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Burn fund inspires young survivor

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 2:23 PDT, Wed June 3, 2020

Last Updated: 2:13 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

Brandon Laxa is giving back to the community that helped him through a challenging time.

Rescued along with his sister Katelin from a 2004 house fire, he is now pursuing a career in the fire service.

“I was struggling to find what I wanted to do in my life,” said Laxa, who was inspired to pursue a career in firefighting after experiencing Burn Camp, a week-long summer program offered by the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. 

Laxa and Katelin have attended each summer camp since 2007, but the career choice didn’t click until two summers ago when he was 18.

“All the counsellors I’ve had over the years, I consider them my mentors,” he says. “My parents told me the first time I went to the camp, it was hard for them to drop us off. You start to feel comfortable and more at home the longer you’re there. When they picked us up, we didn’t want to leave.”

The friends Laxa made at camp are like a second family. They see each other only a few times a year, but each time it feels like they’ve never been apart.

For the first few years of camp, Laxa says no one talked about their accidents or injuries. The opportunity for campers to share their burn stories came about organically. 

They do a campfire, which has kind of developed over the last couple of years,” says Richmond firefighter Jen McElgunn, who sits on the Burn Camp committee. “It came about naturally one night, where the kids just started sharing their stories.”

Laxa played a part in the development of the sharing experience. McElgunn remembers him as a “quiet leader.” 

A few years ago, McElgunn arranged for Laxa and his sister to meet the firefighters who rescued them.

“I found out the guys that were at work that day and were on the call, and invited them out to meet Brandon and Katelin and their parents,” she says. “It was a pretty humbling experience (for the firefighters), to say the least.”

She adds that it would be a real full-circle experience if Laxa were hired as a firefighter in Richmond.

“I’m pretty proud of Brandon,” McElgunn says. “Now he’s taken many of the steps (to become a firefighter) and is just going through the application process. He has matured so much into such a nice young guy. He’s still a lot of fun to be around, but he is responsible and respectful. He’s a good kid.”

Laxa’s hope of giving back is also reflected in his volunteer work. He’s part of an organization called Street Savers that patrols the Downtown Eastside to attend overdoses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s also applied to be a BC 211 volunteer to help nearby seniors in need.

“My mentors over the years really taught me how important it is to give back and volunteer,” says Laxa.

Now, he’s giving back in a major way: pursuing the same career as many of those he looked up to as a youngster.

“The camp and the Burn Fund has been such a big part of my life over the years,” Laxa says. “It’s been a big contribution to where I’m at and what I’m doing today.”

To those who’ve helped him, Laxa has a clear message: “I can’t thank them enough.”

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