Teacher from US turns firefighter

Updated: Aug 30, 2022 By TAN YINGZI and DENG RUI in Chongqing CHINA DAILY Print
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Francis Stonier (right) is ready to join firefighting volunteers on Tuesday in Chongqing. [Photo provided to CHINA DAILY]

The example of a foreign teacher who volunteered to help fight the raging wildfires in Chongqing's Beibei district with other local residents has touched many.

In the scorching heat and drought conditions, multiple wildfires ravaged parts of Chongqing recently. On Sunday night, a forest fire broke out and spread in Beibei.

The local government issued an urgent call for volunteers with certain skills and experience, such as chain saw operation, to join in the firefighting. Chain saws are used to create fire barriers.

"I was happy to help," said Francis Stonier, 42, associate professor in the Education Department of Southwest University. He said he used to cut trees around his yard and neighborhood in the state of Virginia in the United States.

He said he had volunteered many times in the US in the past-for example, building houses for homeless people after big storms.

Stonier found a translator-50-year-old He Wu, a professor in the university's college of foreign languages-who also signed up to fight fires.

On Tuesday, a group of six college teachers, including Stonier and He, went to the volunteer venue in the district's Xiema town, the epicenter of the local blazes. Soon, the pair were assigned to one of the chain saw groups-inspecting and adjusting chain saws.

"Francis is responsible and focused, and is doing a really good job," said He, adding that Stonier checked each chain saw carefully, to see if it was too tight or too loose.

After two hours of work, their group of five people had checked out some 50 chain saws, which were delivered to fire and rescue workers.

"Wherever I went, the volunteers and local residents gave me a big thumbs-up. It was an unforgettable experience," Stonier said.

At 3 pm, the pair was taken to a mountainous area by a volunteer motorcyclist, preparing for the next job-cutting wood. Stonier said he had a large backpack of camping gear, as he fully expected to be on the mountain all night.

But he was persuaded to return home, as nonprofessionals are not encouraged on the front lines.

"They were concerned about our safety, and I totally understood," he said.

Thanks to the joint efforts of fire and rescue workers, as well as volunteers and residents, the local government said the raging wildfire in Beibei had been extinguished as of Thursday night.

"It was great to see such an outpouring of help in the extreme heat," he said, noting that he was impressed with the number of locals who came to help. Motorcyclists gave up their jobs to convey materials and people up and down the mountains. Others gave their time to carry heavy supplies, prepare and serve meals or help organize.

In 2017, Stonier came to Chongqing and joined Southwest University the next year.

"It's been a really hot, tough summer. But other than that, I'm really enjoying my life here," Stonier said, adding that the city seems to be a good place to raise his family, and the local people are friendly.

"Beibei is my home, Chongqing is my home, I'm planning to live here for the foreseeable future, possibly even retire here," he said.

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