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Discover the Sacred Fire: A Vancouver Volunteer Firefighter’s Journey


FRANCOPRESSE – His gaze does not deceive, even less in times of pandemic. Wearing a mask highlights the reflection of the soul. The eyes of the volunteer firefighter of the Comox barracks Elie Dewulf display the qualities inherent in the profession: calm, attentive and turned towards others. Portrait of the unique career of this 33-year-old Frenchman who, by his own admission, “had never thought of becoming a firefighter”.

Gratianne Daum – Francopresse

“He has revised a lot and is doing well in training, with a team spirit; so far Elie has been a very good recruit for Comox Fire Rescue and we hope he stays for a while. ” This is how deputy barracks chief Rick Shelton describes the apprentice.

The volunteer firefighter Elie Dewulf describes the apparatus of the intervention trucks. Credit: Gratianne Daum

It is however a coincidence that the young Frenchman found himself in front of him. Dewulf comes from a small village of around 2,200 souls in French Flanders, Boeschèpe. Fun fact, this name could mean the sheepfold (shepe) of the wood (bosch): premonitory for a future firefighter?

Coming to Canada four years ago, he settled with his partner in the Comox Valley two years ago. “We fell in love with the place,” says Elie Dewulf.

The spark

After finding a job, the young man was looking for additional salary and a way to meet people. “I heard on the radio that Comox had opened recruitments to join the barracks as a volunteer, I said to myself ‘why not?’ I went there and I was very well received by the firefighters who motivated me, showed me around the fire station and get on the trucks, it was cool! I filled out the form and the following week I had an interview with the chefs. And a few days later, I got caught. ”

During the visit of the barracks for Francopresse, the “rookie” in turn describes all the organization and procedures with enthusiasm: the various vehicles, the instruments which are there or even the sports equipment made available by the association of the barracks, such as bikes or paddle boards.

He also explains all the specific features of the barracks, from its provincial reputation as a training center to the various tips put in place by the supervisors during a pandemic. “Our leaders and captains came up with ideas and solutions to be able to guarantee the protection and safety of firefighters during interventions”.

For example, stickers indicating the “clean” status have been affixed to the handles of trucks. “We were the first to do that and others are now doing the same,” he says humbly.

0930 Francopresse Pompier volontaire Vancouver Elie Dewulf devant caserne Cr. Gratianne Daum
Volunteer firefighter Elie Dewulf in front of his home fire station in Comox. Credit: Gratianne Daum

Following him and listening to him is like being with a child in a play park, but the behavior is encalminated and who has all the sense of responsibility of an adult world.

When it comes time to walk past the outfits, he almost shyly offers to wear his for the photo needs, and we can guess all the respect he has for the uniform in this unobtrusive attitude that seems to characterize him. The typical personality of frontline workers is also seen in the way they bring the conversation back to the group and the community.

“I was also looking to meet people, make friends, and it became family. It’s also a great way to be able to help my community ”. Outside, in front of the training buildings, he stops in front of the tower where, a few days ago, and like every year, the firefighters of Comox climbed as many floors as American brothers who fell on September 11. 2001: 343.

He often comes back to this community aspect of the barracks, mentioning in particular when he regrets that the pandemic has changed his role. “COVID-19 significantly impacted the barracks. The level of response was reduced, training and training were canceled for several weeks. The barracks, which was open to the public, closed. We had to adapt. ”

At the end of the meeting, in front of the garage doors from which trucks usually exit, which are closed at the moment, he again emphasizes how much he loves when they are open and the public can come in and ask questions. , like a landmark in local collective life, put under cover at the present time.

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The French accent, not easy to understand!

“Obviously, communication is an essential aspect for the fire services. In particular radio communications, ”recalls the deputy chief to begin with when asked what the qualities are necessary to be recruited.

0930 Francopresse Pompier volontaire Vancouver Camion nettoyé Cr. Gratianne Daum
Tips from captains to fight against the spread of the virus within the response team. Credit: Gratianne Daum

“We must be aware of this reality, that everyone can understand the past messages. And that was part of the job interview and Elie’s English is getting better and better every day. But it is true that we discussed it within the committee of the members ”, he continues without bothering with the conventions.

“And in the end, we decided we could understand 99% of what he was telling us. Sometimes we still have difficulties and we have to ask him to rehearse, but nothing that did not affect his performance here. ”

The northerner is the first French to enter the barracks and a large number of French Canadians have been in the ranks for years. Currently, there are 3 out of 50 French speakers.

Between fear and recognition

Asked about his motivations, Elie Dewulf replied without hesitation: “I like the whole intervention. From the moment the pager rings, there is an adrenaline rush. We mentally prepare ourselves for what we are going to have to do. ”

He continues: “Mutual aid between firefighters is one of the great resources, there is no judgment. […] And the satisfaction of the work accomplished. ”

Before concluding “I think the main motivation is the fact that I like to do this. I am happy to come and train. It’s also a new challenge that pushes me to surpass myself both physically and mentally. ”

To know what is his biggest fear in intervention, although he does not yet have many to his credit, he quotes his very first: “It was a car on fire between two houses, it was very impressive. Seeing the flames go up quite high and seeing the walls of the houses start to burn and feel the heat, even with all the equipment you have, is impressive. ”

His greatest satisfaction so far is the gratitude, illustrated during a medical intervention: “An elderly man had a discomfort and had fallen. We intervened. Everything went well. And when it was time to leave, his wife came to see us, took my hand and thanked me. At that point I was like, “I did something good today”. ”

If nothing predestined him to become a firefighter, a vocation seems to glow in the heart and mind of the French, fueled by the desire to give back to his adopted community.

“Before joining the Comox Fire Department, I never thought of becoming a firefighter. Now I really like it. And I tell myself that if there was a place here at Comox, why not. ”


lefranco.ab.ca