Thunder Bay

Firefighters spend days off helping flood victims

Many Thunder Bay firefighters are wrapping up an exhausting week during which they spent their days off ripping up carpets and hauling furniture from soaked basements in an effort to help dozens of flood victims.

Thunder Bay emergency workers wade through raw sewage to clean up disaster areas

Firefighters in Thunder Bay have been busy on their days off cleaning out flood-damaged homes. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Many Thunder Bay firefighters are wrapping up an exhausting week during which they spent their days off ripping up carpets and hauling furniture from soaked basements in an effort to help dozens of flood victims.

The firefighters have had to work in some tough conditions, especially right after the flood happened, when there was more sewage and water in the basements.

Joe Rucchin was one of the first firefighters to sign up to help with the clean-up efforts following Thunder Bay's epic flood. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Firefighter Joe Rucchin said the worst situation he saw involved a basement apartment in which an elderly man, who had to use a walker to move around, was living.

"His place was an absolute disaster," Rucchin said. "There had to be ... probably [a] quarter-to-a-half inch of other people's stuff all over his carpet. It was soaked ... It was complete sewage … everything from toilet paper to … needles bobbing around."

Rucchin said everything in the dwelling had to be carried out — a task that required considerable stamina.

"Just having to physically get down [and] cut the carpet into pieces so that you could lift it ... [because it was] sopping wet... took quite a bit of time and ... [a] strong stomach just to get through it."

Jon Cuthbertson has been co-ordinating the cleanup effort for the Thunder Bay Professional Firefighters Association. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Jon Cuthbertson, a firefighter who has been co-ordinating the cleanup effort for the Thunder Bay Professional Firefighters Association, acknowledged it has been a tiring week, but said the firefighters are happy to volunteer their time.

"Our battery levels are getting a little depleted, but we're not there to complain about it at all," he said. "We’re definitely looking forward to a little bit of relief and catch-up and get ready for helping out wherever else there's any needs."

Firefighter Mike Fossum is getting accustomed to throwing debris into a truck instead of relaxing at home during his vacation.

Firefighter Mike Fossum has spent his vacation time cleaning out flood victims' homes. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"My area of town was not hit at all," he said. "I look out my front yard [and] people are cutting their grass and carrying on normal day-to-day activities.  Go down to the newer area of town ... or the older section of town and they're in bad shape."

When the firefighters association called for volunteers, Fossum and Rucchin signed up.

Rucchin said the work is a little easier to stomach now, because much of the water is gone.

But it's still gruelling labour.

Firefighters have been cleaning out 88-year-old Ann Skoropad's basement. Her nephew, Tom Skoropad (left), says she has lived there for 85 years. He says the firefighters cleaned out "85 years worth of accumulation of things that came from the Depression era ... it was stuff that had been put down there and forgotten about, I'm sure." (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Recently the firefighters cleaned out 88-year-old Ann Skoropad's basement. Her nephew, Tom Skoropad, said he was overwhelmed by the help. "[I] can't say thank you enough."

Cuthbertson said when the firefighters arrive, people are grateful.

"As soon as we show up, they're tearing up," he said. "They're lost for words. And ... they've been looking for ... somebody to be at their house to give a little bit of [a] hand so they can get to the next step."

The firefighters may finally get some rest as they being to hand over cleanup efforts to aid agencies and contractors.

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