Families speak out after explosion at oil and gas site claims two lives

The relatives of Greg Podulsky, left, and Darcy Schwindt, right, say they are looking for answers and peace. (Submitted by Charlene Nahamko and Dallas Schwindt - image credit)
The relatives of Greg Podulsky, left, and Darcy Schwindt, right, say they are looking for answers and peace. (Submitted by Charlene Nahamko and Dallas Schwindt - image credit)

Two families say they are still in shock after losing loved ones from an explosion at an oil and gas site on Nov. 12.

Greg Podulsky, 29, and Darcy Schwindt, 47, were killed after a blast at the Marten Hills site, northeast of Slave Lake, about 250 kilometres north of Edmonton. The site is operated by the Calgary-based company Tamarack Valley Energy.

RCMP and emergency crews attended the scene and the deaths are being investigated by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety.

For Charlene Nahamko, time has stood still since she first heard the news from her brother saying that her son had died.

"I can't stress enough the change, the emptiness of how it changes your whole world," Nahamko said in an interview about how losing Podulsky has impacted the family.

"It's been tough for everybody and I always say every day is Groundhog Day."

Submitted by Charlene Nahamko
Submitted by Charlene Nahamko

When remembering her son, Nahamko said he had a tremendous talent for art which included drawing, painting, playing the electric guitar and welding.

Podulsky was raised in Whitecourt, Alta. and was inspired to pursue welding professionally after an uncle in Slave Lake, Alta. took Podulsky under his wing after he finished studying at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.

Throughout his life, Nahamko said her son was a free spirit who took his work seriously as a journeyman welder.

"We used to always tell him that he should have been born in the '70s Woodstock era," she said as she recalled how he was a big fan of tie-dyed clothing and how she now wore them in his honour.

"To Greg, everybody was his best friend and he treated them all like that," Nahamko said. "It didn't matter what time of day it was, it didn't matter where you were, who you were ... if you needed him in any way, he was there for you."

A wonderful uncle 

That sentiment is also held by Ivan Schwindt, when he remembers his youngest brother, Darcy.

"Darcy has been a wonderful brother to me and just a great human being," Schwindt said. "Anytime he walks into a room, he's got just a great sense of humour that he brings out in everybody."

Dallas Schwindt, Ivan's wife, said they are still reeling from the news.

"My husband and I were just watching hockey and just kind of going about a Saturday and he got the call that there had been an accident and that [Darcy] had been killed." Schwindt said. "My husband's jaw just dropped and I just froze. I just couldn't believe it."

But she said, the hardest part was telling her two daughters that their uncle had died.

"Where Darcy really shined was as an uncle ... that's maybe been the hardest part is just seeing my girls just hurt and and miss someone just so much."

Submitted by Dallas Schwindt
Submitted by Dallas Schwindt

From this tragedy, the two families said they want answers as to what happened to their loved ones and to ensure no other family experiences loss of this nature.

"As people in Alberta, in the workforce, and in our world today, we just we need to do better," Nahamko said.

In honouring her son publicly, Nahamko also wants to put an end to online speculation as to how the incident occurred and to make sure her son's memory is respected.

"He was young, but he knew his job. He knew his work. He knew his responsibilities." Nahamko said.

"It's so easy to point blame and it's so easy to get angry ... but that wasn't Greg, and we're not going to do that."

"I think our prayer is just that, from this tragedy, it can be prevented in the future and that no other family will ever have to go through this kind of hurt and pain, and that we can make sure that this doesn't happen again," Dallas Schwindt said.

Work remains halted at the site where the incident took place.

In a statement released last week, Tamarack Valley Energy Ltd. CEO Brian Schmidt said he doesn't know when the company will restart operations.

Schmidt stated he is personally devastated by the deaths of the two contract employees, which are the first workplace deaths in Tamarack's history.

The families said funeral arrangements are underway for both men.