Stories From the Field

Hey everyone! Sydney here!

As many of you know, from emailing with me, I’ve been doing a lot of work with Team Rubicon Canada recently. So now that I’m home, I thought it’d be a good time to touch on it a bit. Especially since you guys have helped us raise so much money for TRC!

So, the following is a bit about what Team Rubicon is and my own deployment experiences with them!


So, what is Team Rubicon?

In short, Team Rubicon is a veteran led, disaster response organization.

The organization is comprised of roughly 50% veterans/active military and first responders. The other 50% of members are people like me! No military/first responder experience or family; people who just want to help out in times of need and enjoy the military style routine and camaraderie.

You can get a more in-depth story and timeline of the organization on their website, which I totally recommend because it’s really interesting.


How did I get involved?

I get this question a lot now just because people are interested but also because TR isn’t overly well known, and I don’t fall into the target groups of the organization (military/first responder background).

As we previously talked about plenty, Heather and I were in PEI during Hurricane Fiona. That experience was really pivotal to me. We witnessed the chaos and destruction in the communities as we left the island. It’s different firsthand, it touches you in a way that seeing it on the news never will. Within minutes of being in the car, I said I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to find a way to help.

So, by the end of the day, I had signed up with Team Rubicon. An organization I had heard Heather mention before and that we had seen on the ground helping already.


Heading to PEI

After signing up, I did everything required to become “deployable” (background check, fill some things out, etc.) and signed up for multiple operations. One of which, was the Fiona Response operation. At the beginning of November, I received an email asking me to confirm my availability and information for flying. Within two days, I had spoken to numerous people within TR, gotten my flight information and dispatch instructions emailed to me! I would be a giant liar if I said I wasn’t incredibly nervous during that time. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how overly grateful I was at the same time. I finally got an opportunity to help the island.

I flew from Toronto to Charlottetown for my very first deployment. I was greeted by the loveliest people at the airport late that night. They drove me back to the little hostel the team was staying at and the following morning I met 8 or 9 other grey shirts. I learned the ins and outs of the daily routine, more acronyms and military jargon than you can imagine, how to use new apps and systems and more.

This operation was meant to focus on aiding agricultural communities/farms (cities and route clearances had already been done on the first operation). Which, as a farmer, was insanely cool to be a part of!

I got to shadow some very experienced chainsaw operators all week as well as talk to homeowners about their experiences and what they needed done. The willingness to share knowledge among the team was so incredible. Every single day I learned something new (usually multiple things).

At night, we’d reconvene at the base, clean chainsaws, and get ready for dinner. As we ate, I’d listen to the more experienced grey shirts talk about funny memories on operations, crazy weather on a deployment, places and people that really touched them, that one really huge tree they cut down for someone and so much more. The atmosphere was just incredible.

Within a couple of days, I had made numerous friends and helped clean up plenty of huge trees.


Heading Home (Kind of)

Towards the end of the week, myself and a fellow grey shirt were offered the opportunity to come back in a week to participate in a Chainsaw Operations camp (which we had both expressed interest in). This meant only going home for about 5 or 6 days and then coming back to the island for another week. The chainsaw course ran Saturday to Sunday, but you had to agree to stay for a few days and help in exchange (which I was more than happy to do). So, I confirmed with home and work that that would be ok, and I was signed up again.

The Friday of that week was “travel day” for the team and also Remembrance Day here in Canada. By about 9 am, myself and the 3 command staff were the only grey shirts left. The others had departed for the airport to take flights back to the west coast, while some got in their own cars and drove home to nearby places like New Brunswick.

I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Remembrance Day celebrations taking place in Charlottetown that day, accompanied by three amazing new friends, two of which are veterans that I got to personally thank for their service.

I flew home later that night and worked like mad until my next departure!


Wave 3

After a few days home, I prepped to head out again to be a part of the wave 3 team. This time, I flew from Toronto to Halifax with numerous other grey shirts! We picked up rental vehicles and equipment and drove from the Halifax airport to the operating base in PEI late that night.

The next morning, I had the pleasure of meeting the other grey shirts I would be working with! It was a much bigger team this time, about 22 people. I spent the weekend training with a small group of other grey shirts to become qualified sawyers. By Sunday evening, we had all passed the practical course, paper test and a first aid course.

Monday was by far the most rewarding day of the deployment. Our chainsaw camp had been graciously hosted by a local Girl Guides camp, which we had agreed to clean up in exchange for the space to run the camp. The camp had definitely seen better days. There was so much damage and the trees that were leaning or down presented a lot of safety hazards (especially for children) and blocked a lot of their commonly used areas. As a result, it was unlikely the camp would be able to run much during the upcoming season. So once our training was completed, we planned for everyone to spend Monday working there. That’s right, roughly 22 qualified sawyers in one place. It was as incredible as it sounds honestly. We removed trees from buildings, trails, access ways and any other tree related safety hazard. We all took time to walk the areas as we completed them, and it was just breathtaking. We walked the beach that we didn’t even know existed because it was blocked the day before. We were all so proud to see so many grey shirts in one place, making a difference.

The rest of the week consisted of us working in our smaller teams again, travelling to different properties to clear more damaged trees that were impacting farms around the island.

Thursday, we cleaned saws and equipment for the next team coming in, started packing our own belongings and prepping to travel Friday. To cap it all off, we went for an incredibly fun outing as a team for dinner and drinks! As we drank and laughed, we all felt how tired we were but also, how much we’d miss this.

I headed home on the Friday, with a whole roster of new friends, new experiences, new stories, new qualifications, and a full heart.


Final Thoughts

This is a more personal blog post from me, but you guys have helped us raise so much money for Team Rubicon with the Fiona Jars, so we thought you would appreciate some “stories from the field” (something we do in TR)! We also plan to release the next wave of jars this week, so we wanted to give you some personal insight into what the money from those is going to.

Team Rubicon relies on donations to get grey shirts like myself on the ground to meet unmet needs in recovering communities. They pay to fly us out, they feed us, they rent the cars, they buy gas, chainsaw oil, equipment, you name it. And every cent is used very carefully (as if your mother’s a donor, is actually the saying).

This organization is truly like no other. What you see is what you get with TR.

It’s based on military culture, but in the absolute best ways. Your base might have actual beds and showers, or it might have a bunch of camp cots, you never know, because it’s about helping the community, not personal comfort. The routine will be the exact same every day (and on a 24-hour clock), you’ll be assigned teams and tasks as well as equipment and vehicles by your command staff. You head out and you work to get the job done and help someone. Simple as that. We find the people that no one is helping (like farmers) and we do the job, no strings attached.  


Well, I think that’s it for my story telling and I hope if you made it this far, you enjoyed it! If you want a more condensed version of my TR experience, I wrote a reflection for their blog as well!


I’ve also included some deployment pictures below!

Thank you all again for the support you’ve given the Fiona Jar project and keep an eye out for the next release!

- Sydney

Dinner with the crew on Wave 3

8 new TR Sawyers and their 3 instructors!

During sawyer camp, before clean up took place at the GG camp

The beach at the GG camp! Now accessible, thanks to the team that cleared the trail!

A small portion of a pasture we worked on later that week (wave 3)

Back view of a fence line on wave 1, most trees just tipped over, roots and all, during the storm, rather than breaking off. This makes them quite dangerous to remove.