39 Days on the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire

This summer was an incredibly active fire season for Northern Alberta, one that I got to see up close and personal. I spent almost 40 days working on the Chuckegg Creek fire near High Level. The entire experience was incredible, mind blowing, life changing… I don’t even know how to explain it. I learned so much, met so many incredible people and so saw many incredible things. There is no way that I can even touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to writing about what it was like to be deployed to that fire, but I would like to share some of my favourite photos from the experience. I will caption each one to give you a glimpse into what it was like to be there.

I found out I was headed to High Level only a couple of hours before I left. Of course I knew about the fire, but it didn’t look like it was in the cards that I would go. Then all of a sudden I was asked how soon I could be ready. My partner for the trip up left Calgary around midnight and picked me up in Edmonton at ~3am,
We stopped in Whitecourt on our way up, fueling the truck up as the sun rose.
I made it to High Level on the day that my fiance was leaving on days off. He did come back while I was still up there, so we actually got to work on the same fire, however many many kilometers apart.
I spent my first day in High Level hot spotting around the town of High Level
By the point that I got up to the fire, the threat had shifted from High Level to a small town called La Crete, so to La Crete we went to set up structural protection on threatened homes there.
For the first week that I was in La Crete, the town was under an evacuation order, so it was inhabited basically just by police and firefighters
A large portion of our days in La Crete were spent patrolling our area, and during our patrols we fed and watered the animals left behind by the evacuees.
The evacuation order for La Crete was lifted just before Canada Day, so the Canada Day parade was a celebration for many reasons. The fire crews working to protect the town were invited to participate in the parade, so we decorated our trucks accordingly.
I got to see and work with some incredible equipment, like these bad boys.
I even got to drive this one!
I was blown away by how beautiful the area was up around La Crete and High Level.
This is the Peace River
Hot spotting is the art of locating deep burning fires and dousing them so they don’t pop up unexpectedly, re-igniting the fire. It is messy, messy work.
Did I mention it was messy?
The smokey sunsets were incredible
Helicopters were our eyes and ears for fire behavior
Due to the catastrophically dry conditions, and some crazy weather, we got to see some very extreme fire behaviors, including fire whirls and raining chunks of embers, and even charred debris, like this leaf.
Our very last day in High Level, it finally started to rain. After months with nothing, the raid felt incredible.

Visiting the Bomber Command Museum

Back in June, I was lucky enough to go on a little road trip with my grandfather and his good friend Jack.

My grandfather spent most of his working life in the Canadian Military. Back in the day, when he went to flight school, Jack was actually his teacher. Together they worked on the Lancaster aircraft. Decades later, after both working and living all over the world, the two men re-connected when they both found themselves living in Edmonton. The two now meet every Sunday morning for breakfast at a restaurant called Alberts, trading stories and news with eachother.

The opportunity to travel with these two men, along with my uncle, to visit a museum that housed one of the few remaining planes that they had worked on decades ago was too good to pass up.

Here are some of my favourite photos from our trip to the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, AB.

Watching these two men, who both served their country for most of their lives, walk around and take it all in, was an incredible moment. Both men remembered so so much about these planes. Not many people can say that they got to tour the museum with people who lived the history.

Things I Should Have Written About a Long Time Ago: Part Two

My absolute favourite charity event of the year is the Calgary Firefighters Stairclimb. It takes place every spring: ~500 firefighters fund raise and then climb the Bow Tower in Calgary in full firefighting gear and all the money is donated to Wellspring Calgary, a charity that helps cancer patients and their families.

Myself and some of my fellow awesome ambassadors

This year was a special year of the climb for me for a couple of reasons: I was chosen as one of the stairclimb ambassadors AND I got to do the climb with my fiance.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the 2019 Stairclimb:

This year I wanted to do something special with my race gear, so I added my last name in glittery pink letters on the name plate portion of my jacket.
The morning of the stairclimb, snow was falling in Calgary and surrounding area!
My collection of Stair climb race bibs and challenge coins from my 4 years of participating in the Stair climb

Things I Should Have Written About a Long Time Ago: Part One

I posted a week or so ago about how insanely busy the last year has been, and that I hadn’t posted in awhile; well in the last year, several things have happened that definitely deserve a blog post, and I promise I will get around to them. But for now, I wanted to do a quick post on probably the biggest thing that happened in the last year: I got engaged!

On February 19th, Zach and I were off on what I thought was one of our typical mini-road trips where we head out into the mountains to photograph our favourite spots. The weather wasn’t great, it would snow heavily periodically, so we kept changing our plans on where we were headed.

Every time we changed our plans, Zach seemed to get a little more stressed. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with him, so I did my best to cheer him up and enjoy the day.

The Ice Castle at Lake Louise is one of my favourite parts of winter

We eventually settled on a quick stop at Lake Louise before heading into Field, BC for lunch at Truffle Pigs.

Look at those chicken wings!!

The day was going well, and lunch was absolutely incredible. After we finished at Truffle Pigs, Zach asked me if I had ever visited Natural Bridge, in Yoho National Park. I hadn’t, and neither had he, so we headed there, not knowing what to expect.

The first view from the parking lot was not anything special: a snow covered frozen river. However there were tracks from where people had walked down to the river, so we decided to follow them. We found ourselves down on the frozen river, walking into a wondrous cavern filled with a frozen waterfall.

I was pretty engrossed in my camera, working to photograph such an incredible place. Zach called my name, I turned around, and there he was: down on one knee with a beautiful ring held out in front of him.

I obviously said yes! Zach is the piece that was missing from my life for so long. In the time since the proposal, we have been working towards making our life together: we now have a beautiful home and a dog that makes our little family complete. This blog post obviously doesn’t do the whole proposal moment justice, but I really wanted to write about it and share photos from the incredible day. I look forward to a lifetime of making memories with this amazing man ❤

We celebrated that evening with Champagne and a hotel room in Canmore ❤

Separation Anxiety: The First 40 Days

I have wanted a dog for the last 5 years, I just wasn’t in a position to have one while living in work provided staff accommodations. Then while I was going to school over the last year, I was living with a family member who can’t have a dog. So I knew that when I moved into my next home, it had to be dog friendly. When a house came up in the right neighborhood in Edmonton for me, my partner and I jumped on it and the plan was that when we settled in, we would adopt a dog.

Well if you have read my page about Dahlia (read it here) you’ll know that I did not wait to get settled in, I accidentally found my dog before we were quite ready.

The last 40 days have been a whirlwind of learning on all fronts. While I 100% advocate for adopting shelter animals, I recognize that that means that the animals can come with some challenging behaviors. But I knew that going in. I also knew that the first family who adopted Dahlia actually returned her a very short time later due to her separation anxiety. [ Great right, re-abandoning an animal with separation anxiety. *eye roll*] So we did our research and prepared to dig in and try a bunch of different things until we found what worked for all of us.

We knew that with the separation anxiety, we would have to crate Dahl. No big deal, we bought a wire crate with the plastic tray in the bottom and got a cushy dog bed. Day 1: we start moving in and have to make a run to the store. We out Dahl in the crate and the crate in the basement so that if she barks it wouldn’t annoy the new neighbors. About 20 minutes into being gone, we get a call from my grandfather who lives nearby that the neighbors are complaining about our dog going psycho. We got home in a hurry to find our dog barking her face off, loose in the house, at the windows we had left open to air out the new place. So yup, she was no doubt driving the neighbors crazy. That was how we learned she could squeeze her way out through a teensy tiny opening by forcing the door on the crate.

After our little escape artist showed this ‘fun’ talent, we knew we would have to find another solution. Our basement has a storage room that is a about 12 feet by 5 feet rectangle that we had been planning on using to actually, you know, store stuff, but after the Great Escape, we decided to turn it into a puppy room and move her crate into it, so that even if she managed to escape, she would still be contained in the room. We had gotten lucky last time, she hadn’t wrecked anything but that was largely because we hadn’t moved much in yet.

The next time we put her in her crate in the puppy room, we came back to the beautiful dog bed completely shredded. Like to little teensy bits. For the next couple weeks, anything that went into the crate as bedding, came out as confetti after even a single hour of Dahlia being in her crate. This was despite giving her a wide variety of actual chew toys, from antlers to synthetic chew toys, to peanut butter stuffed Kongs. The final straw was when she managed to completely destroy the hard plastic tray on the bottom of the crate.

Driving home with Zach one night, I jokingly said to him ‘you know what would help with her separation anxiety? Another dog.’ And while we both kind of laughed, we also thought it might be true.

We had been trying to rent out our basement bedroom/recroom/bathroom to somebody since we had found ourselves with way more space than we could possibly need, but now that we needed to keep the storage room set aside for the dog in the basement, we were going to be hard pressed to find a house mate who could possibly be that understanding.

We got so, so lucky. Zach’s sister had been shopping around for a place to live with her friend, but where they had been looking fell through last minute and she asked if our space was still available. Having a family member renting our basement was the absolute best case scenario, and even better still? She had a dog too.

Maysens dog is Kona, a 5 year old miniature pincher/pug cross who looks a lot like a house potato. It took a couple of days for the dogs to get used to to each other, but now after close to a month together, they are incredibly close, frequently falling asleep next to each other.

The crate situation in the puppy room took some further experimentation to figure out what was going to work: we tried having both dogs crated for a bit, and then we tried with the crate doors open in the closed room, but quickly found out that Dahlia was happier without the crate in there at all. We still left the crate for Kona in the room, in case the dogs needed their own space, but kept finding the dogs curled up on the same bed together.

Upstairs, both dogs love napping side by side on the couch. So when Maysen went to replace one of her little love seats in the basement, we decided to move that couch into the puppy room to give the dogs the comfiest of beds possible in there. We covered it with their favorite blankets, and this is the closest to calm, contained dogs that we have gotten thus far.

In general, Dahls separation anxiety has improved. She seems less stressed out when we leave now that she has company and a wide variety of chew toys. There is still a couple barks when we leave, and definitely some barks if they hear you come home and not immediately go down to let them out, but in general the entire situation has improved. It took a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of patience, but I feel like we are getting somewhere.

Is this the final solution? Probably not. Dogs never fail to surprise us. So we will probably have a 100 other solutions over the course of our life with Dahl. I am writing this little blog post on our adventures in separation anxiety so far just to share with folks that having a dog isn’t all sunshine and rainbows like what we so typically see on social media. Is it worth all the struggle? All the shredded beds and toys, all the frustration that comes with not knowing what disaster you are going to come home to? 100%. Dahlia is such a loving, snuggly dog and I know she has been through so much in her life. She needs a family who won’t give up on her, who will work with her to improve her quality of life. I wish it was as easy as just being able to talk to her and tell her that we will always come home to her, but dogs just don’t speak our language. So we will continue to show her through our actions.

Do you have any other tips on working with separation anxiety in a dog? I would love to hear them!

I would also like to make a shout out to the rescue organization that I found Dahlia through: CARES, located in Leduc, Alberta. They just found their 2000th dog a home. I have worked in a Humane Society (in Ontario) and visited countless others, but I have never found one like CARES. The volunteers were so helpful and completely honest about the behavior challenges that might come with each dog. Their goal is very obviously to find the right home for each dog, not just any home. If you are looking for your furry soul mate, I definitely recommend checking them out. They are also super active on social media, constantly posting their available dogs.

Where did the time go…

It has been almost 10 months since I last wrote anything on here.

Man oh man, where the hell does the time even go…

Let me quickly catch you up on what has happened in the last year and why I haven’t been on here.

Last fall I applied to go to school to do my Primary Care Paramedic certs in Edmonton. This was a huge step for me, as it would mean moving out of the town and job where I had been for the last 5 years.

Then I didn’t get in to school. I was wait listed and kinda gave up hope on getting on. School was scheduled to start on January 8th, 2019. I was told I was wait-listed in October. So I went on with my life.

On December 11th, 2018, I was driving to a job interview for Calgary Fire when I received a call from the school asking me if I was still interested in a spot, as they had one with my name on it. I of course said yes! I was scheduled to fly out for two weeks in Ontario 3 days after that, returning only days before class started, so things were a little bit of a blur. I got as much of my life together as possible before flying to Ontario for Christmas, then came back and basically jumped straight into the school year.

I finished the classroom portion of school at the end of May, and about a week later shipped out for a wildfire export, with one of the fire dept I work for, to High Level, Alberta. I ended up spending about 6 weeks in High Level on the Chuckegg Creek fire, with only 3 days off in that stretch. I spent those days off in the Northwest Territories because I was already so close, and why not?!

I came back from High Level and had a lot of catching up to do with the rest of my life. Here are the highlights for what has happened since in definitely not chronological order:

  • Went back to work at Kananaskis Emergency services
  • Roadtripped to Squamish
  • Got engaged
  • Road tripped to Pincher Creek/Waterton
  • Got a dog!!!
  • Moved into my own house with my partner
  • Celebrated a birthday
  • Got a new tattoo
  • Did the Calgary Firefighter Stairclimb for the 4th time!
  • And probably a whole lot of other stuff…

I am sure I will get around to writing more in detail about a bunch of these topics, so for now this is just the highlight reel.

If you look at the headings on my home page, you will see I have added one titled Dahlia the Doggo. This is the story of my new furbaby and how she came into my life, I highly recommend taking a couple minutes to read it (obviously 😉 ) and other than that, that is all for right now! More to come soon ❤