Gurpreet Singh had the idea of applying to become a volunteer firefighter with the Cross Roads Fire Department in Stratford last December, but he was a bit hesitant.
Being a follower of Sikhism, he wears a turban, and he wondered how that would work with the firefighter's helmet. And he has a beard — firefighters often have to be clean shaven for safety reasons.
But he applied anyway. Becoming a volunteer firefighter is a reflection of his faith, Singh said.
"In Sikhism, one of the basic principles is sewa which means selfless service for the community. So I am proud that I am doing my part being a Sikh working for the community, for the betterment of community," he said.
Singh has been with the fire department for about five months. He has taken off his turban many times to wear his helmet during training with the P.E.I. Firefighters Association. He has shaven off his lower beard, so he can wear a breathing apparatus.
'A memory I will remember my whole life'
Singh got a job last February as a utility supervisor with the Town of Stratford. Without friends or family, he arrived in P.E.I., not knowing a thing about the Island.
After the 14-day COVID-19 isolation period, he was excited to get out, make some connections with Islanders and explore Island culture.
"But everybody is wearing masks, and you can't socialize, you can't go to places. There were many places which were closed. There were social gathering limits," he said when thinking back to his first days on P.E.I.
"It's really difficult when you don't know anybody."
Then, Singh heard from his boss about the Cross Roads Fire Department looking for volunteers. He attended its open house night last fall before signing up.
During the interview, discussions came up about his turban and his beard.
Singh told people at the fire department he's committed to putting safety first. While the turban is the symbol of his faith, he's willing to take it off to put on the firefighter's helmet when going on fire calls, Singh said.
"Not everybody will understand the reason. There are some who will say, 'No, it's not good.' But I believe since my religion taught me that I have to serve the community. And it's a selfless service," he said.
"I'm doing this volunteering with the fire department to save lives and the property damage of the residents. And for them, if I'm wearing my gear, I believe I should do it properly."
In Sikhism, one of the basic principles is sewa which means selfless service for the community. So I am proud that I am doing my part being a Sikh working for the community.
— Gurpreet Singh
And the day came when he heard back from the department.
"Once they told me that I'm selected, that was a memory I will remember my whole life."
Singh is one of the two newcomers who joined the department, the first time it has had newcomers volunteering as firefighters said Cross Roads Fire Chief Kevin Reynolds.
Reynolds hopes to see more newcomers taking on the role in the future.
"We're very, very pleased to have them in our group and they bring a different perspective sometimes and a different culture," he said. "And it's a great learning opportunity for people to learn new things from these individuals."
'It's like being a part of a new family'
Singh has been enjoying his probation period, which gives him an opportunity to try being a volunteer firefighter. He attended training at the P.E.I. Firefighters Association, where he experienced field training including live fire exercises, and learned rescue techniques.
He meets with other members of the department every Tuesday. Beside doing training exercises, they share about their lives and chat about what's happening in town.
Thanks to this, Singh is learning about things he wouldn't otherwise, like the current fishing season and the upcoming lobster season, he said.
"I always look up to the Tuesday night now. It's become a habit that Tuesday night is for the fire hall," Singh said.
"We work together. We train together. If somebody needs some help, we step up and help each other out as well. So, it's like being a part of a new family here."
Singh hopes to finish his probation by Christmas. He will need to pass a written exam and then he can get his certification as level-one firefighter.
"It will be a beautiful Christmas when I clear it," he said.