North

Meet Dumpy: the Whitehorse dump fire bear

One Whitehorse fire crew was exhausted and morale hit a low while battling a fire at the city's dump. Then they found some help from a new friend.

A teddy bear found amid the landfill fire became a good luck charm for firefighters

Soon after Dumpy was found at the Whitehorse landfill, he was put to work. Here he's supervising an unmanned, automatic nozzle. (Submitted by Nicholas O'Carroll)

The fire crew at the hole were exhausted.

It had been almost 24 hours of battling the blaze at the Whitehorse landfill. The June 20 fire had flared up early on the morning of June 23.

Crew members had been rotating through. They were trying to keep the fire under control and prevent it from spreading to the nearby forest.

They were at the centre of the action in a small depression where construction debris is dumped. The team was surrounded on three sides by three to four storey piles of scrap material — some from old parts of F.H. Collins High School.

Hundreds of gallons of water soaked the material and stood in puddles. The fire was 15 metres tall with flames shooting six metres into the air.

"It wasn't a pleasant place to be, but it's where we had to be to do what we had to do," said Whitehorse firefighter Nicholas O'Carroll.

Firefighter Luke Parker gave the teddy bear the name Dumpy. He also helped Dumpy get into position on the nozzles. (Submitted by Nicholas O'Carroll)

Morale had hit a low when O'Carroll looked down and saw a small face looking up at him.

Little did he know it belonged to the crew's future good luck charm.

Hello Dumpy!

O'Carroll discovered it was a "full teddy bear that was a little singed."

He credits his two-year-old as to why he picked it up from the water in the first place.

"Her stuffed animals are what she has to comfort her. They're special. I can't put my daughter to sleep without getting her bun-bun," O'Carroll said.

"So if I see a stuffed animal, it's hard to dissociate yourself completely from it. You can't be in this job unless you have empathy."

Whitehorse firefighters Luke Parker, Scott MacFarland, Donnovan Misener, Barry Blisner, Chris Gerrior, Jason Kelly and Jeremy Beebe with Dumpy, the teddy bear. "It wasn’t a great time in the fire that we found him, but things got better from the point we saw him," said Nicholas O'Carroll. (Submitted by Nicholas O'Carroll )

Firefighter Luke Parker wasted no time in naming the grey bear 'Dumpy'.

Dumpy was soon put to work supervising the unmanned, automatic nozzles.  

"It was kind of a joke at first, but other guys, including myself, we all got attached to the bear," said O'Carroll.

Then the crew started beating the fire.

"Once the fire started improving for us, we saw him as a good luck charm," O'Carroll said. 

"A couple of our guys got pretty protective of Dumpy."

Leave no bear behind

With the landfill fire contained and buried the following day, it was time to pack up and head home.

But not without Dumpy.

"We knew we weren't leaving there without bringing him with us. He wasn't going to get buried under the dirt," said O'Carroll.

Whitehorse firefighter Nicholas O'Carroll found Dumpy in the pile of construction debris. O'Carroll is standing in front of the industrial washing machine that decontaminated Dumpy. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

He said the crew brought Dumpy back to the hall and decontaminated the bear as best they could.

But Dumpy had to stay outside because he was full of hazardous chemicals, like formaldehyde and benzenes.

Then an offer from Winmar Property Restoration Specialists came to give Dumpy some TLC.

Dumpy's day at the spa

"He's getting a gold bag because he won the gold star," explained business co-owner Kathy Guenette, as Dumpy was put in a gold-coloured mesh bag before heading into a large, specialized, industrial washing machine.

Dumpy was just one of many fire damaged items that was being cleaned. Two and half hours later, he came out looking more pink than grey. The bear is also now free of any hazardous chemicals and can be held without rubber gloves.

Winmar Property Restoration Specialist Kathy Guenette gives Dumpy some extra TLC after he's out of the washing machine. Guenette will also sew Dumpy's holes. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

But he still has his scars. The singe marks on his face and arm will never come out.

"We'll give him a brushing. Get him looking really puffy and cuddly and probably tie a ribbon around his neck," said Guenette.

"And love on him."

She will take him to the drying room for 24 hours and then sew up Dumpy's holes where stuffing is poking through.

Dumpy's debut

Once Dumpy is spruced up, he is joining his new friends at Canada Day celebrations in Whitehorse.

O'Carroll said Dumpy will be at the Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society Booth.

Dumpy looks refreshed after his bath at Winmar in Whitehorse. His grey fur looks like it was originally pink. Even though Dumpy is decontaminated, his singe marks remain as a reminder of where he came from. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"He means a lot to us," said O'Carroll.

"He can enjoy his life now. We're not sure what his story was before that. We do suspect, like all teddy bears, he was probably loved and hugged and somehow, maybe accidentally, ended up at the dump. So we're bringing him back into the fold and making sure he's with people who care for him."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Sponagle is the Current Affairs producer for CBC Yukon based in Whitehorse. Jane started her CBC career with The World This Hour in Toronto before heading to the North. After a few months in Yellowknife, Jane moved to Iqaluit where she spent six years reporting on politics, food security and housing. She has also reported with CBC in Halifax.

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