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Andrew Straatsma

Andrew Straatsma

Why should you join TR Canada? Let me tell you about what motivated me.

Who are we, in a sentence?  Reinvigorated, rapidly deployable military veterans who volunteer to bridge the gap in disaster response.

Joining Team Rubicon was like rejoining the military, with far less paperwork and infinitely less yelling. Immediately immersed among an experienced, friendly and professional network of service-oriented individuals, I knew I made the right decision. The confirmation of that decision continued as the work we involved ourselves in produced some of the most inspiring effects for disaster victims I have ever witnessed.

During the Fort McMurray wildfires, we weren’t pulling people out of burning buildings or providing emergency medical care; for this disaster those services were readily available. The gap Team Rubicon was called upon to bridge was in the transitionary phase from crisis to recovery.  The age of some homes, their contents and application of fire retardant resulted in HAZMAT conditions within the homes’ remains. To begin rebuilding, the municipality had to remove all the rubble which, in simple terms, amounts to bulldozing entire subdivisions. Before that could happen, homeowners desperately wanted to search through their destroyed homes to find precious heirlooms and keepsakes that they couldn’t pack once the order for immediate evacuation was announced. As former military and EMS personnel who have received training to work in HAZMAT conditions, Team Rubicon volunteers were ideally suited to sift through destroyed homes and attempt to locate these items for homeowners.

Incident Commander suits up to supervise a home being sifted – 14 June 2016
“Strike Team A3, under the command of veteran Team Rubicon member and former USMC SSgt Heather, conduct sifting of a destroyed Fort McMurray home with the help of the Incident Commander.” 14 June 2016

 

Often overlooked in disaster management by everyone but those experiencing it, is the period immediately following the life-threatening hazard. When the affected see the devastation for the first time and are confronted with the reality that, while they are no longer in physical danger, one of the pillars of stability in their lives has been destroyed, a significant psychological response occurs. As veterans who are inoculated against these stressors, Team Rubicon’s experienced volunteer pool took their mission a step further by developing a personal connection with homeowners while their homes were being sifted. While working tirelessly to locate the smallest memory was inspiring, the team’s calm, supportive words or friendly embrace providing the first hints of recovery for families made the work some of the most rewarding in my life. It reminded me of a famous quote from Charles Dickens, which perfectly described the feeling I had serving the residents of Fort McMurray: “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done…”

Team Rubicon is an organization within which you are enabled by your previous experiences and passion to serve to make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of disaster victims.

 

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