsius
- "fire-proof safes" don't protect their contents in a house fire. Too hot for too long.
- one of the tougher tasks was finding and retrieving pet remains, and returning them in a dignified way.
- there was a high frequency of neighbours helping neighbours, which was great to see.
- My original plan was deploying in the 2nd wave: in on Friday June 23, out on Sunday July 2
- ...however, I tested positive for Covid with a few others on Thurs the 29th, and was home by midnight.
- I lost 6 pounds in 7 days, and I sure didn't skimp on Jerry's gourmet food. Less snacking, no nerd time, and Covid.
- did my calligraphy thing: about 15 Greyshirts, a couple of thank-you shirts, 2 new TR nickname shirts, 1 Souwester hat.
- 5 of us had a great intro/tour of the Incident Command Post, and that sort of role is definitely on my radar.
- I'm more emotional than I thought I was, and was often moved to tears.
- I brought a hand held Ham radio, and had several evening conversations with Halifax Amateur Radio Club members
- Goodlife Fitness invited any TR person to come in for a shower any time. Really appreciated!
- another hazard is septic tanks, which may have tops that were weakened by intense heat.
- looking at Google street view to see what the homes looked like before the wildfires was heartbreaking
- excerpts from the WhatsApp groups we used for informal communications:

     - Not sure I should show my photos to my wife. I can hear it now: "so you were hanging out with hot women, all sleeping together, and you came back with a disease?" (Grin)
     - too humid. going home.
     - My body has absorbed so much soap and disinfectant lately, now when I pee I clean the toilet.
     - About to test a personal theory that single malt cures covid….will keep you posted
     - I don’t know if I am going to be able to sleep tonight. No one will be snoring
            - I’m sure there’s an App for that
     - I've been turned around all week, realized my laptop was still on Atlantic time which cleared up a few things
     - Taskforce Kiwi just back home in NZ all safely, still some internal travel to go but back where the cars drive on the right side and we are not constantly shitting ourselves.
     - Day 3 without TR. Found a guy sitting on my couch yesterday. Apparently he is my partner. He seems nice.
              -Get him to make you a sandwich, you can tell a lot about a guy by how he makes a sandwich
     - Only TR people would be exchanging photos of chain saw parts. Not sure if it's bling, or porn.
     - Proposed chainsaw theme song: Paul Simon, Stihl crazy after all these years.
     - from Kiwi Pete Adams...
         Finally, I'm home to my own bed, my own shower, and my own family after:
         * 9 flights
         * 9 times zones
         * 141 hours traveling
         * 47,193 kms by air
         * 20 nights away
         * 4 countries
         * 7 different beds
         * 1 military tattoo
         * 2 visits to Peggy's Cove
         * 11 covid tests (9 negative, 2 positive)
         * 1 dose of covid
         * 1 rental car
         * 358 driving kms
         * 11 burnt out houses
         * 6 recovered rifles
         * 6 new shirts
         * 1 missing shirt (since found, and will be displayed in a glass case (possibly due to laundry shortcomings) on the wall in TRC HQ.)
         * unknown numbers of recovered crockery sets, coin collections and jewelry items
         * Numerous beer tickets.
       Thanks, however, to the unknown number of Kiwis and Canadians and their unquantifiable energy and goodwill, I would do it all again. Just not this week. Thanks everyone

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Follow Up Items

- provide feedback to TR, which will eventually be copied here, in last section
- Concur, concur, concur
- need to reduce packing list, now that I know what's actually needed
- need to follow up on roles with C & G staff. Time spent with Moose and Mark doing an intro to the ICP was inspiring
     - look at online & in person training for C & G roles
     - figure out the roadmap(s)
- calligraphy kit & suggestions for whoever wants to use it on each wave

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Contributions Welcome

If anyone has photos or comments they'd like to contribute to this website, or corrections, please contact me via email or text: 519-630-8925.
    - Doug Elliott

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My Feedback

- will be added soon

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