Team Rubicon: Soooo . . . what did you do for Christmas?

By: Michael Laprade

Volume 17, Issue 4, April 2022

Good Question. Most of us visited with family and friends, even behind a mask. For one Islander though, Christmas 2021 was spent in a very different way. I am one of the lucky ones to receive Michael Laprade’s monthly newsletter. He and his wife Janice, when not living on their beautiful little Honey Bee Island in the International Rift, are skipping back and forth between California and France. Each month, I look forward to seeing what trouble these two are getting into – or coming from!  However, this past January I realized that I was getting a glimpse into something special. I was seeing how people help people no matter what holiday it is.

Team Rubicon:  Soooo . . . what did you do for Christmas?

Me? Well, four days after we arrived back in California, I was deployed with Team Rubicon, so I grabbed my GO bag and headed to the airport. I joined a flood recovery strike team to conduct an emergency disaster response operation in Sumas, Washington. Our mission was to assist in recovery efforts after recent severe storms caused floods, landslides, and mudslides.

Sumas, Washington. The scene, shortly before we arrived. [Photo courtesy M Laprade]

It's been two years since my last deployment because of the whole COVID 19 issue. Finally cleared to participate, I spent eight days over Christmas in freezing cold weather, where we would typically tarp roofs and remove debris from inundated homes.

The thing is that once I got there, I received a “battlefield promotion” of sorts. I was assigned to do more of the operations organizing, rather than to actually crawl through the wet muck in a rubber duck suit (we refer to it as going swimming) under mobile homes to remove wet insulation and water filled ductwork to reconnect the furnaces. I still managed to get my gray shirt dirty when all 23 of us gutted a house on Christmas day. The weather was absolutely hideous, with freezing, blowing snow, while we worked in a community that was six city blocks from the Canadian border.

Michael beside the border between Washington State and Canada. 

The road I am standing on is in the state of Washington, USA. The road 10 feet (3 m) on the other side of the barrier is a parallel road in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The waist high barrier is the high security fence to prevent the Canadian hordes from invading us! :)  The Canadian Rockies are in the background.

Working in a flood zone can be deceiving and misleading. As we drove through this no name town, out in the middle of nowhere, at first blush it appeared relatively intact. That is, until you noticed the high watermark at about the 5 foot level on the front doors of homes. That’s when you realize that everything below it inside the house has to get torn out and taken to the curb for the city to haul to the dump. Furniture, appliances, cabinets, clothes, drywall, and insulation . . . absolutely everything, including your car.

Then when you think you’ll just go back to work and start all over from scratch, you look around and realize that every business in your community, your police and fire department, your grocery store, the restaurant, the pharmacy are all gone. You are walking through a ghost town and might as well be walking on the face of the moon.

A friend asked if we were put up in hotels while we were there. Ha! It was flooded out too! Our team stayed in a local church that had suffered some damage but was dry when we got there. I was in room 46 – or at least that was the number on the Red Cross cot I was assigned in the co-ed open bay with everyone else!

The watermark on the pew shows the flood level in the church where we stayed. [Photo courtesy M. Laprade]

It’s hard to keep from harping about each disaster I have worked on. How much worse can total destruction get? The flooded areas in North Carolina, the hurricane damage I worked on in Florida, or the total devastation I experienced in the Bahamas, all start to look alike after a while and the work we do is much the same. Removing mountains of debris, clearing trees off of roads, and tarping roofs is our bread and butter.

Some say that no good deed goes unpunished, so I brought home a gift with me. COVID. I tested positive as soon as I got off the plane when I came home. So I spent the next 13 days quarantined in the trailer on our property, which our granddaughter recently vacated, before “She Who Must Be Obeyed” would let me back in the house, after I produced a Covid negative test. Christmas gutting a house, New Year’s quarantined in a trailer. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

This is only my 4th deployment with TR, even though I was asked to go to many parts of the country when we were in Europe, which of course was not possible while we were there. Just like making a donation to a political party ensures that you’ll be on their mailing list forever, being a FEMA trained disaster responder guarantees that they’ll come back to you time and time again.

I had to hurry up and get better because no sooner did I begin my quarantine, than I got a message that I was being redeployed at the end of January to Mayfield, Kentucky, ground zero for all the tornado damage. They want to get as much out of me as they can, before we go back to Europe . . .  assuming that the border is still open.

By Michael Laprade

Michael Laprade and his wife Janice are retired Californians, who spend the summer at their “Honey Bee Island” property. It is located in the International Rift, between Blacksnake Passage at the mouth of Lake of the Isles and the stone span of the US / Canadian Customs Bridge. Michael is a former prison administrator, and also is a Professional Magician. In October 2013, Michael and Janice wrote Honey Bee Island’s Little Free Library for TI Life, as well as I Was the Pilot in September 2016, and Boarding of the SS Honey Bee in January 2018.
Map of Sumas, WA, border with Canada and the nearest Canadian City, Abbotsford, BC.

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Editor's Note: As Michael mentions in his story about December 2021, he served on several other Team missions. Each was just as inspiring as this Washington State venture. On behalf of the TI Life Team, we thank him and all his Team Rubicon confreres. Let's hope they have very little to do in 2022.

Posted in: Volume 17, Issue 4, April 2022, Essay, Places

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