“Just a guy doing his job…" is how Fire Chief Darby Allen from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo described himself during the Fort McMurray wildfire this past spring. But as the world watched in awe at the incredible destruction, they got to know Chief Allen as the human face of the wildfire crisis, and witnessed his great courage and immense grace under pressure. He is no regular guy.
As the much-anticipated guest speaker at The Salvation Army’s Hope in the City luncheon in Edmonton, Chief Allen sat onstage with emcee Bruce Bowie, 630 CHED radio personality and long-time Salvation Army Advisory Board member, in an interview-style discussion about the fire.
“I’m in charge of taking care of Fort McMurray,” he told the audience. “But sometimes I felt like The Salvation Army was taking care of me.” The Salvation Army’s Emergency & Disaster Services work during the wildfire was extensive. They served 25,000 meals, deployed seven Community Response Units (CRUs), and volunteers from seven provinces and two territories worked 7,000 hours helping with the response.
Everything changed in just three hours
Chief Allen explained to the rapt audience of 250, that on May 3, it looked like the fire was going to pass the city by. There was little smoke and the fire was on the other side of the river. But, by 4 p.m. it had jumped the river and the city was being evacuated. Everything changed in just three hours.
At one point, he said every plain of vision was filled with flame – up, down, left, right, there were flames 500 or 600 feet high. The result was damage to 15% of the city’s structures, but there was no loss of life due to the fire. “I’ve never been an overly religious man,” Allen said of this. “But this makes you look at things differently.”
In the midst of the main fire hall suddenly being evacuated one day, The Salvation Army was reluctant to leave, waiting to make sure everyone else got away okay. He laughs about it with the audience, saying all the firefighters were evacuating but the Army was still making sure they had a coffee.
“There is something about seeing Salvation Army volunteers that makes you feel better about the world.” – Fire Chief Darby Allen
“Chief Allen was the person so many Albertans looked to for leadership during the Fort McMurray wildfire, and naturally everyone at our event wanted to meet him and take a photo with him,” says Capt. Mark Stanley, Divisional Secretary for Public Relations & Development. “It’s an indication of the respect Albertans have for him. What he did for the people of Fort McMurray will never be forgotten.”
The Hope in the City lunch is in support of the The Salvation Army's annual Christmas Kettle Campaign that runs until December 24.