Get Ready In The Park returns to Edmonton with vital message: be ready for emergencies

Get Ready in the Park is a chance to meet emergency responders, see the inside of a fire truck and take home a way of looking at life that could save yours and your family’s: 

Emergencies are unexpected. Preparing for them shouldn’t be.

“You don’t have to be a professional emergency responder to want to know more and learn more about what to do if an emergency happens,” said Gerry Clarke, Emergency Support Response Team (ESRT) Coordinator with the Office of Emergency Management.

“Being prepared while things are relatively quiet is the best way to be ready to react if they ever aren’t.”

Along with fellow ESRT Coordinator, Dan Collins, Clarke is organizing this year’s edition of Get Ready in the Park, and will be on hand at the event, which happens Saturday, May 7, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in Hawrelak Park. The event coincides with Emergency Preparedness Week, recognized across Canada the first full week of May.

Get Ready in the Park offers visitors a unique perspective on emergency responders, their life-saving equipment and their life-saving message. The free event goes Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Hawrelak Park.

Clarke and Collins have a well-earned perspective on emergency preparedness. It will be 35 years ago in July that they were on the ground and part of the team effort to respond to one of Canada’s worst natural disasters. By the time an F4 tornado had ripped a swath through east Edmonton and Strathcona County, 27 people were dead, approximately 300 people were physically injured and the property damage in today’s dollars had reached $665 million.

The carnage happened in a single hour on what became known as Black Friday.

That day 35 years ago

Friday, July 31, 1987, was a sweltering day. At 1:40 p.m., a severe weather watch was issued for the Edmonton region. Roughly an hour later, the watch was upgraded to a warning, meaning that severe weather was occurring, and that people were urged to take precautions. In less than 20 minutes, another warning was issued. And then the storm hit.

Aftermath of Black Friday tornado.

Dan Collins remembers

Collins was a rookie with the Edmonton Police Service. He remembers the green hue of the sky that day.

“I remember it was sometime between 3 or 4 p.m., my partner and I were in the west end of the city and we had to stop the car we were driving because we couldn’t see anything in front of the windshield and the wipers could not keep up,” Collins said. 

“The whole experience didn’t seem real,” he said. I was born and raised in Edmonton and had never seen anything like it.”

As word of the tornado broke, off-duty members, wanting to help, reported for work, said Collins.

Emergency responders in the wreckage left by an F4 tornado that touched down near Beaumont, east Edmonton and Strathcona County, July 31, 1987.

Gerry Clarke remembers

Gerry Clarke had been a firefighter with Edmonton Fire Rescue Services for about a month and a half. He was working the night shift at Fire Station No. 6 in the Mill Creek neighbourhood.

“That day, around 3 p.m., the rain started coming down like I’ve never seen before—cresting across the road like a lake,” said Clarke. “The landline started ringing, family and friends all yelling ‘Tornado!’ The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I had this feeling that I needed to go into work early. So I did.”

“All firefighters were asked to come into work. Cars were pulling into the parking lot from every direction,” said Clarke. 

“I remember watching the cars, seeing some with baseball-sized hail damage.”

And he remembers his rig being called out to a lumber yard for rescue and recovery. 

“I will never forget that,” he said. “The ITV Edmonton [Global Edmonton] mobile trailer was there. They had these gigantic lights on. We were on scene probably until 6 in the morning looking for bodies and the thought of us doing that, with that trailer lighting up the lumber yard, well, it was eerie.”

Clarke (left) and Collins demonstrate a translator device used by the Emergency Support Response Team, City Hall, Edmonton, 2021.

Staying ready

The tornado was a dramatic and rare example of an unexpected disaster testing the preparedness of responders and an entire community. The day and its aftermath made a lasting impression on Clarke and Collins, who have devoted their working lives to being ready—and helping others be ready—for the unexpected in all its variety.

Get Ready in the Park puts Edmontonians in the driver’s seat of emergency preparedness.

“Recognizing Emergency Preparedness Week, educating residents on how to prepare for an emergency and familiarizing them with the work of emergency service providers helps strengthen the community, so that in the unfortunate event of a disaster, we can pull through together,” said Collins. 

“That’s the work of Get Ready in the Park,” he said. “We look forward to seeing folks on Saturday, May 7.”

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows how close people can get to emergency equipment and emergency responders at Get Ready in the Park.