Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson and his adorable sidekick, Sam the disaster dog, have returned home after roughly a week assisting in search and rescue efforts in the Bahamas, which were recently decimated by Hurricane Dorian. (Jordyn Thomson - Western News)

‘It’s almost surreal’: B.C. fire chief, sidekick Sammy recap rescue mission in Bahamas

Chief Larry Watkinson and Sam the disaster dog spent 8 days assisting a search and rescue team

After roughly a week in the Bahamas, scouring the wreckage left behind Hurricane Dorian in 40 degree heat, Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson and his adorable sidekick, Sam the disaster dog, are back in Canada.

Watkinson joined a team of firefighters from Burnaby, as part of an urban search and rescue team, deployment to Great Abaco, part of the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, from Sept. 7 to 15. The region was hit by the Category 5 hurricane a week prior, and Watkinson said the destruction left in Dorian’s wake was unimaginable.

“It’s like imagining a dishwasher with a lawn mower on top, and when the water washes away it just leaves all the debris in there,” said Watkinson.

READ MORE: Penticton fire chief, disaster dog working in ‘extreme conditions’ in Bahamas

He said it took about 24 hours for the team to reach their assignment, flying commercially from Vancouver to New York to Nassau. From there, they took a private charter to the island where they needed another day to get themselves settled.

“It took us a day to get established logistically — where do we sleep, where do we eat, how do we get water. And transportation, because we didn’t have any and all of the vehicles are wrecked there,” said Watkinson. “So we had to find vehicles with keys in them and (commandeer) them so we can move around the island.”

Watkinson said he and Sam are self-sufficient in that they just take two cases of supplies with them on deployment and do not need to deplete resources. He said because of the destruction, there were very little places to find shade on the island, so the team would use whatever they could to get the search dogs out of the intense tropical heat.

As part of the search and rescue team, Watkinson and Sam were deployed to the Mudd, “a shanti town comprised of thousands of people that basically lived in shacks” near the core of Great Abaco. Sam was tasked with locating cadavers in the wreckage as Watkinson and others would grid search the entire area to ensure they didn’t miss anything.

READ MORE: Penticton fire chief and disaster dog return from hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

“The hurricane sat over this area for about two days at Category 5. So total destruction, massive debris piles of boats, seacans, cars and construction debris just basically mashed together,” said Watkinson. “We pride ourselves on getting to scenes of disaster as quickly as we can, because Sam is very good at finding a live scent. He loves the work and he gets excited about it.

“But in a lot of cases, just purely because of distance, it takes a while to get to these locations and under those conditions it’s hard to find live victims.”

Watkinson did note that the team did manage to locate three Canadians who had not checked in with the Canadian Consulate, so they were able to provide them with supplies and communication back home. He said the work “can be dark” but he chose to focus on the positives of the work he was doing.

“It can be dark work but the thing about it is that as a team, we rely on each other and have great camaraderie, and Sam and I go on these deployments to bring closure to those that have missing victims,” said Watkinson. “But we feel great about what we do. Sometimes you can feel the weight of the work, but the successes are great accomplishments too. Sometimes even the smallest success can be very rewarding.”

READ MORE: ‘Tragic scene’: Penticton fire chief, dog Sammy scour Hurricane Dorian wreckage in Bahamas

Watkinson said he wasn’t sure who was more tired after they returned, he or his furry companion, but said he will never forget the feeling of returning home to Penticton and seeing the beauty of the community.

“We both crawled into bed and slept for a half a day when we got home. We traveled right from the Vancouver Airport to Penticton and I remember just the moment of coming down the stretch from Trout Creek into Penticton and watching the lights of the city and the first-class community that we live in,” said Watkinson. “Reflecting back on where I was for a week, it’s almost surreal to be in this kind of environment where buildings are upright, cars aren’t destroyed and powerlines aren’t snapped.

“We have to recognize that we live in a great place and a beautiful city and to remember to look after each other. That’s something I’ve come home with and have been reflecting on every day.”

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
JordynThomson 
Send Jordyn Thomson an email.
Like the Western News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Haunted happenings revealed with Vernon ghost tours

Two unique versions of ghost tours offered

Famous Forgeries featured in Vernon art show

Okanagan Artists of Canada prepare for 75th anniversary with 75-year-old art

Website names SilverStar No. 4 most affordable ski hill

HomeToGo looks at rentals, lift passes, accommodations and food to compile list of Top 50

Vernon loves their butter chicken: SkipTheDishes

Delivery app releases 2019 stats for most popular Vernon food orders

Vernon Vipers acquire WHL veteran

Dawson Holt joins Snakes from Regina Pats; helped Vancouver Giants reach league final a year ago

VIDEO: #MeToo leader launches new hashtag to mobilize U.S. voters

Tarana Burke hopes to prompt moderators to ask about sexual violence at next debate

UPDATE: British couple vacationing in Vancouver detained in U.S. after crossing border

CBP claims individuals were denied travel authorization, crossing was deliberate

After losing two baby boys, B.C. parents hope to cut through the taboo of infant death

Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in B.C.

Cheating husband sues mistress for gifted ring after wife learns about affair

The husband gave his mistress $1,000 to buy herself a ring in December 2017

B.C. boosts legal aid funding in new payment contract

‘Duty counsel’ service restored in some communities, David Eby says

Okanagan man killed in head-on collision on Highway 1 near Salmon Arm

Police say 21-year-old died at scene after pickup truck collided with transport trailer

Rugby Canada helps recovery efforts in Japan after typhoon cancels final match

Canadian players wanted to “give back in whatever small way they could”

Alberta to join B.C.’s class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors

B.C. government claims opioids were falsely marketed as less addictive than other pain meds

Okanagan restaurant adds Canadian top 50 accolade to their menu

Old Vines Restaurant in West Kelowna was named a top restaurant for a date in 2019

Most Read