Local firefighters in calendar with a cause

May 2, 2024, 4:46 pm
Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Jordan Giroux, Whitewood Fire Department

Where would you expect to find the number two rated firefighters calendar in the world? Did you guess Saskatchewan? Well, it’s another claim to fame for our province - now working on in it’s 22nd edition, the Saskatchewan Firefighters Calendar features real firefighters from within our province on every month. Selections for the 2025 calendar are happening very soon, and five local firefighters are busy raising money for the worthy cause.

“It’s to raise money for the Jim Pattison,” said Whitewood Fire Chief Bernard Brule when he first told me that two members of his department were taking part. “Everybody likes to do a little bit to help out, and they both are very interested in supporting the Jim Pattison Hospital and we’re behind them; supporting them. Most of our firefighters have young families, so they know the importance of a facility like that.”

Currently, 16 firefighters from across Saskatchewan are raising awareness - and money through online votes - for the cause, something 100 per cent of proceeds go towards.

“Lots of people know people or have family members themselves, or friends that have needed to use it,” explained Brad Woodard, president of the Saskatchewan Firefighters Calendar. “So yeah, it’s a fairly standardized cause. In our lineup of firefighters, it’s typical in their video bios that play at the selection night, that they either themselves have gone through an issue or their own children or friends. It’s fairly common.”

Over the years, more than 250 firefighters from 53 communities across Saskatchewan have participated in the calendar campaign. After committing to be part of the event, those participating embark on an extra fitness journey leading up to the big Selection Night, which takes place April 27 at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina.

“Basically, the 12 people are determined by the total number of votes,” Woodard said. “So whether you vote online (saskfirefighterscalendar.com), or you vote in person at the event, it’s the same thing, and then everything’s combined to determine the top 12. There’s no set criteria or anything like that. It’s just whoever they think should be on the calendar.”

“It’s a fun thing to be able to bring in people from around the province, and then through the online voting and the crowd out that night, pick the 12 people that will be on the calendar,” he continued.

The video bio Woodard mentioned for each of the 16 firefighters help audience members get to know some background on the individuals.

“It’s a good opportunity to get to know the 16 people better. It’s a fun event,” said Woodard. “There’s fun little challenges that firefighters are put through, and then the announcement of the top 12.”

He also noted that sales of the calendar are not only limited to this province, with support of people internationally to help the cause.

“Our calendar is sold all around the world,” Woodard confirmed. “We’re constantly shipping out calendars to different countries through the online orders. So we get a lot of people beyond Saskatchewan who are part of this as well.”

The cause
There are an estimated 223,000 children in Saskatchewan, and having a hospital in Saskatoon dedicated to them is such a unique and much-needed facility.

“In the past year, we’ve had over 80,000 children and babies visit the hospital,” said Bailey Gardner, Community Engagement Manager with Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital. “That number alone is just staggering. It’s amazing how impactful and how important having a space like this is.”

She told me how all the rooms in the JPCH are private, stressing the importance of having family members and caregivers able to stay with children during their time at JPCH.

“Prior to our opening and 2019, these facilities would have been in Alberta,” Gardner explained. “Saskatchewan is a large province and we are spread out. At the end of the day, when you can stay at home in your own province, it does make a huge difference for accommodations and for transport and figuring everything out. Having this dedicated children’s hospital is is a real game changer and a real blessing to have.”

Money raised from the calendar fundraiser has a big impact, spread across the hospital’s budget to utilize the generous funds most effectively.

“So when the firefighters donate, they do it to the general fund, and the general fund is where it is needed most throughout the hospital,” Gardner said. “It provides us here at the Foundation, the ability to look into our hospital and look into our different programs and see where it is needed most.”

Since the calendar began supporting JPCH, they’ve raised more than $80,000 for the children’s hospital - and that number is expected to climb with the current campaign. The needs of the hospital extent beyond bricks and mortar items, specialized machinery or even everyday supplies. As Gardner told me, funding for training aids, non-physical necessities, “a plethora of things” are just as important.

“It’s wonderful when you have those annual gifts that are in a large enough range where they can make those types of impact over a number of years; add to funds so we can look towards different pieces of care, different pieces of technology that help with care, different research that will benefit,” she remarked.

The next task for Gardner will be working on her speech during selection night, letting those in attendance know of the important work the hospital does and how impactful their donations to JPCH can be.

“I’m incredibly excited to to attend my first selection nights and take part in all of the action,” she said. “As well as thank all of the volunteers and the firefighters, and Brad and the rest of the amazing crew at the Sask Firefighters Calendar, who put in this work year after year for us to make sure that we’re able to help all of the kids here in Saskatchewan - not just the kids, but the parents and the families in Saskatchewan. Through their amazing hard work and dedication, we’re able to keep things moving here and provide some of the best maternal and child care in the world.”

“We are very grateful for everything that they’re doing,”she continued. “It’s an amazing evening and and amazing event to be a part of.”

The Firefighters
So who are these amazing people who not only run toward danger when others run from it? Those who dedicate hours toward training for scenarios they hope to never encounter? Well, they may appear to be your average citizen, but volunteer firefighters are simply local heroes.

They might not tell you that, the humble folks that they are, but communities need firefighters. It’s simply a calling from within the soul; a wonderful passion to help in a time of crisis.

Firstly, let me introduce you to the pair that started the whole idea for the article in the first place. The duo of Jordan Giroux and Bailey Swain from the Whitewood Fire Department.

Jordan Giroux
I caught up with Giroux while en route to work, when he had a few moments in his busy schedule for a quick phone interview.

“The challenge to get myself in good shape,” he said when asked what got him involved with the calendar fundraiser. “It’s been a drive of mine for a while now. I had back injuries in my mid-early 30s, and so I’ve been into physical fitness for quite a while, and this I thought would give me a few months to push myself and see what I can do.”

Another motivator is to be an example, illustrating what chasing a goal can look like.

“It shows my kids what a little bit of determination and willpower can do,” Giroux said.

He’s no stranger to the Whitewood Fire Department, having been a firefighter there for eight years. He says that fundraising and public awareness comes with the territory.

“It’s a big event and a big fundraiser,” Giroux said. “It helps out lots of families that need a little help with their kids. A good thing to do I feel; good way to raise some money and a little bit entertainment.”

Giroux feels a personal connections with JPCH, noting he’s known friends that have needed to use that facility.

With the selection night approaching quickly, Giroux will have some friends in the audience cheering him on.

“I was quite surprised they took two of us on but it’ll be entertaining for us both to be there and showing some support for Whitewood,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty good crew and we all seem to work really good together. It’s been really great time here on the fire department.”

While the nerves haven’t kicked in yet, Giroux admitted with a laugh that they won’t be far away.

“The day or two before it will start kicking in, especially hours before but it hasn’t really sunk in that I’m gonna get up on stage in front of 400 or 500 people yet! My heart will be pounding before I go up on stage for sure,” he said.

Bailey Swain, Whitewood Fire Department<br />


Bailey Swain
Swain has been with the Whitewood Fire Department since last October, drawing on her experience in the healthcare field. Skills that are important for adapting to the ever-changing nature of a fire call.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping people, especially in an emergency situation,” she told me, explaining what drew her to become a volunteer firefighter. Swain and her daughter were involved in a serious motor vehicle collision, and it was the response of those emergency crews on scene that cemented her desire to join the team.

“I still remember to this day, the firefighters and the first responder that helped me because the care, the help, everything was so smooth, and they were so nice,” Swain recalls. “And I said to myself, I want to be that person for somebody else. I have a passion for helping people.”

Shortly after joining the Whitewood Fire Department, Swain had the chance to test her mettle in an emergency situation.

“My very first motor vehicle collision with the fire department, I think a couple of months ago now, it was a two-vehicle collision and it got really serious,” she said. “We ended up having to call STARS, and I got the opportunity to land STARS. It was the most incredible thing ever.”

Becoming involved with the calendar was another way to push herself toward a goal.

“It’s out of my comfort zone and I wanted something to prove to people that just because it’s out of your comfort zone, you can definitely do it. Put your mind to it, do it,” said Swain, adding that it takes a lot of self-confidence, but has been a fun challenge.

“I was signed up with a coach, and I’ve never been with a training coach before. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off pretty well,” she said. “Lots of fitness and then pretty strict meal plans that you have to stick to for weeks and weeks!”

There’s another element that’s keeping Swain motivated - young eyes proud of her as a role model.

“My daughter, she looks up to me, of course, and I want her to look at me like, ‘wow, my mom is so cool - she’s in a calendar, and she did this for a good cause’.”

So far, Swain has found the community support simply amazing as funds have already begun to roll in.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “Even at work, we’ll have visitors come in saying, ‘oh, my gosh, you’re gonna be famous!’ Within the first day of when voting started, I think we already raised $3,600 in eight hours.”

Nici Harrison, Grenfell Fire Department<br />


Nici Harrison
The community of Grenfell has also been strongly supporting on of their own. Harrison just marked one year on the Grenfell Fire Department, almost immediately signing up to be part of the Saskatchewan Firefighters Calendar in the process.

“They definitely encouraged me,” she said of her fellow firefighters on the Grenfell crew. “They’re the ones who made me get my foot in the door, just to try out even.”

After that prompting, it seemed like the whole town was backing Harrison.

“The fact that I made it into the finals, that was great. And now that I am in the finals, my whole community’s behind me,” she said. “I have people sharing it all over Facebook, I have some of the businesses around town posting it for me. There’s a town newsletter and a bulletin board that we have as well, so they put it up there for me so everybody could see it.”

Taking part in the fundraiser also reflected on Harrison’s personal health journey.

“I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2020, and I’ve actually lost quite a bit of weight since then,” she said. “That was another thing that made me put my foot out there because I would have never done it before. Just changing my lifestyle, my diet, things like that gave me a little bit more confidence.”

Another boost for Harrison is seeing more women taking part in the Saskatchewan Firefighters Calendar with six ladies making up the total 16 firefighters attending selection night.

“I think that it’s cool that this year, there’s a lot more women because usually it’s only two or three,” said Harrison. “The fact that all the proceeds go to this (JPCH), I just think that everybody’s more willing to come out or spend money on votes.”

With equal parts determination and nerves, Harrison looks forward to the big night in Regina.

“I’m excited but nervous at the same time, because like I said, this isn’t something I would have normally done before,” she said. “Even if I don’t make it in, I’ll probably try again next year, but the experience is cool. It’s just going to look like I have confidence, I’m definitely going to be nervous on the inside!”

Makyla Stender, Kipling Fire Department<br />


Makyla Stender
Community is something that rates highly in Stender’s world. When she’s not training in the Kipling Fire Department hall, Stender is affecting local change in her role as Town Councillor.

One of the few women on the Kipling department, her skills in crisis intervention play a huge role in helping people often experiencing the worst day of their lives.

“That’s the whole reason why I wanted to join the fire department in the first place because I can utilize my skills here,” she told me. “It’s not something I ever want to have to use, but I have that skill set that if we ever need it. I might not be cutting someone out of the car with the jaws of life, but I’ll be sitting with the person inside talking to them or the other victim that was in the vehicle.”

Staying calm under pressure, allowing muscle memory acquired through many hours of training - these are key ingredients when rolling out to a call and into a sometimes unknown situation.

“I operate really well in crisis. I can handle mass chaos very well,” Stender explained. “This is what I need to organize and you just make it make it happen.”

While fairly new to the KFD, Stender has found her calling in becoming a volunteer firefighter.

“I intend to stay on the fire department for a very long time, as long as they’ll have me,” she said. “I’m very proud to be representing Kipling Fire Department in this.”

Stender’s introduction to the work the Saskatchewan Firefighters Calendar does came via her skills as a makeup artist. Last year, she donated her time and talent with make-up for the photoshoot portion, and was approached about taking part in the 2025 calendar.

“By the time I got chosen, it was probably three months,” Stender said when asked how much time she had to train. “I spent a month of that in Europe, so that didn’t really help my case, but to get ready, a little over three months.”

“I’ve really learned a lot about my body and how hard I can push myself,” she continued. “I work out a lot all the time anyways, but when I’ve got something like this, I push myself a lot harder. So it’s been good in that aspect.”

Much like the other firefighters I had the pleasure of speaking with, Stender admits being nervous about the selection night.

“It’s kind of like nerve wracking, too, but regardless, whatever happens, it’s going to really good cause,” she said. “If I get in great, if not, that’s fine, too. It’s great to to see that not all firefighters look like the ones you see on the typical calendar. Normal bodies exist!”

The cause for the fundraiser is the important aspect for Stender, as she noted being able to easily relate to the importance of the JPCH.

“With the Children’s Hospital, I’ve got two six-year-old twins, and it’s something that I hope I never need to utilize, but it’s so nice to know that if I ever do it’s there,” said Stender. “One hundred per cent of the proceeds all go to the hospital - that’s phenomenal!”

Wayne Zandee, Carlyle Fire Department<br />


Wayne Zandee
Becoming a firefighter was a dream Zandee has been chasing since he was a young guy, eyeing the drilling rigs as a way to finance firefighter school. Life offered a different twist, as it often does, and Zandee pursued a successful career in the oil and gas industry, even founding his own company back in 2005 - Red Dog Drilling.

However, after retirement, he’s rekindled that desire from his younger days: to be a firefighter.

“That was always something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know that I would ever get the chance,” Zandee told me. “I just had no reason why I couldn’t fill some time by being a volunteer firefighter, and they were very open in Carlyle and willing to take on an old guy!”

The same work ethic from the rigs - ambition, hard work, a team environment - have been huge assets for the Carlyle Fire Department. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Zandee has a wealth of mechanical aptitude.

“When I retired in 2017, I went and got my 1A driver’s license, so that was probably attractive to them, too, because they always need somebody to that’s got a 1A, because a lot of their trucks got airbrakes,” he said.

As for signing up to be part of the 2025 calendar, Zandee told of how he was inspired by a colleague.

“I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for a year and a half now, and one of the guys - Travis VanMeer - he’s on our fire department and he was on the calendar last year so he was a big inspiration for me doing it this year,” Zandee said.

Watching how hard VanMeer worked in the gym, how much time and devotion his friend exerted into the goal was definitely a prompt for Zandee.

“But also just wanting to get myself in shape and do my part and raise money for a worthy foundation,” he said. “It’s (JPCH) something that the province needs and we need to do our part to make sure it stays there.”

Experts say it takes three months for a habit to stick, and Zandee anticipates the fitness component in preparing for the selection night will continue to be a part of his routine.

“I’m a little nervous about it, but I guess I’ll get through it,” he said of the event. “I believe I’m the oldest contestant I’m sure of that - I’m 63!”