Survivor thanks rescuers in a surprise visit

Seven years ago on Oct. 15, 2012, the Unity Fire Department was called to the trucker’s parking lot at the Delta Co-op C-Store location to respond to a vehicle fire. Little did the firefighters know at the time that this response would also involve a rescue, when upon arrival, they discovered a man inside the vehicle blaze. 

Leo Rocan was rushed by ambulance to where he could be put on board an air ambulance flight to the University of Alberta Hospital in critical condition. He was suffering third degree burns to 40 per cent of his body.

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Rocan spent much time in the past seven years in hospital undergoing treatment, surgeries, therapy and follow-up as a result of extensive injuries resulting from that 2012 blaze. During his convalescence and recovery, Leo maintained a goal to return to Unity to thank his rescuers and the community who helped in this incident, as well as some funding donated to him following the event.

Rocan boarded the train in Winnipeg and arrived in Unity on July 7 where Chantel Taylor, owner of the Greenhead Motel picked him up. The Press Herald office was one of the first places Rocan came, as he wanted us, first, to know his story and, second, to assist in connecting him with his “lifesavers” and friends, as he stated.

One of the first places Rocan wanted to visit was the Unity Auto Body shop where then fire chief, Larry Wilkie, worked. However, Wilkie deferred much of the acknowledgement to the firefighters themselves, stating they were the hands-on guys who acted at the scene, as the chief’s job is often directing the crew.

Rocan was able to meet UFD member, Dwaine Kopp, who was first on the scene, in a one-on-one meeting July 8 at the Unity fire hall. 

Later that evening, Rocan was able to meet the entire crew who were on scene that fateful night, Oct. 15, 2012.  Leo told these volunteer firefighters his tale of vowing to return to shake the hands of all those who helped save his life and personally thank them.  He presented each one he met with a lanyard representing the burn unit and burn support group that helped in his recovery. 

The lanyards were from the Mamingwey Burn Survivor Society, which was part of Rocan’s recovery. Mamingwey stands for burn survivors, family members, friends, caregivers and firefighters who are transformed into a community. The symbols on the Mamingwey logo represent many of the aspects of a burn survivor’s recovery. 

Photos were taken of Rocan’s meetings with the Unity lifesavers, as he now fondly refers to this group. Unity Fire Department crew members were able to see his photo album of initial admission and recovery stages, and heard his story as well as his gratefulness for their hand in saving his life.

Rocan also showed his hands and torso showing the remarkable resilience of skin and the healing properties of skin grafting, pointing to specific pictures of what these parts looked like initially and how well they have healed today. 

The firefighters said they were humbled to hear Rocan tell his story and meet him in person as they knew how grave his condition was when he was transported. 

Firefighters don’t always get to know “the rest of the story” after they have responded to a fire, so Rocan’s surprise visit was a welcome one.

Roucan also had the opportunity to meet up with other friends and acquaintances he made while living in Unity from 2007-2012. He never stopped voicing his admiration and appreciation for the community and its residents, as well as all of those who aided in his rescue, and contributed to his recovery fund. He reiterated at each meeting, “I want you to see what you helped do – that you saved me and I needed to thank you properly.”

Often protective services personnel are there for the initial crisis but never end up knowing the end result of the rescue they were involved in.  Even though it took seven years to learn of Leo Rocan’s happy ending, these rescuers were glad they got to close that Oct. 15, 2012 chapter together.

Unity Fire Chief, Leroy Timmermans, said, “We were all very touched to see Mr. Rocan, and appreciated his gratitude.  It’s nice to see someone that has made the recovery that he has.”


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