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Langford Fire Rescue looks for connections to help Afghan friend
Firefighters will do whatever they can to help their comrades – their family. It’s a dedication that will often extend past municipal or national borders.
That commitment has Langford Fire Rescue on a mission to help one of their brothers overseas.
Chief Ghulam Hazrat, an Afghan firefighter, visited the Langford department back in 2008 for a training and cultural exchange. He spent time doing auto extrication exercises and travelled with local firefighters across the province.
But getting here was no easy task. He had to be vetted by the Canadian government and received death threats in his own country during that process. “He had to disguise himself by the cover of night to get to Kabul … and subsequently has been on some sort of hit list,” said Langford Fire Assistant Chief Geoff Spriggs.
In February 2011, a suicide bomb attack tore through the police and fire services headquarters in Kandahar. Eighteen people were killed and Hazrat was one of the many that were severely injured.
He ended up on the operating table in front of Ross Brown, who is now retired but at the time was a surgeon commander with the Canadian Armed Forces. Brown is also one of Langford Fire Chief Bob Beckett’s closest friends and met Hazrat while he was training and touring the mainland with Langford department.
“I was one part of the Canadian contingent working in the Kandahar airfield hospital,” Brown said. Hazrat was originally brought to a civilian hospital but they didn’t have the capabilities to repair his intestinal injuries. “They asked if we would accept this transfer,” Brown said, who at the time was serving on his third tour in Afghanistan. Initially, he didn’t make the connection that the patient was the man he met in Canada.
“I found myself operating on him … and then it kind of came to me that this was the fire chief.” Brown emailed Beckett, and while he couldn’t disclose Hazrat’s name at the time, they were able to piece together the patient’s identity.
“So often in theatre you operate and they’re medevacced out, but there was nowhere (for him) to go,” Brown said.
After more than 10 surgeries and several weeks in the intensive care unit, Hazrat was making an impression on the medical team. “He was known very well in the facility,” Brown said, adding he was quick to make friends with everyone. “It made it special for sure to be able to help.”
Hazrat was still in the hospital when Brown rotated out, but the surgeon kept track of Hazrat’s progress. “In Canada when you operate, you ‘own’ that patient through thick and thin,” Brown said, but the military is different in that regard. “This has been unique because of the ongoing connectivity.”
But Hazrat’s medical challenges didn’t end when he left the Kandahar hospital.
In 2012, Langford Fire hosted a number of fundraisers to help pay for more surgeries for Hazrat in India. While those were successful, he requires additional treatment today. Travelling to India again isn’t an option, due to the threats Hazrat and his family continue to received.
“I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be blown up and put back together,” Spriggs said while shaking his head. “It’s a pretty remarkable story – what he goes through on a daily basis.”
Langford Fire Rescue is drawing on connections members have made through various training and cultural exchanges to get Hazrat re-admitted to the Kandahar airfield hospital. But it has proven difficult.
“Canada isn’t in that area any more, we’re disconnected,” Brown said.
Since the hospital is operated by American forces, the Langford department has reached out to their counterparts in Fresno, Calif., whom they met during an exchange in 2010.
“We’re trying to motivate whomever needs to be motivated to get him in,” Spriggs said, adding they’re hoping to present a case on Hazrat’s behalf. “We’ve got some contacts (but) we’re trying to get everyone pulling in the right direction … If we can help even a little, that’s what we should be doing.”