A Halifax Regional Fire captain who risked his own life to rescue an elderly man from an active wildfire zone says he was just doing his job — and doesn’t consider himself a hero.
A wildfire in the Upper Tantallon and Hammonds Plains areas, just northwest of Halifax, was sparked on May 28 and forced mass evacuations of several subdivisions.
Capt. Kevin Corkum and firefighter Conor Scott were working at a command post on Hammonds Plains Road when an emergency call came in that day.
A family couldn’t get to their elderly father who has dementia and was home alone on Yankeetown Road — inside the evacuation zone.
Corkum said the fire had already ripped through the area, and crews had retreated due to the flames.
“When the 911 call came in [saying] that there was a person in the house, we knew that fire conditions were going to be bad on that road,” Corkum told CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon on Monday.
“But that’s what we do. We’re the fire service. Our main objective is life safety.”
Corkum said he and Scott, wearing only basic personal protective gear with no oxygen equipment, jumped into their chief’s pickup truck to attempt to save the man.
“There were moments when it felt like we were driving through a wall of fire,” Scott told CBC News on Monday.
Corkum said as they travelled toward Yankeetown Road, day turned to night, and visibility was zero.
They couldn’t see civic numbers, and ended up passing the home twice, before they found the driveway, he said.
“As we pulled up, everything around the house was on fire. There were trees on two sides, maybe 20 to 30 feet away, and everything was on fire,” he said.
Corkum, who was driving, instructed Scott that he had 30 seconds to check the house for the man. Both doors were locked, so Scott ended up kicking in the front door.
“The elderly gentleman was in his chair unaware of what was going on, unaware of the danger,” Corkum said.
He and Scott grabbed the man and got him into the truck with only minutes, maybe even seconds, to get out.
Corkum said it was one of those moments that “you’re there doing what has to be done.”
“It’s the first time in my 22 years that I’m looking around … and I’m like, ‘I really don’t know that I’m 100 per cent going to get out of this,'” he said.
Luckily, he said, they were able to make it through the smoke and embers to get the man to the command post, where he could be assessed by paramedics.
Maritime Noon52:42Capt. Kevin Corkum with Halifax Fire and Emergency tells the harrowing story of saving a man with dementia at the start of the wildfire in Tantallon. And on the phone-in, repair technician Aaron Publicover provides advice.
“My heart grew a little bit. I was very, very happy when we passed him off,” Scott said.
“And then it was just moments later before we’re on to the next task. But there was this brief, beautiful moment where we knew he was going to get back to his family.”
The pair then went on to help evacuate a home in Upper Tantallon, where a family was still packing items.
“It was an unprecedented fire for me, just with the speed and the forward momentum that fire had and just the sheer amount of fire,” Corkum said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 22 years, that’s for sure.”
Brendan Meagher, president of the Halifax Professional Firefighters Association, commended Corkum and Scott for their hard work that day.
He said even though the pair knew it was dangerous, they kept going.
“They kept going, they got to the house, they got in and they got him in that truck and and they got out of there and they saved his life,” Meagher told CBC Radio’s Information Morning Nova Scotia on Monday.
“What they did was remarkable.”
Still, Corkum said he wouldn’t consider himself a hero.
“This is just one story from the event and I’m sure there are many stories of real heroism just from people in the neighborhood helping out other people,” he said.
He added that everyone, including neighbours, police and Halifax fire crews, did everything they could to protect people and property.
“Everybody gave well more than 100 per cent and I’m just, I’m extremely proud to be part of this organization and extremely proud of the people I work with.”