Slaying the Beast
The man behind the Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation reveals how to navigate any crisis.
During the catastrophic Alberta wildfires, fire chief Darby Allen shot to global acclaim for guiding the 88,000 residents of Fort McMurray to safety with no loss of life—the largest evacuation in Canadian history. Now, he offers guidance on how to be a stoic, quick-thinking leader in tough situations. We all face emergencies and crises—Allen shows us how to overcome them.
“Chief Allen has become the human face of efforts to fight the blaze and has connected deeply with many affected by the unfolding disaster.”— The Globe and Mail
Known as the face of the Alberta wildfires—and widely celebrated as a national hero—Darby Allen is an exemplar of selfless courage and level-headedness under pressure. Currently teaching a program in Transformational and Charismatic Leadership at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, Allen was Regional Fire Chief of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, an area that encompasses the community of Fort McMurray. In spring 2016, he spearheaded the evacuation of the city’s entire population while the rest of the world watched. Throughout the ensuing weeks of operations, he worked tirelessly with first responders and volunteers, who came from across the nation (and globe) to assist. His updates to the media were not only a means of reliable information, but a source of optimism—Allen provided calm reassurance as the lead spokesperson throughout the rescue efforts.
“Darby possesses an incredible ability to connect with his audience … he is an outstanding presenter.”— TEDxKelowna
A native of Birmingham, England, where he worked as a firefighter for the Hampshire Fire Brigade, Allen emigrated to Canada in 1990. He began work as a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department in 1992, moving up in rank from Training Officer to Assistant Deputy Chief of Operations, before moving on to Fort McMurray Fire Service in 2009, where he became Regional Fire Chief in 2013.
“Darby was excellent! While he was speaking you could have heard a pin drop in the room. He was a perfect fit for our conference and the feedback was extremely positive. He was definitely the talk of our networking session later in the day. It hit close to home and pulled on everyone’s heart strings.”Canadian Heartland Training Railway
“Darby walked our attendees through the experience of the Fort McMurray devastation and highlighted the importance of truth, transparency, and compassion with your team. Dealing with an emergency doesn’t necessarily sound like the perfect fit for a room of Credit Union managers, however the common themes in our post-conference survey of 185 participants was “inspiring”, “motivational”, and “we can apply this to our work and home life.” Darby’s experience certainly motivated a room full of leaders and we recommend his message to anyone in the business of leadership and teamwork.”Craig Zamzow, CUMAM
“Darby's speech was about real situations that we can all relate to and his story delivered a great message on how he managed a very large project into smaller events to keep control and focus. Having a proven leader speak was a great change from the norm. Darby Allen provided a refreshing and different insight to leading people during a time of crisis. His presentation was very therapeutic.”Goldcorp
“Our ASA delegates were quite enthralled with Darby’s presentation. So much so, he received a standing ovation! The presentation was silky smooth from an a/v perspective as well. We certainly hope Darby enjoyed presenting at our conference as much as our registrants valued him sharing his extraordinary experiences.”Wendy Steele, Alberta College of Family Physicians
“[Darby’s] presentation is so heartfelt, he brought some people to tears. He is such a humble, easygoing person, it was a pleasure to bring him in.”University of Lethbridge
“He had people laughing and crying. Heartfelt and an excellent presenter.”Health and Safety Conference of Society of Alberta
“Nice to hear from a real hero who made a difference and served people in an emergency. It was a touching and inspiring presentation. Darby is a humble man—he recognizes the contributions of the members of his team. He’s a true leader! Very moving and inspiring from a personal perspective. Made me cry!”PMINAC Conference
“Chief Darby was a dynamic, engaging speaker for TEDxKelowna. His presentation was one of the highlights of our event, and received very positive feedback from all in attendance. Darby possesses an incredible ability to connect with his audience. He was hands-on, and real. Darby’s presence on stage—and at all activities before and after—was impactful. He is an outstanding presenter.”TEDxKelowna
“Chief Allen clearly exceeded any expectations we had for a presenter. He truly has a deep love and passion for the fire service and is highly respectful and appreciative for all of those involved during the wildfires. Chief Allen focuses on the positives that happened, the people involved, their leadership and their sacrifices.”St. Anne Regional Fire Service
“On behalf of the FCABC, I would like to say a huge thank you for a fantastic closing keynote. He had a full room of very attentive delegates. Please pass on our appreciation to him. It was a pleasure and honour to meet him.”Fire Chiefs Association of BC
“Darby was the keynote speaker for our annual safety, health, and wellness recognition and celebration event. It was quite evident through his presentation and demeanor that he is passionate about people and their safety and wellbeing. His story of the Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation, and how the community rallied behind him and each other in the face of extreme peril, was awe inspiring; it is the type of leadership and teamwork any organization would be proud to model.”Vancouver Airport Authority
“The presentation went very well, and we had a record turnout for the dinner and only positive feedback since. Darby is a very good speaker, and the crowd responded really well to his character and message. He comes across as someone of genuine honesty and great competency who was caught up in a rare moment in history. He assembled a team to do what had to be done under great pressure and stepped into that breach with the calm professionalism and rare leadership needed to achieve great things under trying circumstances. He is Canada’s Captain Sullenburger; a reluctant hero thrust into the limelight and who saved countless lives by making the right decisions at the right time ....”Rotary Club of Saskatoon
“The overwhelming comment (almost every single respondent has made) is that ‘Darby Allen was exceptional.’ As I have been studying Canadian Catastrophes since 2014 and never could have imagined the devastation Fort McMurray brought, there was no need for an insurer, forest fire specialist or risk manager to discuss what happened – we wanted the perspective no one but yourself could bring. Your presentation didn’t feel like a media release with flashy pictures, statistics or prepared facts – it was personal, and warm and, as most of us felt, heart-breaking.”Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc.
In the midst of a devastating natural disaster, how does one person manage a team’s countless, critical decisions? Allen, beyond being a brave and strategic leader, also practices empathetic team-building, including colleagues in his decisions and looking out for their needs. In this keynote, Allen offers actionable takeaways for leaders in any field: lessons on encouraging and trusting your teammates wholeheartedly; never losing focus on the moment by worrying about the larger story; and establishing unbreakable relationships that observe and celebrate the smallest of human elements—like the power of a Canadian flag to boost morale and welcome evacuees home.
The 2016 Albertan wildfire was the costliest disaster in Canadian history—destroying 2,400 buildings and homes and displacing the entire community of Fort McMurray. And through it all, from beginning to end, was Fire Chief Darby Allen. A figure of stability to his community, a reliable source of information to the press, and a humble leader, Allen became the human face of both incredible tragedy and courage. With Allen’s leadership, Fort McMurray was successfully evacuated—and the fire claimed zero lives. How did he maintain composure in life-or-death conditions? What is it like to endure, and overcome, a disaster of such magnitude in one’s own backyard? Today, Allen is bringing the riveting inside story of the rescue operations to audiences everywhere. Framed as a personal narrative, this keynote takes you through his day-to-day struggles against the fire, shining a light on the community—and national—trust that empowered his efforts.