Edmonton

Edmonton-area first responders back in the saddle for annual fundraising rodeo

Police traded in handcuffs for lassos as they and other first responders took to the Kinsmen Rodeo Grounds this weekend in the third annual First Responders Rodeo in St. Albert. 

'A great day for first responders to come and just kind of forget about their work'

The First Responders Rodeo aims to bring first responders together with their families to raise money for PTSD support and child protection services. (Gabriella Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

First responders have a tough job, but this weekend they had some fun taking on a special challenge at the third annual First Responders Rodeo in St. Albert. 

Members of law enforcement, paid and volunteer fire services and Emergency Medical Services were all welcome  — along with their families — to take part at the Kinsmen Rodeo Grounds Saturday afternoon.

The event was such a draw some even traveled hours to take part, like Calgary paramedic Kenneth Boniface.

"After two, almost three, years of being locked down away from our family… Everyone here is family," Boniface said of the gathering of paramedics, firefighters and police officers. 

The pandemic has been challenging for first responders. In early 2022, more than 50 Edmonton firefighters were off work due to contracting COVID-19, while in southern Alberta firefighters were trained to take on the duties of paramedics to reduce stress on the health care system. 

The pandemic also meant the rodeo, which started in 2018, had to take a hiatus to keep first responders, their families and the public safe. 

But on Saturday the rodeo grounds were once again filled with people keen to take in the events, which also allowed first responders to interact with the people they serve. 

Justin Nunes, director of communications with the Edmonton First Responders Rodeo Association, said 2022 had the biggest turnout in the event's three years. (Gabriella Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"This is the biggest crowd we've ever had here," said paramedic Justin Nunes, director of communications with the Edmonton First Responders Rodeo Association (EFRRA).

"It's a great day for first responders to come and just kind of forget about their work life, what they do at work, and just enjoy hanging out with friends, hanging with family."

Organizers said the rodeo is a stress reliever for many who take part.

"What they put up with on a day-to-day basis out on the streets, to be able to come here and just interact with one another … a lot of these guys have never done this before," said rodeo president Brian Griffith.

Banff firefighter Vincent Parkinson took part in multiple events in his first rodeo. (Gabriella Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"It's pretty entertaining. The crowd loves it. Just a chance for us to give back to the community."

For some, like Banff firefighter Vincent Parkinson, it really was their first rodeo. 

"It's been amazing," he said.

"Definitely got to come back and I got bull riding after coming up soon … jumping straight into the deep end."

This year's rodeo is expected to raise around $20,000 for the Legacy Place Society — a group that supports first responders with PTSD — and the Zebra Child Protection Centre.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi is a CBC reporter based in Edmonton. She worked in newsrooms in Toronto, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yellowknife before joining CBC North in 2017.

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