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Dave Berezan finds his newest adventure fulfilling

 - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

This weekend, Merritt Fire Rescue Department recruit Dave Berezan will graduate to become a full-fledged volunteer firefighter.

A drama teacher at Merritt Secondary during the day, Berezan signed on with the fire department late last April. Before that, Berezan had been involved in first aid and CPR programs.

“But it never ever dawned on me that there was a place for me in a fire department,” Berezan says. “Until Chief [Dave] Matteucci came over to our school here and was in our staff room, looking for recruits.”

The upcoming test, which Berezan will take along with his class of recruits, will take place on Feb. 17. The recruits that pass the exam will have completed the first major firefighting module and become what Berezan calls “real firefighters.”

“That’s a pretty major one,” Berezan says. “That [will test] the breathing apparatus and personal protective gear, making sure you have everything right so that if you are going to go into a fire, you’re covered properly.”

Over the past nine months of training, Berezan built a bond with the other recruits. While the firefighters come from many different walks of life, Berezan says the common thread linking all of them is the desire to learn what is necessary to help others.

“For me, it’s like I found a home,” Berezan says. “What better thing is there to do than be out there helping others away from accident scenes, putting out fires, trying to keep the place safe in a preventative sense, being there when somebody else needs help and working with a team that are all into that same mentality?”

Early on, he found that the training could be gruelling. At the second recruit weekend, back in May, 2006, Berezan had to lift and transport a 180-pound dummy named Randy across the fire hall parking lot.

“That took me two times through,” Berezan says. “But I did make it through that and I’ve worked at that kind of thing since.”

The recruit had many opportunities over the months to train, and he has spent lots of time at the gym.

“I’ve always kept myself fit,” Berezan says. “But now I’m better than I’ve ever been.”

His training has allowed him to help people out of dangerous situations and car accidents on the Coquihalla Highway.

“I’ve had those experiences where they’re either up and around the next day or they get out and they’re on their way,” Berezan says. “And that’s pretty special.”

Berezan spends from eight to 10 hours each week volunteering with the department, which doesn’t include time spent on rescue or fire calls. He spent 18 hours at a fire on Jan. 27 that claimed a life and consumed a house on Clarke Avenue.

“It’s a fairly big time commitment if you get involved in everything,” Berezan says. “And I’ve done that, but it’s all worth it.”

Several fire department committees are currently designing an aerial fire truck, for use in situations that require a ladder reaching upwards of three stories in the air. Berezan’s committee is working on the ladder itself, while other teams are designing the body, cab and other parts of the truck.

The supportive atmosphere within the department has helped many of the recruits on past exams, because everyone involved needs help sometimes and they all want each other to succeed.

“I think that’s probably the essence of team,” Berezan says. “All teams should be that way — they’re competing, but at the same time, they’re competing to create a team, not an individual, but a team, and I like that.”

Berezan will combine fire fighting and drama classes this week, by taking a group of his students to Central Elementary to perform interactive plays for burn prevention week. The drama students will perform scenes that take place during emergencies and ask the audience to evaluate the characters’ actions and suggest alternatives.

Berezan became a teacher in 1974, after growing up in Edmonton and central Alberta. He has just over 25 years of experience in the public school system under his belt, having taken some time off to play in bands on the road, act in the theatre and teach adults in continuing education programs.

He taught at a college in the borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Great Britain from 1987 to 1989, returning to the U.K. from 2002 to 2004, when he taught drama at school in Evesham.

After his last trip to England, Berezan started applying for teaching positions in B.C. and ended up at MSS for the 2005/2006 school year.

Although he is qualified to teach English and social studies, Berezan has taught drama throughout his teaching career.

“Everywhere I’ve been, and I’ve been lots of places teaching, I’ve always done shows of some sort,” Berezan says.

Drama keeps drawing him back because it has the ability to guide and enhance character development in young people.

“What drama does is it turns the person inside-out,” Berezan says. “And if you do that in a way that they can feel and gain confidence, then a person can grow in a way that they can’t in other subject areas.”

The subject also frees students, allowing them to become other people and tell stories in any manner they choose.

“They can do all those natural things they used to do as a kid that are sort of stifled out of them as they go through the socialization process that we put them through in school and society,” Berezan says.

With the burn awareness week performance at Central, Berezan is making good on his desire to take drama, and learning in general, out of the classroom, putting it to practical use in the real world.

“If there’s something beyond just the experience itself that can do some good in the community, I’m all for that,” Berezan says. “I think education needs to be heading in that direction.”

Conversely, Berezan would also like to involve more community members in school events. Eventually, he would like to open the MSS variety show to allow more community involvement in the production.

“There’s tons of talent out there,” Berezan says. “Let’s see what we can come up with.”

With Merritt growing in population and emerging as a cultural centre, Berezan thinks the town is ripe for huge development in the arts.

“The [Merritt Mountain Music] Festival has brought notoriety to the place — it’s brought artists to the place,” Berezan says. “There’s a kind of consciousness about the place now that Merritt is not just a little town in the B.C. interior, it’s a place where things can happen. We know that because big stars come here.”

From volunteering his time with the fire department to teaching, Berezan has spent his life in Merritt involved with the community, helping people out because it’s the right thing to do.

“I guess I’ve always felt that I wasn’t here just for me, and not just for family,” Berezan says. “There’s got to be a greater purpose there somewhere, so I’ve geared my life that way.”

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