Time to step back

Dave Verhelst — Canby Fire Department

Photo by Jim Muchlinski After 31 years in the Canby Fire Department, Dave Verhelst is hanging up his gear for good.

CANBY — Dave Verhelst was a Canby firefighter for most of his adult life, and he has many good memories to show for it.

Verhelst retired this winter from the department after 31 years. He first joined in 1991. He has held a variety of positions; including those of assistant chief, captain, treasurer and training officer.

He decided to retire in 2022 to devote time to other community oriented projects. One of them is the proposed event center construction by the Canby Sportsmen’s Club.

“I decided that 31 years in the fire department was long enough,” Verhelst said. “When I do something, I always go all the way. I’m getting older, and it was time to step back.”

Canby has a 25-person fire crew. It covers a territory that goes east to Porter and St. Leo, south into Lincoln County, north into Lac Qui Parle County, and west to the South Dakota border.

They have 18 trainings a year. Most of the winter sessions are classroom based, and the majority of outdoor practice takes place in the summer.

Vehicles owned by the fire department include two pumper truck, three tankers, two grass rigs, a rescue rig, and utility vehicles.

Verhelst said he decided to join the fire department because of the opportunity to help others. He enjoyed being able to assist people faced with emergencies.

“When I moved to town, I felt that it would be a good way to serve,” he said. “I believe in getting involved in the community. I like the sense of accomplishment.”

He added that a big part of the reward for being a firefighter comes through the bond that forms between all members of the crew.

“It’s a fantastic team spirit,” Verhelst said. “It’s like a brotherhood. We’ll be there for each other in any circumstances. No one is ever left behind.”

He especially recalls a grain elevator fire in Canby early in his firefighting career. A fire in grain bins prompted a dust explosion, which injured both fire crew members and elevator staff.

The heat from the explosion melted some of the fire gear. Verhelst sustained second- and third-degree burns on his head. Eye wear stayed 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 one part of it,” he said. “It’s also important to have drive. It means being motivated enough to always help at the drop of a hat under any conditions.”

He said everyone should consider some sort 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. Nearly everyone has something to contribute.”


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