Employees stepping up to help communities

Apr 28, 2016

TransAlta has no shortage of employees who spend their free time volunteering in their communities and last week was no exception. As the wildfires raged near TransAlta’s Alberta Coal and Mining operations near Duffield, Alberta, a group of employees lent a helping hand as volunteer fire fighters.

Andrea Wichuk, Dennis Wichuk, Rob Krauss, Dallas Hennig, Jean-Paul LaPierre, Jeff Wiggins, and William Kochansky are all volunteer fire fighters with Parkland County who participated in fighting the fire in Duffield. Dennis, Rob, and Dallas also returned, at Parkland County’s request, to lend a hand as members of the SunHills Mine Rescue team with the SunHills fire truck.

Giving back in a time of need

“This was an excellent opportunity to help out in the community. Parkland County has provided assistance on-site at SunHills Mine so it was good to be able to give back in a time of need,” said Dennis. (Parkland County and SunHills Mining have an informal mutual aid agreement to assist one another during emergency fire situations.)

Andrea Wichuk shared her account of the situation and elaborated on the importance of assisting a neighbouring community in need, “We are so fortunate to work for a company that understands the value supporting our people and our community. Without the consideration afforded to us as employees/volunteers, I strongly believe the outcome of last week’s events could have been entirely different.”

Andrea worked in the Incident Command Post on the fire ground deploying resources and equipment to areas of relative containment. Then word came in from the fire lines that the fire had leaped and was spreading faster than crews and equipment could keep up with it.

Deploying all available resources

“The panic I heard in the voices of our crews as the fire advanced on them and the surrounding community’s homes made my heart trip,” she says. “Knowing that we had all available resources already deployed, including air support, this newest development was cause for much concern and desperate measures.”

As the situation intensified, there was an immediate need for additional support, however the nearest support was roughly an hour away and would only be able to participate in a limited fashion.

“I remember looking out the door and thinking that we were in the eye of the storm; areas that were previously relatively quiet had decided to pick up and become active again,” said Andrea. “There were advancing columns of smoke and fire on all sides of us. The radio traffic from the front line crews was intensifying in urgency and need.”

SunHills Mine Rescue team

It was right at the time of intense need that she received word that the SunHills Mine Rescue team, including Dennis, Rob and Dallas had been called in with its fire engine.

“I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to know that the ‘cavalry’ was on their way with an experienced, talented team and a great truck capable of handling the terrain that we were fighting on,” Andrea says. “We were able to deploy that unit to protect one exposure that was at severe risk of also running on us and would have also endangered additional Parkland County property as well as some of the Paul First Nation.”

Unquestioning support

The combined effort between TransAlta and Parkland County was a fulfilling moment for Andrea. “That was a proud feeling for a long-term employee to see their organization step up with unquestioning support to the situation. I have been with TransAlta for 16 years as full-time employee and a summer student for two years prior to that. There are many reasons that I find myself fortunate to be able to come here each day and the above is just one of those, but it is a very big one.”

As a Procurement Supervisor, Andrea was able to work with her team to ensure that there was coverage in her absence, allowing her to concentrate on what needed to be done to quell the fires.

“Knowing that the front line was well protected from a business prospective made it possible to prioritize on the fire ground and circle back in the evenings on TransAlta tasks,” explained Andrea.

“TransAlta has always shown me respect, support and trust. When an employee is afforded that each day it not only inspires one’s loyalty and engagement but it, it makes dealing with these rare but significant events much easier.”

Banner (left imgage): SunHills Mine Rescue team members Dennis Wichuk, Dallas Hennig, and Rob Krauss.

(Right image): Dennis and Andrea Wichuk