Langford firefighters have led a low key campaign to save the life of Kandahar’s fire chief, a man who trained in Langford four years ago.
Ghulam Hazrat was severely injured in a Taliban suicide attack on the Kandahar police-fire headquarters more than a year ago. Shrapnel from an explosion shredded his stomach and lower abdomen.
Hazrat, along with two Kabul-based firefighters and an Afghan Rotarian, visited Langford and a number of communities in British Columbia in May 2008, as guests of Langford Fire Rescue. The Langford department raised the money and persevered through a long bureaucratic process to bring the men to Canada.
Langford assistant fire chief Geoff Spriggs, who went to Afghanistan for a firefighter training mission in 2004, said the civilian medical facilities in Kandahar, or indeed anywhere in Afghanistan, aren’t equipped to deal with Hazrat’s extensive injuries.
He underwent a number of surgeries in a NATO’s Kandahar Air Field hospital over two months and was released to his wife and four children. Photos sent from Kandahar to the Langford fire department showed Hazrat alive but suffering in obvious pain.
“The prognosis was he’d need a considerable number of surgeries to survive,” said Langford fire Chief Bob Beckett, who also travelled to Afghanistan in 2004. “The local hospital had no wherewithal to give that level of care.”
Last year Beckett, Spriggs and other fire officers began raising money to get Hazrat transferred to a hospital in New Delhi, India. Funds poured in from firefighter associations from across B.C., the Colwood Rotary Club, the Embassy of Afghanistan and the local Afghan community.
Hazrat’s family estimates it may take $20,000 more worth of surgeries until the Kandahar chief has his abdomen reconstructed. So far Langford firefighters have raised $6,000, which helped pay for transportation to India and three surgeries. Langford is continuing to lobby other fire agencies and the Canadian Afghan community to fund Hazrat’s recovery.
The latest surgery was on March 12, involving a skin graft over his stomach. A Vancouver-based surgeon, who met Hazrat during his 2008 visit to B.C. and then treated him by chance at KAF hospital in 2011, is also consulting with the India-based doctors on Hazrat’s surgery strategy.
“Travel was a challenge as was getting the right medical attention,” Spriggs said. “India had to accept him into the country. It wasn’t a simple process but (Hazrat) has people working on his behalf.”
The incident that wounded Hazrat is thought to be the co-ordinated Taliban attack that occurred on Feb. 12, 2011, where four or five gunmen lobbing grenades and wearing bomb vests stormed Kandahar’s police headquarters, killing 19 people, according to media reports.
Beckett said that almost daily violence gives perspective on the luxury of living in Canada. While in Langford, Hazrat trained with fire gear, went to hockey games in Victoria and played floor hockey with his newfound friends. At home his life is constantly at risk from insurgents – in 2008 he donned a disguise to travel from Kandahar to Kabul to fly to Canada.
Beckett described Hazrat as a brave man who puts his life on the line daily for his country.
“Ghulam is a conservative Muslim man who struggled with some lifestyle stuff in Canada, but we grew close to him,” Beckett said. “He has driving work ethic and commitment to take new skill sets back (to Afghanistan). He has strong family values and is a good person who cares for others.”