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Team Rubicon calling in reinforcements for sifting operations

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Team Rubicon calling in reinforcements for sifting operations

CAF Officer Andrew Straatsma is the incident commander for Team Rubicon in Fort McMurray // Chris Vandenbreekel - Harvard Broadcasting

Four hours per home, and potentially over two thousand homes to go through.

Twenty-five sifting experts aren’t going to be enough.

Team Rubicon is quickly adapting to their first Canadian operation, tackling the massive task of sifting through the remains of destroyed homes to find salvageable items for residents. The 100% volunteer-led organization is quickly establishing their command structure and is working to bring in an additional 275 volunteers to help with the operation.

But these aren’t your average volunteers who require a lot of training. They come with expertise.

“We’ve leveraged their experience,” said Andrew Straatsma, incident commander for Team Rubicon in Fort McMurray. “They come from emergency management, police operations. some are firefighters, medical responders, and military veterans.”

Straatsma, an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, joined the organization just days ago himself to assist.

Asked why those trained in the use of personal protective equipment shouldn’t sift through the ashes and rubble of their own destroyed properties themselves, Straatsma said they’re welcome to do so since it’s their own home. On Wednesday, two individuals were reported to have gone through their own properties with the proper gear on.

However, Straatsma is reminding everyone of the extreme danger associated with sifting through these properties.

“You can find anything from exposed nails to unexploded ordnance from gun owners,” he said. “Chimneys that haven’t quite fallen, sinkholes from septic systems, many dangers like that. Not to mention any corrosive elements.”

Team Rubicon is also trying to clear up some misunderstandings from early communication through the PULSE Line. They are emphasizing that residents do not require a booking with the organization to go into their neighbourhood and view their homes. They’re also reiterating that Team Rubicon will only be searching through completely destroyed properties, not homes that are partially damaged but still standing.

“That’s the level of risk we’re prepared to handle as a volunteer organization,” Straatsma said.

Residents can instruct the highly-trained volunteers to look for specific items, or to simply look for anything that can be saved. Each home can take up to four hours to go through safely. Team Rubicon has published their rough schedule of when they’ll be in each area of the city to search through belongings.

Some residents have reported long wait times before being able to book an appointment. Straatsma says due to the high volume of callers, they’re asking for patience as they work through the requests in the order they’re received.

To book an appointment with Team Rubicon, you can call the PULSE Line at 780-743-7000. Their line operators will forward you to the organization’s crisis management line, where an appointment will then be set up.

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