June 9, 2016
Story by Mikayla Yasinski; Photo by Jennifer Knuth
FORT MCMURRAY - First responders have had an immense task keeping people safe since the Fort McMurray wildfire broke out. Jennifer Knuth’s goal is to make sure they know they are appreciated.
Knuth, a Registered Nurse at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre (NLRHC,) was among the residents evacuated from their homes during the blaze.
“I remember standing in my backyard and seeing the flames and smoke,” she says. “The first thing I did was call the hospital- I knew some of the nurses working were concerned about their children, or had husbands who were first responders. I wanted to help in any way that I could.”
When the wildfire blocked her path to get back to the hospital, Knuth did what she had to do to safely evacuate. But in the days that followed she knew she wanted to find another way to lend a helping hand.
To that end, Knuth has partnered with the Tema Conter Memorial Trust to raise funds to put special t-shirts on the backs of all first responders who helped fight the Fort McMurray fire.
“Tema provides support to first responders throughout Canada dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” she says. The trust was founded by Vince Savoia, a paramedic deeply affected by the murder of 25-year-old Tema Conter in 1988. “As I was unable to help my patients at the hospital, I decided to do something for the people who were working so hard to keep us safe.”
“The purpose of this shirt is to show first responders that we’ve got their backs, and to show our appreciation and support for what they do,” Knuth says.
The front of the shirt says, “We are here, We are strong”- a quote from Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen. On one of the sleeves is the number to Tema’s 24-hour help line supporting first responders.
“My philosophy surrounding nursing is that you have to take care of the mind, body and soul. These responders did so much to physically protect Fort McMurray. It is important to make sure they have emotional support as well,” says Knuth.
Thanks to generous donations, Jennifer has raised enough money to outfit the roughly 1,500 first responders who helped in Fort McMurray with one of her shirts, including the nearly 300 South African firefighters who have travelled across the world to assist.
“Ideally, I would love to get these shirts out to first responders all around Canada. The support has been amazing from local business, from Tema, and from individuals. It really shows how people join together in times of hardship.”
First responders in crisis can contact Tema’s Peer and Family Assistance Support Line at 1-888-288-8036 or AHS’ Mental Health Help Line at 877-303-2642. To donate to, or learn more about the t-shirt project, see https://www.gofundme.com/23ak864.