Chelsea Olesky (left) and her sister Tiffany Melvin both volunteer together at Emergency Social Services. Olesky says the experience has helped her family grow closer together. Submitted photo.

Volunteer uses own experience with fire to help others

“I know how it feels to be displaced.”

Chelsea Olesky lost her home to a house fire two years ago.

When her mother started volunteering with Emergency Social Services (ESS), she decided to help too.

“I thought, we’ve experienced house loss and dealt with the ESS and so the reason why I wanted to start was to help those and support those that had lost their house and help them understand that even though they’ve lost a part of their lives, that it’s still okay.”

Olesky is a recent graduate of Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School, and started volunteering on July 9, shortly after the wildfires started.

She worked eight-hour shifts until taking a bit of a break during 100 Mile House’s evacuation. When the town was able to come home on July 22, herself, her sister and her mom went back to volunteer the next day. She says her longest shift was 12 hours.

“I’ve been doing registrations. I’ve been doing referrals. I’ve been doing renewals for referrals. I’ve been helping those in need getting dog food and helping them find a food bank for supplies that they are in need of,” she says.

While she says she wasn’t personally affected, because she never needed to evacuate, it’s been stressful.

“I’ve learned how to cope with it and keep my mental health good,” she says.

Her own experience with fire has helped. In her situation, her family had left their home at Horse Lake approximately half an hour before the fire started two years ago. She was at school when she was told the news.

“They said, your family is fine, everything is okay, but your house is on fire. So we all kind of freaked out,” she says.

“I was disappointed in myself because I had joked about it that morning. I was outside the school that morning and I had heard the fire trucks go off so I was just joking around with my friends and I had said, ‘Oh, the dog is burning the house down.’”

During the course of her time with ESS, she has met an evacuee who lost their home.

“I told the evacuee who had lost their house that it’s a very hard time but it will get easier eventually. I said that it is good that it was just the house and it didn’t danger your animals,” she says.

“Pretty much just saying that life will eventually get better throughout time.”

There is a difference she says, between herself and others who lost their home.

“I think the difference between my experience and theirs is they were able to get out as much as they could and with our family, we weren’t able to do that, but I realized that I was glad they were able to get out what they needed to, like their animals and their family. That was the main thing concerning me, was that everything got out safe with them.”

The experience, she says, has brought herself, her mother and her sister closer together.

“I’ve created a better bond with them,” she says.

She says she’s planning on upgrading her English 12 in the fall so she can go to school to become an educational assistant.

She says some days have been better than others working with evacuees, but that mostly it’s been good. She estimates she’s seen almost 2,500 evacuees.

“Some are repeats, they’ll come in and be like, ‘Oh you again,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Yup, me again.” Then they’ll be like, “’Seeing you just makes my day so much better,’” she says.

“That’s what makes me happy that I’m a volunteer and that I am able to help those that are in need. That and I know how it feels to be displaced.”

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