By Natalie Finnemore, CFB Suffield Public Affairs
A call for help can come at any hour, from any location and in any weather conditions.
This was certainly the case on January 10 at about 1 a.m. when Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield Fire Services responded to reports of smoke billowing from a Snack Shack restaurant and gas station located about 6 km south of the base community along the Trans-Canada Highway.
That night had been exceptionally cold with frigid temperatures feeling as low as -32 °C with the wind chill, according to Environment Canada weather reports.
“We had two of our trucks freeze up due to the cold conditions,” said Eric Schweitzer, CFB Suffield‘s Fire Chief. “The difficulty of fighting a fire increases when the temperature is so low because water freezes in the hose lines and pumps hampering efforts to bring the fire under control.”
Platoon Chief Bob McLeod and his crew of five firefighters encountered smoke and visible flames when they arrived on scene. They were able to knock the fire down enough to gain entry, but encountered heavy interior fire conditions.
Thankfully, no one was in the building during the incident.
Their thermal imaging camera showed high temperatures throughout the attic space. Firefighters withdrew and transitioned to a defensive fire attack from the exterior due to the high risk of collapse.
Once the building was engulfed in flames, it was imperative for the team to act quickly to prevent the gas pumps and nearby homes from being exposure to fire and smoke.
Platoon Chief Mike Kerrigan was off duty and was called in to assist. Incident command was transferred to him once he arrived on scene, and he and the nine CFB Suffield Firefighters under his command did an exemplary job of handling a less than ideal firefighting situation, said Schweitzer.
Ultimately, CFB Suffield Fire Services, and other local fire services from Cypress County and Medicine Hat, were successful in keeping the community safe from harm and preventing the fire from escalating. In total, 22 firefighters joined the fire extinguishing efforts.
“Every time I go out to a call, I always think to myself: ‘I’m bringing all my people home,’” Kerrigan said. “The safety of our firefighters is everything to me.”
Kerrigan said he was proud of how smoothly the incident was handled by the team, because they relied on their training and knew exactly how to manage the situation while keeping everyone’s safety in mind.
Although his crew had the fire under control by about 5 a.m., firefighters remained at the fire scene to manage any hot spots and assist provincial investigators until the following day at about 5 p.m.
Thanks to their tireless dedication to their work, the CFB Suffield Firefighters worked diligently to overcome the challenges of fighting a fire in freezing conditions to protect the safety of the community, and for that we say “Bravo Zulu” (meaning excellent job) to them. The base community also thanks McLeod and Kerrigan for 30 and 35 years of loyal service to the CFB Suffield Firehall, respectively.