'It's very's their lives': What it's like for soldiers rescuing flood victims, pets

Steve Fisher of the Royal Canadian Navy is one of the 2,200 soldiers, sailors, and aviators deployed to flooded areas in Canada. He explains what he's been seeing, and what his role is.

Steve Fisher of the Royal Canadian Navy explains what he's been seeing in Quebec's flood zones

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces and other officials help two elderly people return to pick up some belongings in their flooded home in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

It's not only workers and volunteers helping out in the flood zones. Members of the Canadian military are out in the field. They've been deployed into the flood zones as a part of Operation Lentus.

Steve Fisher of the Royal Canadian Navy is one of the 2,200 soldiers, sailors, and aviators deployed to the flood zones across Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick.

He spoke with Ainslie MacLellan on CBC Montreal's Daybreak from Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., to help with rescue operations.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Master seaman Steve Fisher of the Royal Canadian Navy, who has been helping people in flooded areas of Quebec, says emotions have been running high as people return to their homes to retrieve pets, valuables, and medication. (Submitted by François Marquette)

Q: Can you describe what you've been seeing?

The flooding is chest-high on most people — or even higher. It's up to the roof of some cars. Recycling bins are floating all through the streets, and there's lots of debris. It's not safe for anyone to be wading in or walking in, so we have a number of small boats that we bring out to the area, and we've been co-operating with the police and local authorities helping people get to their homes to get medication, get the cat — get things that were missed in the initial evacuation.

Q: What have you found in these flooded homes?

We've found cats in homes (that we weren't expecting to be in those homes). One man had dozens of lizards in his home, so that was a bit challenging. But it's very rewarding for us helping people this way because they're very appreciative. Some of them had to leave within five minutes when the initial evacuation order was given, so they left with just the clothes on their backs — and we're helping them to get the things that are truly essential for them.

As long as they have been given the authorization by the city to enter the area, we're happy to take them to their homes and back. It has to be quick though. We know that some people want to get to their home and assess all the damage, but it's essentials only, because there's a lot of people who need to get to their homes get their pets get the things that they missed when they were rushed out.

Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac resident Roxane Gaudreau clutches her dog 'Chico.' She was forced to evacuate last Saturday night. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada )

Q: What is it like for the people when they see what state their homes are in?

It's very emotional. I mean, it's their lives that are right there. It will be some time before people are allowed back into the area because we're seeing things that could potentially be very dangerous — such as propane tanks — floating in the area.

A lot of them have a great attitude. They say, 'Well, we got the important things out there was no one killed no one injured when the flooding initially happened.' But it's people's lives, so we're trying to be very sensitive to that and allow them a few moments as they gather up their things to look around. Then we get them back out to safety, where they can figure out where they go from there.

Q: What are some of the things that you have to take into consideration when you're doing an operation like this?

We have to be very careful when we're putting the leg of the small boat down because if we bash into something under the water, then we're the ones who need to be rescued as well. We move very slowly. We're also trying not to move so quickly that we're kicking up waves that might wash over any barriers that might be protecting some houses in the area. So we move very slowly, very cautiously, and we make sure that we're probing ahead as we move the boats around.

Q: What does it mean to you to be playing this role here in our communities?

This is the purpose of the reserves of the Canadian Forces. We're here to help Canadians in times of domestic emergency. So this is very rewarding. Almost 20 per cent of my unit back in Toronto has now volunteered to assist with Operation Lentus. We had another 30 people show up last night, some of whom are tradesmen, musicians, or human resources administrators. We're all, first and foremost, members of the Armed Forces, and we want to help Canadians in need. So they're getting time off from their civilian jobs and they're deploying to wherever the need is deemed greatest.

A Canadian Forces Light Armoured Vehicle passes people standing in floodwaters on Bayview Drive in the Ottawa community of Constance Bay. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak