Stories from the Frontline
Meet Mamawi - new addition to the herd named for their unity in facing challenges
Weighing up to an imposing 2,600 pounds, wood bison are North America’s heaviest animals but they still stand together in herds to face danger, whether it is a winter storm or a pack of wolves.
That rugged resilience and unity inspired Hector Tierney when the Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch decided to name a calf this spring.
“I wanted to come up with something to commemorate the planet standing together, all at one time, to face the COVID-19 pandemic head on,” says Hector, a safety administrator for the Fort McKay Group of Companies, which manages the ranch on behalf of Syncrude and the Fort McKay First Nation. “I sat down and looked at some online dictionaries. I wanted to find a name that honored the importance of the bison in Indigenous culture as well as the situation we currently face.”
Mamawi – Cree for “together, all at once” – summed up exactly what Hector was looking for. “When I saw it, I thought, ‘Wow what could be better than that?’ It’s perfect,” says Hector, whose wife Judy recently retired as a Syncrude employee. “We moved out here in 2008 from Ontario and we love the bison – we’ve driven out to the bison viewpoint with family and friends when they visited us.”
Calves are rarely named at the ranch – they are usually assigned a letter and number in the fall, when they undergo their first checkup by the veterinarian. “When the first calf was born April 7, I had thought about what could we do that could bring a positive outlook or inspiration to our current situation,” says ranch manager Brad Ramstead. “After raising the idea, the Fort McKay Group of Companies started a naming campaign for the first 2020 addition to the Beaver Creek herd during the pandemic.”
Given the circumstances, Jesse Hall, Syncrude’s Manager - Tailings and Lease Development, saw it as the right thing to do. “Calving season helps with perspective. We’ve had a very challenging period, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the flooding in Fort McMurray to trying to maintain our business during this period of low prices,” says Jesse, whose responsibilities include the ranch. “And we have new calves born who are unaware of these storms. It puts life in perspective – life will go on. The bison will endure and there’s something reassuring about that. And that’s an example we can learn from as we go through these storms as an organization and as a community.”
About 60 of the expected 90 calves have been born so far this season.
“Mamawi was among the earliest calves born and weighed around 40 pounds. He’s a healthy bull and probably is up to about 60 pounds now,” says Brad, a wildlife biologist who began working on reclamation at the ranch in 1991 and has managed the herd since 2005. “It’s a very appropriate name – it really captures the spirit of this herd and our operation.”
The bison herd, originally started in 1993 as an experiment to test how well reclaimed land would stand up to large animals, has come to represent Syncrude’s commitment to reclaiming the land used in its operations as well as working with Indigenous communities in the region.
“The ranch has always represented something larger than the bison,” Jesse says. “Mamawi and the rest of the herd provide people with some comfort – standing together, we will come through this.”
Celebrating our Syncrude RN’s during National Nursing Week
At the beginning of 2020, the World Health Organization declared this the Year of the Nurses and Midwives, and it has been exceptionally fitting. Syncrude wants to thank and celebrate the important work of our Occupational Health Nurses this week during National Nursing Week in Canada.
Our nurses at the Health Centre and Health and Wellness Teams have been working tirelessly during Syncrude’s COVID-19 response. Teams include 34 Registered Nurses (RN) and four support staff. Each week, the teams handles several hundred calls from individuals seeking clarification on or reporting COVID-like symptoms.
“The level of care and professionalism that our Syncrude nurses provide is absolutely top-notch and I am so proud to work with these individuals. The last few months have been challenging for our organization and the work by our nurses to step up and support people at Syncrude is simply outstanding,” says Dr. Ahmed Elmezughi, Syncrude’s Chief Medical Officer.
Syncrude has two Health Centre locations - one at each mine, Mildred Lake and Aurora. Registered Nurses (RN) provide the highest level of medical care on site, and they work closely with Emergency Services for response in the field and emergency transfers off site when required. The team is highly trained with occupational health, emergency room, and/or critical care experience.
The Health and Wellness team is also comprised of RNs with occupational health training, who use their strong assessment skills to support employees who are off work on disability for greater than 48 hours, or at work on temporary disability. This includes the many calls each day related to COVID-19 questions and illness reporting. Health and Wellness Advisors work with the employee, leadership, local healthcare providers, Human Resources and the Health Centre – all to help facilitate a safe recovery and return to work. The team also works closely with Employee and Family Assistance Program provider Morneau Shepell.
“Every day, the nurses at Syncrude work hard to ensure our Syncrude family is well taken care of. They provide care if we get ill or are injured at work, from the minute we make that call and all the way through to recovery,” says Dr. Elmezughi. “Syncrude nurses work tirelessly to ensure our health needs are met, while on Syncrude sites and while recovering at home. After providing the immediate emergency medical care needed, Syncrude nurses provide support during our recovery process, and monitor progress for a safe transition back to work.”
Registered Nurse and Health Services Area Leader, Gladys, Hokanson, agrees that the level of care provided by Syncrude RNs and support staff is incredible.
“Our dedicated nurses have been putting their own personal needs aside to ensure the health of our people. The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to evolve for the last few months and both our Health Centre, and Health and Wellness teams have continued to provide accurate guidance and personal care,” says Gladys. “I have been a nurse for 28 years and working with our team of nurses at Syncrude for 18 years, and 2020 is a year that will go down in the books as one I am most proud of. Thank you to all of our health staff for all that you do.”
Syncrude folks, you're great!
Two simple words, coming from the bottom of our hearts: Thank you.
We are so grateful and we want to remind everyone, often, of that.
If you haven’t already, check out our Instagram account for more.
Voices of gratitude on Fort McMurray airwaves
Standing Together as One Team is what the Syncrude family does best to protect our communities, our families and our workers. For that spirit of collaboration we thank folks who are making a huge difference.
Listen to Doreen Cole, our managing director, and a couple of leaders as they express their gratitude to colleagues for doing their very best.
Bitumen Recovery Team 503 (Click to listen)
Expediters for Physical Distancing (Click to listen)
Staff offers virtual fitness classes
The need to stay healthy and fit has led Syncrude staff to offer virtual fitness classes while in isolation and working from home during the pandemic.
The new virtual fitness classes taught by HR team members aim at helping at-home workers be active together with their teammates.
“We are lucky to have trained yoga and fitness instructors in our department including our manager, Ann-Marie Mulhall, who orchestrated this activity for the HR Department with the support of other trained instructors,” says Robyn Chisholm, Employee Relations Team Leader.
“They’ve gone above and beyond to ensure the overall well-being of their folks,” says Robyn. “This, among many other examples, makes me pretty proud of how the team has decided to make the very best of the current situation.”
After the success of testing out the fitness classes within the department, they received support to offer the service to all employees.
The HR department is now hosting fitness classes on weekdays during the lunch break. The 30-minute sessions, offered live on the Zoom video conference platform, include variety of classes including cardio, abs, upper body and yoga.
“We are introducing a new way to stay connected with our Syncrude family while staying fit,” says Damjana Vlajic, Staffing and Development Advisor, and certified yoga instructor. “We’re excited to have this new and first time ever fitness initiative, which also shows another way Syncrude is adapting through these unprecedented times.”
For instructions on how to join the fitness classes including link to schedules, employees are encouraged to visit Syncrude Central where they can also find helpful working from home resources, including health and wellness and EFAP information.
Syncrude launches Instagram stickers and gifs
If you’re on Instagram you should check out our new Instagram story stickers and gifs. They’re easy to find. Simply search for “Syncrude”, “YMM” or “SyncrudeProud” in the Instagram story editor and you’ll be able to share in our pride. While you're there feel free to follow us.
A wake-up call that changes the way a Syncrude pipefitter protects his family
Dustin Evans, a Syncrude Pipefitter, goes above and beyond every day to keep his family safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Dustin’s wife, two children and dog are his first priority and the reason he takes extra precautions to combat the spread of COVID. “Both of my kids have asthma, making them even more vulnerable to the virus,” says Dustin. “My wife and son Ethan, who also has type one diabetes, had signs of COVID earlier this year, but thankfully tested negative. It scared us and acted as a real wake-up call. Since then, we’ve put more measures in place to keep our family safe during this pandemic.”
“The first thing I do when I land in my driveway after a day of work is sanitize my badge, keys and cell phone. Then I change my clothes in the garage, and wash them separately from my family’s laundry, just to be extra safe,” he says.
Dustin then heads straight to the shower to clean up and disinfect, bypassing his dog at the door, eagerly waiting to greet him. “Only once I’ve cleaned up will I finally greet my wife, kids and dog.”
Dustin is the only one from his household that goes out to buy groceries – reducing the amount of interactions his wife and kids have with the public. After returning home from grocery shopping, Dustin and his wife take the time to wash the produce and wipe everything down before putting the items away, so that they’re sure everything has been disinfected.
Gilles Champagne, part of the Compliance Monitoring Team appreciates the work employees are doing to stay safe: “I think it’s fantastic to see how Syncrude employees are following the protocols put in place. It’s also great that employees understand the fight against COVID-19 does not end once you leave the gate, as most have families to protect at home."
“Think about it as if you already have the virus, and are trying to not spread it,” says Dustin in closing.
Syncrude 'masks up' for COVID safety
Starting on April 25, the mandatory use of non-medical masks for site-critical workers came into effect at Syncrude.
“We know that using all our preventative measures together will strengthen our ability to keep people safe. Practicing physical distancing, washing our hands, sanitizing surfaces and wearing a mask can all work together to form a solid shield against the virus,” says Stephen Pocsai, COVID Response Team Lead.
To aid in the implementation of personal barriers, Syncrude is distributing Personal Care Packages to on-site employees and contractors, which includes a hand sanitizer and two reusable face masks (with use and cleaning instructions). The masks are designed to be usable in all areas of the plant and pose no safety risks.
The masks included in the package are not the only option a worker can use as a personal barrier. Anything that effectively covers the mouth and nose and prevents droplet spread is a suitable alternative, providing it does not pose any risk to you or those around you.
Here are some of the ways site-critical workers are keeping themselves and others safe with their personal barriers.
Employees can refer to the COVID-19 page on Syncrude Central for our company’s most up-to-date protocols and recommendations.
Salute to Essential Workers
Our employees are grateful for all essential workers including truck drivers, grocery staff, energy workers and health care providers during this crisis. Here’s Team 502 Mildred Lake Mining sounding their horns as a salute.