by Stephen Dafoe
Morinville resident David LeBel was the recipient of a citation from the province last week for his efforts assisting last summer with flood relief in High River. The 25-year-old welder and front man for the band Edgore said he was surprised to receive the package in the mail, but grateful for the recognition. “It was really unexpected,” LeBel said. “I opened it up and there was this award. At first I didn’t know how to react, but I was thankful there was this level of recognition. I’m thankful for the appreciation.”
LeBel was in school learning the welder’s trade last summer when waters rose in High River. Though in an intensive course of study, there was little choice for the Morinville man. He had to drop the books and equipment and leave SAIT to assist.
“As soon as I saw there was a call for volunteers on Facebook I let my classmates know, and two of them decided to go down with me,” LeBel recalled. “We told our instructor we were leaving, and he had no problem with that.”
The three men got in LeBel’s truck and headed south to High River to an evacuation point. LeBel said by the time they arrived the water had risen so high they were sent to a nearby school where they were asked to help get supplies. “We went and did that and kept trying to find work for ourselves,” LeBel recalled, adding the work included shovelling four or five truckloads of sand into sandbags.
But eventually that work ran out and it was at that point that LeBel’s adventure began along with the heroism he was recognized for. Riding on the back of a flatbed truck dropping sandbags, LeBel and his schoolmates came upon an older man who was trying to get back into his house to rescue his dog. LeBel said after being given the keys and the trailer number they set off in the waste-deep water to find the dog, but soon found themselves responding to another emergency.
“As we were wading we heard someone calling for help,” he said. “We instructed her to keep calling and keep whistling and we would find her.” What Lebel and his friends encountered was an elderly woman and her two dogs. “She couldn’t get out and she was panicking. She wouldn’t leave without her dogs though, so we took her kitchen table, broke the legs off and made a raft for the dogs.”
When they got the woman out on the water, LeBel said he realized it was rising too fast so they placed the woman on a nearby deck that was well above the water level, then went searching for another way to get her across. “When we tried to get back, the street that we were trying to cross was a river,” LeBel said. “There was no way we could swim across with the dogs. We had to find another way. We were all stuck and would have been unnecessary victims.”
That’s when LeBel spotted a canoe sitting atop a camper, a vessel the Morinville man and his friends quickly comandeered for their mission. They put the elderly woman and dogs in the canoe and busted up some deck boards for a makeshift paddle to get everyone back to safety on the other shore.
But the dogs had other ideas, untrusting of their saviors, one of the dogs caused the canoe to tip sufficient that LeBel and one of his co-rescuers took in cold water into their lungs. “Unfortunately when cold water hits your lungs like that it triggers hypothermia instantly,” he said, adding after getting the woman and her dogs to safety, their new mission was to get dried off and safe themselves. “No one would give us a ride. We looked like a couple scuzzy kids swimming around in the water. We took off our boots, wrung out our socks and walked to the fire hall where they gave us a hot meal.”
Lebel said he was compelled to help because of his own views on life. “I believe it is my responsibility and obligation to humanity to do them whatever I wish done unto myself,” he said. “Those people needed help, so I went and I helped. That’s all it is.”