WEYBURN – When Jola Bell-Erb heard her name called as one of the final winners for the 2024 Fire Fighters Calendar, she couldn’t believe she had been selected third for one of the 12 final spots.
A firefighter with the Weyburn Fire Department since 2018, she had tried to enter the competition last year, but had missed the deadline for entry. The organizers kept her name and called her up this year to see if she was still interested in going into the province-wide calendar, which is a fundraiser for the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon.
A total of 16 fire fighters from around the province were selected for the final competition, held onstage on Saturday evening at Casino Regina, and Jola was one of two women selected for the calendar.
The competitors had to introduce themselves on stage, and do a selected task, all the while earning votes for themselves from friends and supporters. There was also a two-minute video of themselves shown, explaining why they wanted to participate in this fundraiser.
The winners were chosen based on votes and how much money was raised, but as Jola noted, they were not told how many votes or how much was brought in, so it was a complete surprise to her when her name was called.
Jola admitted this was a scary situation for her, as she hadn’t been on a stage in front of a crowd since she was in dance as a young girl.
Her onstage task was to do a fire crawl, similar to an army crawl, while two fire fighters were on boards on top of her.
“After that was done, I felt so good, and the whole crowd cheered,” she said, noting she was able to have her mom, stepdad, her boyfriend and her aunt in the crowd to cheer her on.
As one of the winners, the organizers will send professionals in late June or early July to do a photo shoot of her in fire gear, and the calendar will come out in the fall. A personal trainer also donated his time to the fire fighters, to make sure they met the goals they had set for the calendar selection night, and for the photo shoot to come.
She noted she will need to sell 40 of them, and they will cost $20 each.
She feels happy to be representing the Weyburn Fire Department, but also to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital is very special to her, as she had to spend time there as a young girl for cancer treatment.
“I had cancer when I was little and had to be in the hospital for treatment, so it hits close to home for me,” she said.
Jola began as a junior fire fighter, and she had taken the emergency response class while a student at the Weyburn Comp. She is now a paid on-call fire fighter, one of three women serving with the department, with another two women possibly looking to join them.
Now that the competition process is over, she is excited to see what the calendar will look like this fall.
“I feel good about it. I was so scared to do it at first, but I just wanted to put myself out there. Even if I wasn’t selected, it would’ve shown I had put my support in for the Jim Pattison hospital,” she said.
The group of finalists became good friends, she added, and it didn’t really feel like a competition as such, as they all had each other’s backs in support.