Beauty and the Beast


I think it was Fort Mac’s Fire Chief Darby Allen who dubbed the fire as the “Beast”. I’m talking about the massive fire that has devastated Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Somewhere close to 100,000 people had to run for their lives and escape the inferno that surrounded and burned through their city.

Somebody pointed out that of all the cities in Canada, Fort McMurray’s residents were probably the best prepared for this kind of event. To date, two teenagers are the only fatalities and those were in a car crash. In itself, horrible, but absolutely amazing when you think of what those folks had to go through.

So, why do I think the citizens of Ft. Mac were the best prepared? Here’s where the “Beauty” comes in. It’s because the majority of the population are involved in the oil business. Through their work, they’ve had more safety analysis, safety training and all aspects of safety awareness pumped into them than any group of general population in Canada. We haven’t measured it but, we can certainly see the benefits that safety awareness made. Compare it to any daily “rush hour” traffic crash rate around Montreal or Toronto.

In the transportation business, we’ve heard a lot about “distracted Nick-2015driving” in the past few years. Can you think of anything more distracting than driving through the dark with next to zero visibility and thirty metre high flames on both sides of the road? Big, scared animals running across your path, trees and objects falling and fearful, “white-knuckled” drivers all around you ready to jam on the brakes at the slightest movement in-front-of them.

The tension those people were under had to be extreme. Starting with personal fear, add to that, scared kids in the back seat, a scared spouse, scared in-laws or out-laws beside you; the immense feeling of responsibility of evacuating your family, pets and what little personal stuff you have, out safely to an unknown circumstance or destination. All the while, trying to keep a special eye out for those you know, travelling on the same road, ahead or behind you. That’s a tremendous amount of distraction for every driver to deal with. I’m certain all “texting” was done by the passengers.

We heard stories of extreme courtesy among drivers. We heard of enduring patience, cool heads, following directions, compliance with authority and individual acts of helping and heroism.

Looting, road rage, panic, gunfire, police brutality, mob action, racism and ethnic differences of the evacuees involved are all descriptive terms that are missing from the Ft. Mac news reports. Oops! Just heard about one kid who was probably planning to rob his neighbour anyway but, because they announced the evacuation, they now, have to call it looting. Any other worldwide cities come to mind? I am certain these people (being human) will eventually get angry and start nit-picking but, what a tribute to the people of Fort McMurray. They were amazing!

It is my personal belief that the collective attitude of the people of Fort McMurray was derived predominately, through the safety culture of its inhabitants. “Big Oil”, a term most often used in a derogatory sense, was actually responsible for instilling that safety culture. Employees bringing that knowledge home, spreading it among family members, neighbours and business connections has built a city mentally prepared to accommodate disaster. That culture played a very big part in the Fort McMurray inhabitants being able to save themselves. It’s infectious and it saved lives.

Sitting in a boring safety class or listening to mundane safety instructions on the job actually rubs off. All kinds of statistics tell us how little we retain from each method of instruction but proven here, collectively, the message is broadened.

So, you “safety folks” out there; keep banging away at it. Keep analyzing the pitfalls, keep building the programs, keep spreading the message.

The listeners? Keep listening with more focused attention, applying the message to yourself and spreading it to your loved ones. Make a point to listen hard enough, that you can go home and teach your spouse and children the safety techniques. I’ve always contended the best way to learn something is to learn it well enough that you can teach it. Share it generously to anybody you can. Make sure to expand that “Beauty” into your community.

I applaud “Big Oil”, the “First Responders”, the “Relief Workers”, even the various governments but especially, the inhabitants of the City of Fort McMurray. “U DUN GOOD!” The Beauty Of Life Is Always In Your Hands!


About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council.

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