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Operations and Economic Value

The Last Ones Out

When Syncrude shut down its operations due to the wildfire, two of the final employees on site were shift team lead Keith MacDougall and production supervisor Jonah Donald. Here, they talk about their experiences being evacuated from the site.

What was it like walking away from Mildred Lake after it shut down the first time in almost 40 years?

Keith: It was pretty eerie because our area was the last one to shut down. It was very smoky but there were about 10 of us operators left and we stayed busy. We were doing something that had never been done before so we wanted to make sure our bases were covered so the unit could be restarted.

Jonah: It was difficult to walk away. There’s a real pride working for Syncrude and we didn’t really want to leave. For us, it wasn’t just about moving dirt or ore. We wanted to keep going on. At the same time, we recognized why that decision was made. It was very smoky, especially in the pits. We were loading six to eight trucks at a time and escorting them to the breaker to keep the ore rolling. We were the ones who put buses at the front gate. We were the security because all the guards had left. We were closing the doors to the operation.

The Last Ones Out

A group of Syncrude employees with some of the dogs that were brought to site by Fort McMurray evacuees. Shortly after, smoke and fire conditions forced both people and pets on board planes bound for Edmonton.

How did your team react during that critical time?

Keith: Fatigue was setting in so managing people and managing breaks was one of the main focuses. There were no injuries or process safety incidents and that’s something we took pride in. The operators could not have executed a difficult job more flawlessly. The morale was surprisingly high down here. We knew we had to do a job so every hand was on deck and they all performed.

Jonah: Everybody kept calm. Because of the adverse conditions, everybody understood we needed to take our time. Everybody knew we were stretched and understood we needed to communicate to ensure we didn’t miss any steps. Individuals stepped up to the plate and got the job done safely.

How do you feel about being a part of this challenging, but historic moment?

Keith: I definitely wouldn’t want to do it again! But when I look back at it, you couldn’t have been more proud of the operators who did the job. They executed the tasks flawlessly. Yeah, it gives you a feeling of pride to come back to the units to start up. It was a big achievement in the whole scheme of things.

Jonah: I felt proud to work alongside the team that accomplished this monumental task in a safe manner. They were faced with challenges that were overcome by working together.