Winnipeg frozen into memory for visiting Aussie firefighter
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/09/2017 (1974 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service — made up of more than 150 members — turned out Thursday night at a downtown restaurant to say goodbye to one of its own.
Well, one of its own for the last 12 months, anyway.
Last summer, Australian firefighter Roger Brown began a workplace exchange the 29-year-old and his 33-year-old wife, Tanya Trotter, came to realize was life-changing.
In part, for Roger, because he literally came face-to-face with the opioid crisis in a life-saving way.
For both Roger and Tanya, it was life-changing because of the way they were embraced by his fellow firefighters and their families: the Jets games they were invited to, the curling and golf teams they joined, the backyard barbecues and even ice fishing they attended.
Roger also came to appreciate working in a North American-style, big-city fire hall with a team of firefighters and paramedics. The warmth and camaraderie had been anticipated.
But something else wasn’t.
Roger and Tanya are from Launceston, Tasmania, a city of not much more than 100,000 where it rarely snows because the average low temperature during July winters is 2.2 C.
“We didn’t have a lot of understanding on how it was going to be like in winter,” the gregarious Aussie said this week. “People talk about how it’s crazy. We read online how Winnipeg’s called Winterpeg. And we thought, ‘Oh yeah, everyone’s exaggerating.’”
“It was everything that everyone told me, and it was no exaggeration at all. Even to drive to work with every bit of clothing you’ve got with tuque and gloves.”
Then there’s fighting a fire in winter.
His first winter fire call came just a few days before Christmas.
But it’s still frozen into his memory.
“It was a two-storey residential property. And there was a lot of flame and smoke coming from the top floor. We went into the fire and we came back out and every bit of sweat and every bit of steam — you know when you put water onto fire it creates steam and when you sweat you get wet and every little part of that moisture that was on me physically froze. As I walked out of the house and toward my truck to change over my tank and go back in, I could see my mask freezing over in front of my eyes. And then every part of my body.”
That still-frozen memory of walking back to the truck may never thaw out.
“Because my legs, that were covered in water, were now frosting and becoming frozen and so even walking became difficult.”
Actually, he learned that frozen gear acts to insulate and trap body heat.
“It was almost like you wanted to get back inside where it was warm and warm up again.”
I laughed, but Roger didn’t.
So how cold was it that night?
“It was so cold that night, we were throwing boiling water up in the air and it was freezing above us. We were actually outside the station throwing it up at two o’clock in the morning when we got back from this fire and the water was actually physically freezing above us.”
That was one of 750 calls — fire and medical — Roger attended over his four seasons in Winnipeg.
Of course, there were other calls in better weather that stood out for Roger.
One in particular. A man his age who had been celebrating his birthday with friends had overdosed on fentanyl. Severely, as it turned out.
Roger found himself face-to-face with the young man, breathing for him through a special mask, as a paramedic struggled to administer enough of the naloxone antidote. Suddenly, with Roger still breathing for him, the man’s eyes popped open. Roger was looking straight into the eyes of someone whose life he had just help save.
But there was another OD call and a younger man his crew helped save — only to return to the same apartment six weeks later, when they weren’t able to bring him back to life.
Then there was the time Roger stopped near the underpass at Higgins Avenue and Main Street on his way to help someone on the street. His captain, Bruce Trott, recalled that event when I dropped by fire hall No. 1 with Roger last month.
“So we pull up and we’re looking and we’re looking and we’re getting closer. And we see, oh, off-duty firefighter. Get closer. All of a sudden I look. Who is it? It’s Roger. He’s on his way to work. He sees a guy collapse. Jumps out of his vehicle and starts performing CPR. He’s not even an EMT. But (he does it) because of what he brings to the table every day and what he’s learned and what he’s exposed himself to here.”
“‘Have I done something wrong cap?’” Roger recalled asking Trott.
Trott and his team of firefighters and paramedics took over and Roger reported for work. That’s a teamwork model that doesn’t exist in Roger’s hometown, where paramedics don’t work as a team as they do in Winnipeg. And it’s that teamwork that left another lasting impression on Roger as an outsider who became an insider: “In my mind, the Winnipeg emergency medical side of it is so good because they work so well together.”
It doesn’t matter who arrives first because the patient comes first.
“That’s something that’s very motivating and quite inspiring, actually,” Roger said. “And proud to work for.”
Winter aside, it was the warmth of our city Roger and Tanya will remember for a lifetime. And just to remind his brothers at fire hall No. 1 not to forget him, Roger left them a present for their wall: the Tasmanian firefighter’s helmet he brought with him.
So, for now, it’s Roger, over and out.
Until, at Roger and Tanya’s open invitation, his friends from Winnipeg start showing up for a taste of Tasmanian hospitality. Hey, when you’re family, the door is always open.
Updated on Saturday, September 2, 2017 9:22 AM CDT: adds photos