April is national volunteer month and we’re taking a look at why our Canadian Greyshirts decided to join and volunteer with Team Rubicon Canada (TRC).
Our Greyshirt spotlight this month features Eric Depenau who is the Deputy Administrator for the Prince George Metro. He is a Lieutenant in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Primary Reserve and spent time with the BC Wildfire Service from 2011 – 2020.
When I joined Team Rubicon, I had spent nearly a decade in emergency response fighting wildfires and floods and tending to those in crisis as a part of the public service. I also serve in the CAF Primary Reserve building skills for domestic and expeditionary deployments.
These rewarding careers relate to TR’s service principles – Service above self – the driving force behind all of Team Rubicon’s operational activity. Something we should all value. This combination of uniformed experience and training also set me on a path in my career that placed me at the scene of people’s worst days.
In 2017, during one of BC’s most challenging wildfire seasons on record, it became increasingly difficult to give time and attention to individual needs. During any large-scale disaster, after months of triaging emergency situations, it’s easy to lose connection with the individuals- the personal stories and how they’ve been impacted by a disaster. To help regain some clarity, I spent some days off between wildfire deployments volunteering at an evacuation center for those that had been displaced. I met with people who, in some cases only days before had been evacuated through job sites I had supported. This was one of my first hands on experiences with the disaster response side of these tragedies. It was immensely rewarding to spend time with families; to help them navigate the essential services and meet their immediate needs in the aftermath of what they had experienced.
A short time later I was approached by Team Rubicon Canada (TRC) and immediately saw TRC as a vehicle that would allow folks like myself to take all the things we had learned through the military and emergency response, and apply them to recovery efforts.
With Team Rubicon Canada I had the honour of deploying to the community of Marsh Harbour after Hurricane Dorian.
A single mother whose home served as a B&B as well as the family residence was one work order I was a part of. The home had been severely damaged – both floors and the roof were impacted by the hurricane. Due to the scale of the damage to the entire area the family was continuing to live inside of the home in unsafe conditions as no alternative was available.
Our TRC strike team was able to do an expedient home repair on her roof and remove the damaged building materials so that she and her family could safely reoccupy the home while she rebuilt.
Her kitchen was the focal point of her home. Unfortunately it needed to be stripped to the studs; every cabinet was destroyed. TRC Greyshirts carefully worked onsite with the family to remove debris and salvage small mementos – like tiles and unique cabinet handles that would be a part of her future rebuild – that was truly a good feeling. To be there for people not just on the worst day, but also on the day when meals and drinking water are delivered, or when their homes are mucked out and deemed safe to return to, is such rewarding and meaningful experience.
That’s why I joined TRC – to serve with outstanding people, and to work with communities while they tackle the challenges that follow emergencies. I hope more people will see, as I do, the value in volunteering their time with TRC in disaster response.