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NNSL photo/graphic

Celena, Nathan and Thys Hoeve with their turtles Poseidon and Neptune, which escaped from their backyard pond. Only the turtles know if their adventures included some Kung Fu fighting.

Yellowknifers find ways to help each other

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 07/05) - Say what you will about the temperature in Yellowknife, but there's no disputing that hearts in our city are among the warmest in the land.

Almost every day, people go out of their way to help others -- be they friends or complete strangers.

NNSL photo/graphic

Carter Weir holds up the $10 bill that was returned to him after he lost it at Wal-Mart.

While there was no shortage of heroes and Good Samaritans around the diamond capital of North America in 2004, one clearly stood out from the rest: 25-year-old Tommy Lafferty.

Lafferty was among a party of three attacked by a grizzly bear on Sept. 22 near the abandoned Colomac Mine, about 230 kilometres north of Yellowknife.

"(The grizzly) bolted full-speed," said Lafferty. "It was huge and you could smell it. It was musky, like wet fur."

He said the bear first knocked over one of the other men in his party, so he yelled at the animal to get its attention. The bear launched itself at Lafferty, but he was able to push it away. The bear then lunged again, this time biting him just above his right knee. Lafferty tried again to push it away, but the grizzly merely refocused its attack on his face.

Realizing the fight wasn't going well, Lafferty decided to play dead. The bear stopped attacking immediately and took off into the bush as fast as it appeared.

After returning to camp where aid was administered immediately, a plane eventually arrived to ferry the injured victims to Yellowknife for treatment at Stanton Territorial Hospital. A few hours later, Lafferty and the first man who was attacked were medevaced to Edmonton for emergency surgery.

Lafferty spent seven-and-a-half hours in surgery the following day. He needed more than 200 stitches, not including staples, to close his wounds.

His quick thinking clearly saved his own life and likely protected the others who accompanied him from further harm.

Water rescues abound

Given the number of lakes around Yellowknife -- and the relative importance they play in residents' everyday lives -- perhaps it's not surprising how often the potential for tragedy can arise.

On Nov. 3, Andrew Little sprang into action to save a middle-aged woman who fell through the ice on Great Slave Lake, just metres from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans dock.

Little, a pilot with Arctic Sunwest Charters, and a co-worker raced out to find the woman partially submerged in the frigid water and unable to pull herself out. Thinking quickly, they tied a rope to a canoe and pushed it towards the woman.

Despite appearing to have a broken leg, the woman managed to climb onto the canoe and was pulled ashore. Rescue workers from the Yellowknife Fire Department arrived a few minutes later and transported the woman to Stanton Territorial Hospital.

This wasn't the only daring water rescue around the city this year. On June 28, Paul Falvo and his partner Krista Domchek spotted a pair of teens sitting atop an overturned canoe, while another was clinging desperately to a sailboat's mooring line on Yellowknife Bay.

Falvo, a Coast Guard auxiliary member, fortunately had his marine radio with him. He radioed the Coast Guard's head office in Inuvik for help. Because such radios run on an open frequency, anyone else who happens to be listening can hear the distress call, too.

Todd Burlingame, who lives in a house next door to the government dock, heard the distress call and headed out in his zodiac inflatable boat.

He arrived just as the couple loaded one of the youth stranded on the mooring line into their canoe. He took the other two into his boat, tied a line to the couple's canoe and towed them back to shore.

Kayakers saved

Not even a month later, on July 26, a group of young canoe and kayak campers plucked a struggling father and his 12-year-old son from the chilly waters of Back Bay.

The group of five campers, along with three instructors from Narwal Paddling Adventures, noticed a capsized canoe as they were paddling by Peace River Flats around 4 p.m.

With water temperatures around 14C and a high wind creating swells, the group rafted their canoes three abreast and prepared to rescue the pair.

The victims were wearing personal flotation devices, but conditions were so rough they could barely stay above water. Both showed the drastic effects of hypothermia.

After pulling the victims into their boat, the group headed for the shores of Back Bay, while another boat towed the overturned canoe.

Risking your life to save another is one thing, but how about to save a dog?

That's what Peter Austin did when his neighbour's 13-year-old German shepherd-collie cross named Max fell into the Cameron River on Aug. 8. Austin managed to push the dog towards his wife on the shore, who quickly grabbed hold of him and pulled the animal out of the water.

The current was strong, however, and it continued to pull Austin downstream towards Cameron Falls. Fortunately, he was able to angle himself into a shallow stretch of the river, where he grabbed on to a rock before being swept to his doom.

Not all heroes like to be identified -- hey, even Spiderman wears a mask. While one Volker Stevin truck driver may not be spinning webs anytime soon, he did change the course of events on June 21, preventing even more carnage in a fatal traffic accident.

With no regard for his own safety, the trucker pulled his dump truck out of the direct path of an out-of-control car being driven by Calvin Glenn Alexander.

The car hit the side of the truck and although Alexander, 43, eventually died in an Edmonton hospital of head injuries suffered in the crash, his daughters, aged 7 and 9, survived.

One witness, who also asked not to be identified, said it was the trucker's quick thinking that prevented the accident from being more serious.

On Jan. 18, a mystery driver in another vehicle -- a woman in a blue car -- played the role of hero along Kam Lake Road.

Jessica Smith, an 18-year-old gymnastics coach, was walking home after teaching a class when she was attacked by a pair of dogs. One bit her on the leg and the situation was about to go from bad to worse when the unnamed woman pulled up and got her to safety inside her car.

When you're in trouble or have lost something, it doesn't take a daring rescue for you to call someone your hero.

Timothy Finnamore certainly wasn't in search of glory when he found the Hoeve family's pet turtles after they escaped from the safety of their backyard pond.

Likewise, the Good Samaritan who returned Carter Weir's $10 bill after he lost it in Wal-Mart isn't likely to be the subject of a big-budget action adventure flick starring Bruce Willis.

To the Hoeves and Weirs, however, these random acts of kindness certainly made 2004 a better year than it would have otherwise been.

It's this sense of community and giving spirit that makes Yellowknife a great place to call home and raise children -- like Melissa Vasas' seven-year-old daughter Jayda.

The youngster took it upon herself to put together a beautifully decorated donation box for Allison McAteer House on Thanksgiving. It wasn't part of a class project or family tradition, Jayda just thought it would be nice to help someone less fortunate.