Sep 28, 2021

City workers’ rescue of elderly couple from fire was a group effort, says CUPE 401 member

NANAIMO—Last week, two unnamed City of Nanaimo workers and a contractor were praised in media reports for their heroic efforts in saving an elderly couple who were trapped inside their burning home. But one of those workers says there were two others involved in the rescue that those reports failed to mention, both equally deserving of credit.

On Wednesday (September 22), CUPE 401 members Mike Reid and Wayne Playford, along with contract truck driver Mark Sheree, were on their lunch break while working on a City of Nanaimo infrastructure project on Estevan Road. With them were CUPE 401 member Mike Calvary, a City of Nanaimo servicing person, and Chelsea Groeneveld, a flagger for another company. When their foreman noticed smoke and flames coming from the back of a house down the street, says Reid, the workers responded immediately.

Reid says that Groeneveld was the first to arrive at the house and help an elderly woman get out safely. When the other workers arrived, the woman told them her husband was still inside. Reid, Playford, and Sheree went into the house to look for him despite toxic smoke, burning flames, and exploding glass. With a neighbour’s assistance, the elderly man was able to get out safely just before the firetrucks and ambulances arrived. Calvary assisted outside.

Neither of the seniors was injured, but Reid, Playford and Sheree all suffered from smoke inhalation. After the rescue, when they left the scene with the other workers to return to their job site, paramedics called them back to have their vital signs checked. They then agreed to go to the hospital, where Reid and Sheree were given oxygen and had their carbon levels checked.

Neighbours and first responders were impressed by the courage and selflessness of these workers in facing a dangerous situation. But for Reid, a casual employee who previously spent 12 years working on oil rigs under often perilous conditions, it was all in a day’s work.

“I didn’t even think about it, it was just what had to be done,” he said. “When I got to the house and the woman said her husband was still inside, and was obviously very upset, all I thought about was, where is he and let’s find him. We were going on adrenaline.”

CUPE 401 President Blaine Gurrie praised his members for their actions that day.

“They are great people, great examples of what it means to serve your community,” said Gurrie. “If you asked them, they would say ‘Who wouldn’t go help?’, but that’s because they are humble and also surrounded by a lot of coworkers that they know would do the same for their family. We are very proud of them.”


COPE 491