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

The Cariboo Regional District has launched a broadband survey for residents, businesses and organizations. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
CRD launches internet, cellular services survey

Residents, businesses and organizations invited to give input

Email your letters to editor@wltribune.com
Weed removal only a band-aid solution

Aren’t aren’t we talking about why there are weeds in Williams Lake?

A group advocating for people experiencing homelessness in Williams Lake has asked the city for land to set up a temporary homeless camp. Here is a makeshift shelter on a city parking lot where someone was living in for a few days in October. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
City of Williams Lake asked for land to house a camp for homeless

It would be a temporary solution, said Judy Ventry

Cariboo Art Beat artists Tiffany Jorgensen, left, Brittany Murphy, with her daughter Ruby, 3, and Sarah Sigurdson have created a Santa painting for photo opportunities that will be placed outside their studio on Oliver Street below Caribou Ski. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake artists create Santa painting for Christmas photo ops

Cariboo Art Beat hopes it will fill a void caused by COVID-19 restrictions

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Most Read