Ten Mile Volunteer Fire Department (TMVFD) has about 14 active members and they count Colin Zahra-Hansell amongst their brotherhood.
He emigrated with his family in 2011 from South Africa where they had been generational farmers and once in Canada bought a farm in Moose Heights.
Zahra-Hansell, who is still waiting for final emigration papers, was looking for something to do.
“I was driving past the Ten Mile Fire Hall and thought that would be a challenge,” he said.
“I dropped by the hall to find out how to get involved.”
That was in the spring of 2012 and once he joined the crew he was pleased and amazed at how welcoming they were.
“It was like a club or a family, everyone was so friendly,” Zahra-Hansell said.
After a complete background check including a criminal record check, this young South African began the practices that would eventually prepare him for the task of responding to whatever emergencies were called into the fire hall.
“We started with drills like getting into turn out gear correctly and quickly, unrolling hoses, basic equipment and hall maintenance and of course communications and safety protocols,” Zahra-Hansell said.
When he anticipated the challenge of becoming a fire fighter, Zahra-Hansell had no idea how much he would enjoy the constant state of learning and the camaraderie of his fellow fire fighters.
“I found it totally enjoyable, I’m always learning something different and this is not your ordinary volunteer work,” he said.
“These are also skills you can pretty much apply in everyday life.”
Zahra-Hansell came face to face with one of the biggest dangers in fire fighting, panic during a training exercise at the airport facility.
He, along with fellow trainees, was in the pitch black building with a controlled fire and expected to find his way out with just the guidance of a snaking fire hose.
“My flight or fight instinct kicked in, I guess you could say it was panic, but thanks to the guys ahead and behind me I was able to master my own reaction and we successfully completed the training exercise.
“One of the most dangerous situations is panic – you have to remain calm and remember training and protocols and use your head,” he said.
“Confidence comes from experience and training, it gets easier the more you practice and apply your skills.”
Zahra-Hansell recalls his first official callout. He was at home, it was about 1 a.m. when his pager went off.
“I jumped in my clothes, called the hall to have them bring my turnout gear and drove directly to the scene,” he said.
It was a car fire, the fire truck had just arrived and I was put on the back end of a hose fighting both the car fire and the surrounding bush that was also on fire.”
He admitted his adrenalin was pumping, it was dark but also it was a little thrilling.
“I knew the potential dangers, possible gas tank exploding and we didn’t know if anyone was still in the vehicle,” he said.
Once everything was extinguished, the crew headed back to the fire hall and with lots of adrenalin still flowing, the guys cleaned up the equipment then sat down and discussed the incident.
Since spring 2013, when Zahra-Hansell completed much of his basic fire fighting training, he responded to about five emergency incidents as part of the crew.
Joining the Ten Mile Volunteer Fire Department has been the best move for this new Canadian and he really feels part of the community now.
“I know so many more people and the community knows we’re there to help and support them at a time of great need,” he said.
“As a volunteer fire fighter I very much feel part of the community.”
Zahra-Hansell urges anyone considering volunteering with any of the six fire departments in the area to go and talk with the chief and crew. It’s a wonderful way to help your community and very rewarding.
Oct. 5 – 11 is Fire Prevention Week and a terrific time to celebrate all our volunteer fire departments do to keep communities protected and safe.