CANBY — Dave Verhelst was a Canby firefighter for most of his adult life, and he has plenty of fond memories to show for it.
Verhelst retired this winter from the department after 31 years. He first joined in 1991. He has held various positions; including deputy chief, captain, treasurer, and training officer.
He decided to retire in 2022 to spend time on other community-oriented projects. One of them is the construction of the event center proposed by the Canby Sportsmen’s Club.
“I decided that 31 years in the fire department was enough,” Verhelst said. “When I do something, I always go to the end. I’m getting older, and it was time to take a step back.”
Canby has a 25-person fire crew. It covers territory east of Porter and St. Leo, south of Lincoln County, north of Lac Qui Parle County, and west of the South Dakota border.
They have 18 workouts a year. Most of the winter sessions take place in the classroom and most of the outdoor practice takes place in the summer.
Vehicles owned by the fire department include two pump trucks, three tank trucks, two turf rigs, a rescue rig, and utility vehicles.
Verhelst said he decided to join the fire department because of the opportunity to help others. He liked being able to help people who were facing emergencies.
“When I moved to the city, I felt that it would be a good way to serve”, he said. “I believe in getting involved in the community. I like the feeling of accomplishment.”
He added that much of the reward for being a firefighter comes from the bond that is formed between all members of the crew.
“It’s a fantastic team spirit,” Verhelst said. “It’s like a brotherhood. We will be there for each other in any circumstance. No one gets left behind.”
He especially remembers a grain elevator fire in Canby early in his career as a firefighter. A fire in the grain bins caused a dust explosion, injuring both fire crew members and elevator personnel.
The heat from the explosion melted some of the firefighting equipment. Verhelst suffered second and third degree burns to his head. His glasses remained intact and protected his eyes.
He said a willingness to help others, even if it means occasionally being in a potentially dangerous situation, is the most important requirement for serving in a fire and rescue department.
“Someone has to be in good physical condition, but that’s only part of it,” he said. “It’s also important to have drive. It means being motivated enough to always help in the blink of an eye under any conditions.”
He said that everyone should consider some form of community service because of the value of contributing to local needs and the personal satisfaction of doing good things for others.
“I encourage everyone to find ways to get involved,” Verhelst said. “Not everyone can fight fires, but there are other really good options. Almost everyone has something to contribute.”