‘I’m a volunteer firefighter wherever I go’

Frank Trepanier

Heather Wright/The Independent

Frank Trepanier says the training he’s been given clicked in as he jumped in to help a man in a wheelchair in medical distress.

But the Dawn-Euphemia firefighter says three years ago, he would have been too “self absorbed” looking for his next drink to even notice what was happening.

Trepanier was honoured by the Canadian Red Cross Society with the Rescuer Award at the volunteer fire department’s annual dinner for stepping in to give CPR to the man. It was a big moment for Trepanier and his family on the road of recovery from addiction.

Trepanier and his wife Carla were coming back from vacation recently. They’d landed at Hamilton International Airport and as they were going through the terminal, Trepanier noticed movement out of the corner of his eye.  

“We were waiting for our luggage to come through and there was some commotion going on over in the corner, and I happened to look over and they were dragging a man out of a wheelchair. So, being a volunteer firefighter and always pretty much being on call 24/7, I went right over to help.”

Trepanier says there were a couple of people already there whom he coached to help him do CPR as they waited for Hamilton firefighters and paramedics to take over. The man did not survive and Trepanier learned later he was COVID-19 positive. That lead to some testing and isolation of his own until he learned he was fine.

“The fact that I’m trained in CPR and stuff like that… it was a natural reaction for me to jump in and try to help right to the best of my ability,” he says adding his brothers and sisters on the fire department deserve credit for training him.

And while Trepanier is humble about the award, his wife Carla, can barely explain her pride in her husband. But it’s not just about trying to save a man’s life on vacation. In 2018, Trepanier stepped up to seek the help to save his own life after years of alcohol and drug abuse.

Trepanier – a self-confessed adrenaline junkie – had always wanted to be a volunteer firefighter but his drinking and drug use made that impossible. And for some time, he wasn’t able to change.  “I was self absorbed. All I cared about was Frank, right. I didn’t care about what anybody else wanted, what anybody else was doing,” he says. “My life was falling apart around me and I didn’t even realize it… if I’d been involved in this situation before when I was using, I don’t think I would have done that.”

Trepanier had been using drugs and alcohol for years, staying sober for a few months before Carla recognized the signs of abuse or traced his calls to his drug dealer and confronted him again. He isolated himself from his wife and two young kids, living in a shed on their property.

One day, he wouldn’t go to work. It was tearing his wife up and eventually her boss sent her home, knowing she couldn’t concentrate. She found him in the shed again, high. It was a turning point. “I said I’m done… I don’t know where we go from here, but I know that I can’t live like this anymore. And like I’m broken. I’m just I’m done.”

She stayed with him, silent for four hours before their kids came home. She went to make them dinner and Trepanier joined them at the table. “He looked me in the eye and his tears start to flow. And he said, ‘I need help. I can’t do it anymore either.’”

Trepanier ended up at Westover Treatment Centre in Thamesville. 

“I’ve had so many lost opportunities before I got sober and… I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was sick of chasing my next drunk and I was sick of chasing my next high. And yeah, pretty much my life was falling apart and I didn’t see it.”

Today, Trepanier works at Westover as the facilities maintenance director. He calls it an honour. 

“This place saved my life and now I’ve got a chance to go back out into the community and its a way of making amends for me being on the fire department.”

His wife sees the Red Cross award as a marker on Trepanier’s road to recovery. 

“There are not enough words to express how proud I am of him… I always knew he was this man. I was just waiting for him to figure it out.”

Trepanier seems a bit uncomfortable with the praise and the award. He says he was only doing what he’d been trained to do at the Dawn-Euphemia fire department. 

“I’m a volunteer firefighter wherever I go.”