Yousif Safar credits firefighters for keeping him on the straight and narrow as a teenager. Now he wants to follow in their footsteps to give back to the community in the same way.
Yousif, 25, came to Canada as an Iraqi refugee when he was just a few months old. He grew up in a low-income neighbourhood where it was really easy to get into trouble, he said.
But then he discovered wrestling.
His older brother used to wrestle competitively and Yousif would always go to watch when he was still in elementary school. One day at a practice, he was given a chance to try out the sport, wrestling with another team member’s sibling.
He loved it. He loved the strategic aspects of the sport as well as the fact it helped him burn off so much energy.
“When I got to Grade 8, the coaches were firefighters. They set up this whole program, they had been doing it for years, all on their own time. They were giving so much back to the community.”
His coaches encouraged him to focus on wrestling instead of other, less positive distractions, even paying for him to attend training camps and helping him fundraise.
Eventually, Yousif became a member of Team Canada, wrestling at the 2007 Pan-American Wrestling Championships in Panama City, and representing Team BC in Japan. These opportunities to represent Canada and BC were all because of the firefighters who mentored him.
“These guys would put so much of their time into it, and they still managed their work, their kids, relationships, and even to put so much time into us it was giving so much back. It was amazing to see what a person would do,” Yousif said.
“So I wanted to be that person for someone else. I want to give back. I want to be a firefighter, do a great job and give back lots to the community because that’s what they do; they’re really big in the community; they’re really involved.”
This is probably one of the biggest opportunities in my life. If it wasn't for this school I wouldn't have gotten that opportunity
To assist in achieving his career goals, Yousif recently completed the five-month-long Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate (FFTC) program at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).
He was impressed by the two months of hands-on training he received at JIBC’s Maple Ridge campus, a facility equipped with props and structures used to simulate a variety of fire situations, including a specially-treated, three-storey concrete building that can be set on fire repeatedly.
They were taught the importance of discipline, professionalism and accountability. They practiced the skills they learned repeatedly until they gained confidence in their abilities.
“Another lesson they taught us is you never know what to expect when you go anywhere. So whatever you get thrown at you, you have to be dynamic and know how to adapt to each situation.”
Yousif recently took his skills and experience to El Salvador as one of five recipients of the Irving K. Barber One World International Scholarship administered by the Victoria Foundation, with additional financial support from JIBC. The five, all graduates of JIBC’s FFTC program, were deployed for about two weeks supporting Lower Mainland firefighters from Fire Rescue International Training Association (FRITA) as they provided basic training for firefighters in the Central American country.
Interviewed before the trip, Yousif was excited to have the chance to give back to the community in El Salvador.
“This is probably one of the biggest opportunities in my life. If it wasn’t for this school I wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity.”
Shortly after returning, Yousif reflected on the experience:
“I was reminded of the importance of adaptability in the fire service. El Salvador really taught me to never take things in life for granted and really appreciate what I have. After the deployment I really feel the need to be more involved with my own community and to help out with anything I can, be a good role model for younger kids coming up and try to make a positive impact on their community.”
For more information visit Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate program page.