Fire survivor headlines speakers at gala for Monterey

Oak Bay firefighter foundation fundraiser for Monterey PAC runs May 29

Jesse Dill will be among the speakers at the Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation's gala dinner May 29.

Jesse Dill will be among the speakers at the Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation's gala dinner May 29.

Hot on the heels of the Brenna Innes Memorial Soccer Tournament, burn survivor Jesse Dill can’t help but connect the passionate community there and local firefighters connecting with middle school students in Oak Bay.

The annual tournament held May 9 celebrates the life of a young woman who succumbed to smoke during a Victoria house fire in August 2007 along with her fellow University of Victoria student Chelsea Robinson.

Dill was among survivors that night.

“This was obviously a life-changing moment of the five survivors too,” Dill said, adding two have pursued medical school, one quit a government job to become a physiotherapist and the other is active in a similar field. “Sometimes your true calling comes out at interesting times.”

Left with burns over 35 per cent of his body, the B.C. Fire Fighter’s Burn Fund instantly became part of his life – a connection he maintains.

“I benefitted from all that Victoria had, that the community had to offer, in my recovery. One important one was the Burn House off of Jubilee [hospital],” he said. “I realized after the fire just how powerful a community can be to support you, to put you back on your feet and to essentially get you back to living a fulfilling life.”

In the intervening years he’s been active with the Burn Fund and their project to build the Burn Fund Centre, a home away from home for patients and families. The $13.1-million project adjacent to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn, Trauma and Plastics Unit at Vancouver General Hospital and BC Children’s Hospital is just $1 million shy of its goal.

He likens the project to the outdoor classroom Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation is helping the Monterey parents advisory council raise funds for.

“What tangible projects do is they provide a resource for decades into the future,” Dill said.

“A structure provides a vision and a facility that will have an impact for all those who use it. It also gets people excited … We had drawings collecting dust on a shelf as recently as five or six years ago. But when you show illustrations that can be realized, it’s amazing how quickly that can become reality based on momentum and excitement of seeing something start to finish.”

The soccer tournament raised $20,000 this year for the Burn Centre in Vancouver and is among the projects that instantly sprang from a community mourning and honouring the two young women.

“The compassion for those girls and the understanding of who they were, that made me realize just how precious life is and how important it is to seize the opportunities before us,” Dill said. “I feel almost invincible [because of] the people who stood behind me … but also in meeting those who knew the two women, the realization of their outstanding character made me want to be that much better of a person moving forward.”

Dill will speak at the firefighter foundation event that will also feature music by the Stephanie Greaves trio along with other speakers and auctions. Funds raised will help Monterey’s parents association toward their roughly $50,000 target to build an amphitheatre to increase outdoor social and classroom opportunities at the middle school.

He’ll pepper his talk with humour and anecdotes, including some observations on the power of communities to look out for each other and far exceed their goals when purposeful projects are in reach.

“[I’ve learned] firefighters are people willing to risk their lives to save others and will do so in an instant, and secondarily realized that these firefighters across B.C. are some of the most outstanding fundraisers that we know,” Dill said. “That they’re open and willing to partner for tangible projects in their community needs to be celebrated and continued.”

Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation’s Gala Dinner to support Monterey Middle School is Friday, May 29. Purchase tickets online at oakbayfirefighters.com.

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com