Ucluelet’s Sgt. Jeff Swann took off for Fort McMurray last week to offer support in any way he can.
Roughly 80,000 people have been forced to evacuate the Albertan community due to a devastating wildfire that began on May 1.
Swann is en route as a member of the RCMP’s Peer-to-Peer program.
“It’s RCMP officers helping other RCMP officers through any kind of tragedy,” he told the Westerly News prior to heading off. “There are a number of RCMP employees, staff and members, and emergency responders who have lost their homes and businesses and items in this fire.”
The Vancouver Island RCMP reached out to all its Peer-to-Peer members and Swann instantly put his name forward.
“They said, ‘We need some people to go help the people in K Division, which is Alberta, and lend a hand and support them.’ I looked at that opportunity and immediately reached out to my boss,” he said.
“It’s a counseling role and a support role…If, in any small way, I can go there and lend a hand on behalf of the RCMP and the Ucluelet RCMP and the Peer-to-Peer project as a whole, I’ll do it.”
He said the details of his trip had not been fully hashed out and all he knew was that he would be setting up in a camp offering whatever help he can provide.
“I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing yet,” he said. “There’s nothing official. They’re saying, ‘Be prepared for everything. Bring all your equipment and tools. You might be manning a line, you might be providing relief, you might be doing counseling; we don’t know.”
Swann has lived through a community evacuation before and hopes to tap into this experience to provide support.
“I think back to the Barriere forest fires in 2003 and my wife and I were evacuated for over a month. I had to stay and work,” he said.
“We lived in some terrible conditions. There were many houses that were lost and I met with many, many, people who lost their homes and so, I feel, I’ve got a little bit of experience and guidance and compassion that I can share with whoever needs it.”
Prior to Swann’s departure, his wife Naomie reached out to the West Coast through social media asking for donations for him to take with him to Fort McMurray and Swann arrived at the Ucluelet detachment on Monday morning to an impressive haul of goodwill.
“Anybody who’s worked in this town for more than a year knows how caring and giving this town is and how willing they are to open up their arms and help anybody in need,” he said.
“Am I surprised by the support? No I’m not; but it’s always comforting knowing that I can reach out and people will respond and donate and help others in need…I know the people of the West Coast. Paycheques are not easy to come by, you have to work and you’re consistently doing different jobs and recreating and reinventing yourself but people are always willing to give.”
He added his family is supportive of his trip.
“It’s my sons birthday tomorrow and I went and told him, ‘Listen, I’m not going to be there. I’m going to say goodbye to you in the morning and that’s it,’ and he just said ‘Yes, go. You’re going to help people,” Swann said.
“I’ve got a supporting family and supporting friends that will look after things here for me while I’m doing what I’m paid to do out there.”