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Falkland evacuee from White Rock Lake wildfire finds solace in gratitude

Man who grew up in Salmon Arm expresses thanks to all those who contribute to keeping people safe

With soothing tones, a rich vocabulary and a tale both riveting and heartwarming, Falkland resident Matthew Heneghan created a video that tells of his experience as an evacuee.

He was one of many asked to flee their homes in August because they were within the reach of the massive White Rock Lake wildfire.

Mostly, however, the video is a tale of kindness and gratitude.

Now 38, Heneghan grew up in Salmon Arm. He provided glimpses of his history both in the video and in an interview with the Observer.

He joined the army at 18, being trained and then serving as a military medic for six years, followed by about seven years as a civilian paramedic both in Ontario and Alberta. In 2017 he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and was no longer able to work as a paramedic.

He suffered devastating personal tragedies along the way, which contributed to his seeking relief in alcohol. With help from a treatment and addictions program, he is three years sober.

Along with therapy, one tactic he has used in dealing with traumatic times has been writing. He both wrote and narrated his recent video.

“Writing became an outlet for me. I didn’t start writing from love of the written word. I began writing as a way to survive.”

Asked about his vocabulary, he said his mom suffered from depression and at times would be afraid to fall asleep. She would ask him to sit outside her room for a while, which he would begrudgingly do, often with a thesaurus.

There he would “find fanciful ways to swear at people without getting in trouble,” he laughed.

Despite his lack of love for writing, he authored a memoir, A Medic’s Mind, which was published in 2019. He said what he’s learned of creating videos, he learned mostly online.

His video describes the night of Aug. 4, when a knock at the door told him and his family – his partner, children, a dog and two cats – that they needed to leave immediately. Although they’d been on alert for a while, it was still a shock.

“We packed what we could and began to drive away. That is a powerfully unique circumstance to find yourself within. Driving away from sanctuary toward the unknown with no idea if you’ll ever see it again.

“We found ourselves sewn to a winding convoy that navigated the darkened roads away from town. I suspect that we were all connected by shared feelings of incredulity and dismay.”

Heneghan explained how useless he felt following the evacuation. As a paramedic he had always run towards emergency and now he was no help, helpless. Things began to change, though, when he realized that all the people assisting at the emergency reception centre in Salmon Arm were volunteers. The realization filled him with gratitude and, later, hope.

His video speaks of the kindness of staff at the reception centre, at the hotel where he stayed and all the Falkland evacuees he met there.

He expresses extreme appreciation for his community, saying their kindness makes him “Falkland Strong.”

Heneghan said the video was created first as a written piece he thought he’d put on his blog – which is also called, A Medic’s Mind.

“I wrote it in one sitting. Just sitting in front of my computer, bleeding words onto a keyboard.”

Later he decided to turn it into a video. He finds making videos therapeutic; they’re a way of connecting with people. He was hopeful it would reach someone who might feel alone or perhaps show someone their efforts were appreciated.

He was right. At last count, about 2,500 people had viewed it.

“Something insanely, remarkably beautiful happened. One of the volunteers who helped us at the hotel, she said how happy and grateful she was to see the video,” Heneghan said, explaining she had remembered his family.

This was particularly significant for him. Being a paramedic, closure was rare. One call led to another with little chance to know the outcome.

Heneghan said although there were power outages and a clean-up to do when he returned home Aug. 9, he felt blessed his family still had a home. Just 20 kilometres down the road at Monte Lake, the story was different.

“My heart bleeds for those people,” he sighed.

He hopes at some point he’ll be able to volunteer and help out in some way.

Heneghan reiterates his wish to share his deep gratitude for all the pilots, firefighters, emergency plan management staff, volunteers and others who have been working to keep people safe.

“When people are put into impossible situations and do impossible work on behalf of others, something I find really important is just to take time out to say thank you.”

Read more: Braving the Gravitron at the Salmon Arm Fair

Read more: Salmon Arm grad shares struggles with trauma and addiction
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Matthew Heneghan, who lives in Falkland with his family, has made a video about being evacuated in August 2021. (Photo contributed)
The residence of Matthew Heneghan, who lives in Falkland with his family, was one of those evacuated in early August 2021 due to the growth of the White Rock Lake wildfire. (Photo contributed)

Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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