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Wetaskiwin truck driver delivers fuel to combat wildfires and aid rural communities

For many drivers, the sights of frozen roads or burning forests would be enough to send them speeding off in the other direction; but, Crystal Rendall is not one of them.
Crystal Rendall in the Edmonton yard. (Courtesy of KAG Canada)

For many drivers, the sights of frozen roads or burning forests would be enough to send them speeding off in the other direction; but, Crystal Rendall is not one of them.

In fact, Rendall often drives straight into some of the worst conditions nature can create.

As a truck driver for KAG Canada, previously known as Westcan Bulk Transport, Rendall experiences all types of weather extremes while bringing supplies to remote communities via ice roads in the winter and to wildfire sites in the warmer seasons.

“Everybody thinks I’m nuts for doing it,” said Rendall.

Born and raised in Wetaskiwin, Rendall never planned on being a truck driver. After driving school buses in Wetaskiwin for 13 years, she had the opportunity to drive a friend’s truck one day and says she fell in love.

Soon after, Rendall got her Class 1 licence allowing her to operate the massive vehicles professionally, and she hasn’t looked back since.

This career change has taken her across Canada, including close-to-home in Alberta, and further away in British Columbia, Yukon and The Northwest Territories. Currently, she hauls jet fuel to Fort McMurray, Alta. to aid in efforts battling the latest wildfires to plague the province — a job Rendall has done across Western Canada for years.

She recalls being speckled with orange liquid after delivering fire retardant to a helicopter in B.C., saying that the aircraft flew so close to her that bright polka dots covered her and her truck.

Another fire-relief job saw Rendall driving through the Edson, Alta. area after evacuation orders were issued to bring supplies to those fighting the flames.

Thick, bellowing smoke covered the sky as bright, blazing fire engulfed both sides of the road she was driving on.

“You just keep going,” she said, adding that she feels pride in getting to help.

“I love being able to go and deliver and to see all this stuff and help out.”

In the colder months, Rendall sees a very different view outside her truck window driving across ice roads, including the World Famous Winter Road in Yellowknife, N.W.T.

Slick white and blue ice spanning as far as the eye can see, driving for hours at a time, often at 25 to 30 kilometres per hour.

These roads are only open for a few weeks out of the year when the water is frozen enough to handle the weight of the trucks.

“You’ve got to have warm clothes and be prepared for anything. I was changing air lines, one time, at minus 64 (degree) weather,” she said.

While the fantastic views are a definite perk of the job, Rendall acknowledges how challenging it can be, especially as a female fuel driver. She says many people underestimated her abilities.

“Being a woman in this industry, in the trucking industry, it’s hard to because you’re constantly proving yourself, or you feel like you’ve got to prove (yourself).”

“And even to this day, you know, it’s, ‘driving trucks is a man’s thing,’” she said.

Luckily, Rendall says her family encourages her career.

“I’ve got an awesome husband that stays at home. (…) I’m gone for two months, so he holds down the fort. But my family is there; they’re supportive. They love what I do. The grandkids (say), ‘There’s Grandma and her truck!’”

Her friends are also a significant support system.

“If it (weren’t) for my friends Kelly Sprague, Collin Candy and others I have met along the way at the beginning, I wouldn’t be like I am. They taught me lots about winter driving and to never give up,” she said.

As for advice for women wanting to join the industry, Randall says to go for it.

“Don’t be scared of it.”

“But you’ve got to have strength; you’ve got to have willpower; you’ve got to be able to not let those men bring you down. Stand strong.”

Crystal Rendall working in Edmonton. (Courtesy of KAG Canada)
Crystal Rendall in the Edmonton yard backing up to hook up a trailer. (Courtesy of KAG Canada)