This Year’s He­roes and Mir­a­cles

As­ton­ish­ing sto­ries of courage and hope


Team Ef­fort On July 5, 2017, Steve and Kim Sawatzky, along with their two kids, de­cided to cut their camp­ing trip short so they could at­tend Steve’s an­nual work pic­nic. The 44-year-old has served with the Win­nipeg Fire Depart­ment for 13 years, and this sum­mer’s get-to­gether was held at the Tinker­town amuse­ment park, just out­side the city. Along with 500 fire­fight­ers and their fam­i­lies, the Sawatzkys en­joyed a sunny morn­ing catch­ing up with friends and eat­ing ice cream.

About an hour af­ter ar­riv­ing at Tinker­town, Kim went to use the bath­room. When she re­turned to the pic­nic ta­ble where her fam­ily was sit­ting, she found her seven-year-old daugh­ter, Is­abella, cry­ing. Steve was ly­ing on the ground, sur­rounded by his col­leagues. While Kim was away, he’d gone into

car­diac ar­rest and col­lapsed. The park’s de­fib­ril­la­tor was bro­ken, so for the next 20 min­utes, Steve was kept alive by 20 fire­fight­ers who took turns per­form­ing CPR while they waited for an am­bu­lance to ar­rive.

“I kept ex­pect­ing him to sit up and be okay,” Kim said. “As every minute passed, I was more and more scared that he wasn’t go­ing to make it.”

The am­bu­lance tech­ni­cians who ar­rived on the scene failed to res­tart Steve’s heart and rushed him to the emer­gency room. In to­tal, he was with­out a pulse for nearly an hour, but no one gave up on him. Shortly af­ter the fire­fighter ar­rived at St. Boni­face Hospi­tal, 13 kilo­me­tres away, medics were fi­nally able to re­vive him. He was then ad­mit­ted to the in­ten­sive care unit and placed on a ven­ti­la­tor. Nine days later, he had a pace­maker put in.

Af­ter seven weeks in hospi­tal, Steve was able to go home to his fam­ily. He’s still re­cov­er­ing and has yet to re­turn to work, but Kim says he is get­ting stronger every day. “If we were still at the camp­site when this hap­pened, it likely would have had a very dif­fer­ent out­come. That thought still haunts me,” she said. “It was the luck­i­est of un­lucky sit­u­a­tions.”

Queen of the Party Af­ter Ta­mara Rowsell was born in 1999, doc­tors at the James Paton Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal in Gan­der, N.L., told her par­ents to take her home and love her as much as pos­si­ble dur­ing the short time they’d be able to. She had been di­ag­nosed with Dono­hue syn­drome, an ex­tremely rare con­di­tion in which the body’s tis­sues and or­gans don’t re­spond prop­erly to in­sulin. She wasn’t ex­pected to live past the age of two.

But in May, Ta­mara, now 18, grad­u­ated from Small­wood Academy high school in Gambo, N.L., where she was crowned prom queen. “It was the best day of my life,” she said. “We never stopped danc­ing for the whole night.”

Ta­mara’s abil­ity to beat her ini­tially dire di­ag­no­sis is thanks to a drug called in­sulin growth fac­tor (IGF), which she’s been on since 2000. With­out it, all of her or­gans would shut down within a year. She is the old­est liv­ing per­son with Dono­hue syn­drome.

Ta­mara is also most cer­tainly the only per­son with Dono­hue syn­drome to be­come prom queen. “I hoped and prayed that she’d have the per­fect prom,” said her mother, Colleen. “And from the time she woke up that morn­ing to the time she went to sleep, she had a smile on her face.”

Through the Ice When County of Grande Prairie fire­fight­ers heard that 10 rodeo horses had plunged through the ice on a ru­ral Al­berta pond in April of this year, they knew they were about to un­der­take a daunt­ing job. The sit­u­a­tion was crit­i­cal: three of the an­i­mals had al­ready suc­cumbed to six me­tres of icy wa­ter, and the rest were grow­ing ex­hausted.

Luck­ily, in re­cent years county fire­fight­ers had trained for ex­actly this type of res­cue and knew what they needed to do. Us­ing chain­saws and me­chan­i­cal slings, a team of over 35 res­cuers from re­gional fire de­part­ments and the RCMP be­gan cut­ting paths through the ice to haul the horses free.

Af­ter a two-hour or­deal, all seven an­i­mals were safe. The res­cuers, many from vol­un­teer de­part­ments, were ec­static. Since that time, the Grande Prairie team has helped ru­ral fire de­part­ments across the coun­try de­velop their own train­ing to save large an­i­mals in dan­ger.

Spot­ted in the Dark­ness

Dur­ing a four-hour drive from her in­tern­ship pro­gram in Springhill, N.S., to visit a friend in Cape Bre­ton last May, Mar­cie Webb en­coun­tered slip­pery roads. At around 7:30 p.m., the 25-year-old hy­droplaned, ca­reened off the road and was knocked un­con­scious by her steer­ing wheel. When she came to 20 min­utes later, her yel­low Volk­swa­gen Golf was in Bras d’Or

Lake, 15 me­tres from the road. The wa­ter was up to her an­kles and was com­ing in through the doors as she scram­bled to find her phone and glasses, which had flown off in the crash. Af­ter a few mo­ments of fran­tic search­ing, she gave up and climbed out of the driver’s seat into wa­ter close to 4 C.

It was pour­ing rain, the sun had set, and she saw no other cars on the road. Webb has mo­bil­ity is­sues that re­quire her to use a walker, which she man­aged to re­trieve from the back seat. As she sur­veyed the dis­tance to the shore and the four-me­tre hill lead­ing up to the high­way, she started to panic. But then she heard a man’s voice call­ing to her from land: “Stay where you are. I’m com­ing to get you.”

It was vol­un­teer fire­fighter Dan MacNeil, who had been driv­ing by with his wife when he no­ticed dim head­lights re­flect­ing on the wa­ter. He stopped the car, jumped out and waded into the lake. When he reached Webb, he picked her up and car­ried her over his shoul­der to safety.

“I ac­tu­ally got to see how far down it was [from the road], and it’s a mir­a­cle that Dan was able to see my head­lights,” said Webb. “If it weren’t for him, I don’t know how I would have made it.”

From the Ashes

Last sum­mer, a blaze ripped through Loreena Hrechka’s apart­ment in

downtown Flin Flon, Man. Com­ing home to find the in­ferno, she turned to a fire­fighter in hor­ror. “My ba­bies are in there!” she cried. Her two pet tur­tles, five-year-old Leonardo and eight-year-old April O’Neil, were trapped in­side the flam­ing build­ing.

But by that time, it was too late— the struc­ture was un­sound and fire­fight­ers couldn’t save them. The fire burned for 11 hours, de­stroy­ing all four apart­ment units. The next day, the build­ing was de­mol­ished—but hours later, Hrechka re­ceived a text from her neigh­bour. “Come here now,” it said.

Hrechka, who was stay­ing at a nearby ho­tel, rushed to her neigh­bour’s yard. There, in­side a bucket, she spot­ted a fa­mil­iar shell: it was Leonardo. Some­how, the re­silient rep­tile had crawled out of the smok­ing de­bris. He was caked with soot but oth­er­wise un­harmed.

“To have him back gave me hope,” Hrechka says. “My pos­ses­sions can be re­placed, and ev­ery­thing will be okay.”

On the morn­ing of De­cem­ber 11, 2016, CN con­duc­tor Brad Slater found a sur­prise stow­away cling­ing to the bot­tom of his train’s en­gine: a frost­bit­ten, mal­nour­ished cat. The freight train had just com­pleted a 12-hour run from Melville, Sask., to Wain­wright, Alta., with tem­per­a­tures plung­ing to -60 C. Ac­cord­ing to Slater,



Prom queen Ta­mara

Rowsell, in May.

“We were very proud,” County

of Grande Prairie fire chief Trevor Grant says of the res­cue.

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