Written by: Jessica Minato, Marketing Manager, SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts
On May 3rd, 2016, all guests and staff were safely evacuated from the Quality Hotel Fort McMurray (QFM) following a mandatory evacuation order due to the Fort McMurray wildfires. Temporary accommodations were set up in SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts owned and managed Edmonton hotels; Radisson Edmonton South, DoubleTree West Edmonton, and Home2 Suites West Edmonton. Moe Emadi, a Maintenance Manager at QFM, recalls the devastating fire roaring on both sides of highway 63 while they sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic along with everyone else trying to flee the city.
A few days later, it was decided that a team would be sent back up to QFM to re-open the hotel and provide shelter to first responders based on a request by the Regional Emergency Operations Centre Wood Buffalo. This initial team consisted of five brave SilverBirch employees; Amber Donaghy, Emmanuelle Wallace Proulx, Jenna Savard, Jessica Pacheco, and Moe Emadi. This was done without question and was voluntary, knowing the fire was still surrounding the city and there was no power, gas, and possibly no water. Moe explained that when he got the call to go back, he did not hesitate as he was eager to help in any way he could.
The team entered the city of Fort McMurray in the early morning of May 8th. Jessica Pacheco described the arrival as being filled with many emotions. Fear, anxiety, disbelief, amazement, but also hope and encouragement. Initially, there was some confusion as to the path of the fire, and what state the hotel would be in. On the drive up, the team saw many communities burnt to the ground.
Miraculously, although making its way through the trees directly beside the hotel, the fire had left QFM seemingly untouched… as if a force shield was protecting the property. Jessica remembers holding back tears as they pulled into the parking lot only to see the hotel standing. Proud and excited, she looked forward to helping the first responders who were fighting so hard to save her city. “It was our way of giving back” Jessica explained.
The generator was running which provided some lights in the lobby. But other than that, the first night consisted of 75 first responders sleeping in the hotel with essentially no power or hot water… Luckily, they did have comfortable beds to sleep in, and the city with the help of ATCO restored power to the hotel the next day.
Many first responders were extremely appreciative of the hotel being opened for them, as they would have been sleeping on cots otherwise. To some, they were able to have their first hot shower in days. The coffee station was a big hit as being able to have a cup of hot coffee made people feel a sense of normalcy. But the biggest highlight seemed to be how happy everyone was to come back to the hotel after a long day to see smiling staff members. Many people commented on how caring, friendly, and compassionate the team was.
On May 11th, more team members were deployed to the hotel. This team consisted of Barnie Yerxa, Binyam Alemayehu, Darryl Brewer, Lillian Cox, Joy Henry, Miles Duggan, Petros Tesfay, and Emmanuelle’s husband, Adam. This team began taking inventory of disposed food, cleaning guest rooms, and setting up the lobby as a mini market with donated products for the first responders. They also made as many tasty treats as they could to fuel the first responders; breakfast sandwiches, a dessert buffet, warm soup etc. using whatever they had in the fridge. Barnie Yerxa, General Manager, explains that although dealing with very heavy smoke at times, the team all managed to remain focused on helping the responders in any way possible. Emmanuelle expressed that although the first couple of weeks were a bit scary, she believed that the disaster actually brought out the best in people. Explaining that everyone pitched in and did whatever needed to be done, whenever it needed to be done, no questions asked.
With the upcoming restoration and rebuild of the community, we have been working diligently the last several weeks to thoroughly clean the hotel and prepare it for re-opening to the public. We are happy to announce that we have begun accepting reservations as of August 1 and onwards.
On behalf of everyone here at SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts, we would like to send out a big thank-you to our heroic QFM team! This team demonstrated the true meaning of all of our values. #FortMcMurrayStrong
“I would like to extend a huge thank you to all of the associates at the Radisson Hotel Edmonton South for providing such a warm caring environment for our evacuated QFM associates. I would also like to extend a huge thank you to the team members that were able to support the operating and reopening of the Quality Hotel. Lastly, I would like to thank our amazing SilverBirch Corporate leadership team for the support that they’ve provided during these very difficult times. Starting with Steve Giblin, Tom Tittel, and Charlene Polege who have, from the very start, said we are going to do what is right for our associates and community. I am very proud to work for a community that lives our values!” – Barnie Yerxa, General Manager
“I would like to thank Barnie Yerxa and his team for their support at the Radisson South. On Tuesday when we evacuated we were told to go there for a safe place. They took better care of us there then one could possibly imagine. The day we left Fort McMurray no one knew where to go, many of us (myself included) don’t have family or any support system here. I got to the Radisson on the PM of May 4th after it took me 13 hours to get there. I walked through the doors in tears and the first person I saw was Danika. I burst into tears and told her I needed help and she came to my assistance not even knowing I was part of the QFM team. Words will never be able to express my gratitude towards their team. They saved us.” – Jessica Pacheco, F&B Manager
“SilverBirch took such good care of our team, the response from Head Office was truly amazing and I hope they know how appreciative we are all.” – Emmanuelle Wallace Proulx, F&B Supervisor
“Home to many first responders in a state of emergency. Staff did everything possible to give us everything they could while dealing with their own losses. A hotel with heart!” – Verified Guest (6/7/16)
“I can’t begin to express my gratitude to Quality Inn, for giving us a temporary home when we didn’t have our own. Thank you for securing rooms with red cross evacuees in need of short term emergency housing. Room was spotless, comfortable, family friendly & pet friendly, customer service was welcoming!” – Renie L., Red Cross Fort McMurray (6/18/16)