By Marty Forbes
Monday May 16, 2016
It would be nearly impossible to thank every radio, television, or print journalist who covered the endless stories of such a horrible tragedy.
These people put their own lives in jeopardy to get the news out; many slept in company vehicles taking ‘catnaps’ after working for 24 plus hours; most were there on the highways helping others out; all the while stopping to do their work for the respective media that employed them – all day – all night – on their days off – weekends – etc. Add ten plus hours of driving on a lonely dangerous highway with ‘thousands upon thousands’ of vehicles surrounding them as well and you’ll see the sacrifice that these reporters and journalists faced.
This fire took every asset possible to get the news to us and the rest of the world – traditional media complimented by social media. When the media was pushed out of town along with the residents people took to their smart phones/tablets and sent some of the most scary video ‘ever’ seen from a tragedy.
Homes, businesses, neighborhoods, vehicles ‘destroyed’ while people drove their vehicles through flames, ash, and smoke in the middle of the night. Awful!
Radio transmitters went ‘dead’ as staff left the buildings and getting information to the community became a huge challenge for each and every media trying to report and help the community with fast, accurate and life saving information.
A long time friend, and ex employee of The Bear here, Cubb Carson now works for Rogers Rock 97.9 in Fort Mac.
He has a wife and 2 year old daughter. After being told ‘it’s business as usual’ on the morning of the day the fire exploded he was on the golf course noticing that ashes were falling. He called his wife and was told the fire was now ‘visible’ from the house.
“I’m on my way” Cubb said, then tried to get gas, seeing that huge lineup’s prevented that, so he siphoned some out of his neighbors snowmobile (with permission) packed up what we could and thinking he’d only be gone ‘a few days.’
He grabbed his home insurance forms, some clothes, water and a few non perishables and headed north.
That got him about 30k out of town when the car ran out of gas. Within minutes somebody stopped and gave him some. The spirit of helping others prevailed.
The radio stations went down at 5 pm so they patched in 660 Calgary (Rogers news station) and started to realize “This is a tragedy. My daughter is too young to know what was going on so my wife was making sure she didn’t look BACK to the fire and started singing Sesame Street songs to her….scary but it brought levity to the situation.”
The Fort Mac radio employees headed to Sonic FM (also owned by Rogers) here in town where a ‘war room’ was set up to work on Social Media. Staff worked with their Facebook and Twitter accounts relaying important information to residents…and this is when the ‘shocker’ happened.
Pete Potipcoe, morning man from the Country station, received an email from a young lady who’s SISTER died in the car crash on the highway the day before. She wrote a beautiful ‘thank you’ message to the radio station for doing the important work they do. Pete posted a personal message via a video on the Fort McMurray emergency info Facebook site and at the last moment while reading the note simply ‘lost it’ as the pressure of the past few days and lack of real sleep hit him hard, leaving him virtually in ‘tears’ trying to understand how this young woman thanked HIM/THEM in the face of such a tragic loss.
As we say in social media the video went ‘viral’ and thousands upon thousands of people shared this touching moment that will forever be with Pete. It was simply ‘real people’ and ‘real reaction’ at an unprecedented time and place.
His Facebook update Thursday stated “Had to move hotels for the night so I’m out here in Leduc by myself starring at another restaurant menu and it really hit me. I wanna go home. I want groceries and a kitchen. We all say it’s hard in the Mac as a joke but it’s hart OUTTA the Mac as a reality.|
Many of these media people were separated from their own families by RCMP who directed everybody to leave the city. Many had to hook up ‘somehow’ later with spouses and children while up to 80,000 people were in vehicles heading out to ‘no place.’
At this writing Cubb still didn’t know if his home was standing but “Our area, I understand, is in pretty good shape so I’m thinking positive that everything is ok.”
Two of the Fort Mac stations (Mix 103.7 & CRUZ 100.5) are currently streaming out of the Harvard Broadcasting Edmonton office to update the evacuees through the website & station apps. Two employees have completely lost their homes and many have no idea of the damage or status of their home.
Tamara Konrad, GM here in Edmonton for Harvard adds “I would love to send kudos to my staff who took our radio family into their homes to ensure they had a place to go.”
So while this ‘worst tragedy in the history of Canada’ plays out, our thoughts are with each and every person affected by the horrible loss to their lives, homes, and families.
In your ‘thanks’ remember the media both from here in Edmonton, from around the world who came to report, but mostly the very people who live and support their own community of Fort McMurray who will remember this day ‘forever’ in their careers.
And yes I’m damn proud of the work that media people do regardless of format…print, radio, television, magazine, or web – it takes a special skill to report under ‘harsh’ conditions and the good ones shine at times when we ‘need them the most.’
Thank you Edmonton and Fort McMurray media for what you do and are doing to keep the world informed on this ever changing situation.