Fourteen years ago come May, Sean de Jersey was finally accepted as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Pitt Meadows.
To this day, it remains his driving passion. His paid profession, where de Jersey earns his pay check, may be as a conductor for CP Rail. But where his heart lies is inside the four walls of the Pitt Meadows Fire Department.
For de Jersey, the desire stretches back to his childhood. Watching his father serve as a police officer helped shape his desire to give back to his community. As far back as he can remember, he wanted to be a fireman.
So it comes as no surprise that de Jersey was named firefighter of the year for 2014 in Pitt Meadows at a ceremony on Saturday. At least, to everyone but de Jersey.
“I was in shock, to tell you the truth,” he said. “This award belongs to everyone at the hall, not just me. I don’t do this for the awards and recognition. I do it to help people. I come in and do my best and offer what I can.”
The award, among other attributes, recognized the firefighter who demonstrated an exceptional level of participation, skill, innovation and stands above in their leadership and mentoring skills and is voted on by all the firefighters in Pitt Meadows.
For de Jersey, it’s a check box in every category, said Pitt Meadows Fire Chief Don Jolley.
“Sean’s a long-term member whose taken an exemplary leadership role with the younger team members,” said Jolley.
For the homegrown product of Pitt Meadows, the award may look nice on a mantle, but it’s the bonds he’s created with his colleagues inside the fire hall that mean so much more.
“I’ve lived in Pitt Meadows my entire life. I’ve been here 38 years. I know a lot of people in the community and unfortunately I’ve been to calls where I know the person, and that’s hard. But like I said, I have a full-time career. But when I’m done and I come home, I still want to help my city, he said.
But it’s more than just a desire to give back. Along with everyone he works with, he sacrifices personally and professionally to fulfill his duties as a firefighter.
There is a natural bond with anyone who puts on the helmet, picks up a hose, and jumps out of bed at 3 a.m. when the call comes.
“Camaraderie is huge,” de Jersey said. “You miss family dinners, you miss kid’s birthday parties, you miss Christmas dinners. But the pager goes off and someone’s day is not going as well as yours. They’re having the worse day of their lives possibly. We’re trained to do what we can to aid and assist. Sometimes you can improve their day and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. But you know you’ve done your best.”
He said whether someone is a volunteer, paid-on-call, or a full-time firefighter, there is a respect every department shows, no matter where or when. Like police funerals, firefighters gather from across international boundaries when a colleague dies in the line of duty. It’s the band of brothers mentality that fuels de Jersey’s desire.
“You have to trust everybody. I can go to any call and I can put my life on the line for the junior guy and he will do the same thing for me. Nothing’s the same. The most routine call can end up being the most dangerous,” he said.
So after almost a decade-and-a-half of responding to fires, car accidents and countless medical emergencies, de Jersey said he still looks forward to putting on the uniform and giving back to Pitt Meadows. He said he couldn’t do it without the support of his friends and family, but they understand and have always respected his calling to be a firefighter.
“I don’t think you get sick of it. I think the hardest part of this job would be when the day you had to leave.”
The 2014 Pitt Meadows Fire Rescue Service awards:
• firefighter of the year, Sean de Jersey;
• officer of the year, Capt. Mike Larsson
• special recognition award, Sean Staples.