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)

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jaimie Davis won received a Northwest Community College President’s Art Award in 2018. This year, she won the Best Solopreneur Award from Small Business BC for her online shop Jada Creations. (Contributed photo/Northwest Community College)
Terrace artist wins provincial small business award

Jaimie Davis of Jada Creations won BC Small Business’ Best Solopreneur Award

Chera Bergen (left) with her sisters Hali and Dylan Ouellet (not in the picture) raised money through a bottle drive in Terrace to buy essential supplies for a homeless shelter. (Binny Paul/ Terrace Standard)
Terrace sisters’ recycle drive raises money for homeless shelter

With the $1175 raised, Chera, Hali and Dylan bought essential supplies for Ksan Society

A memorial march takes place along Highway 16 also known as Canada’s ‘Highway of Tears’ on national day of awareness of Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Over five dozen people from nearby communities joined the march which began outside Terrace City Hall and ended at the memorial totem pole erected along Hwy 16, near Kitsumkalum. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)
‘City of Terrace can and should make spaces safer’: MMIWG activists

Activists called on governments to amplify safety net for women on national day of awareness of MMIWG

RCMP are reminding the public to be aware of their surroundings after a stabbing sent a man to hospital on May 4, 2021. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace stabbing sends man to hospital

RCMP remind the public to be aware of surroundings

The construction site for the new Mills Memorial Hospital has been cleared. (Binny Paul/The Terrace Standard)
Bird nests key to decision to log hospital site in Terrace

Nests would have posed a risk of increasing costs

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Most Read