Clothes Communicate #8 – Jānis

Ērgļi can be very proud of its fire chief, Jānis Opincāns. Born in Ērgļi in 1987, he graduated from high school here before going to study at the Fire Safety and Civil Protection College in Rīga.

At school he was into sport and didn’t want to go on to higher education that would require him to sit in a classroom learning theory all day. He describes himself as a practical guy and so decided that firefighter college, including physical training, parade drill, and practice at working fire stations and on drill towers, would suit him better than academic studies. It was also important to him not to end up with a student loan or be reliant on his parents, so the fact that trainee firefighters receive a stipend during training was very appealing.

He has now served as a firefighter for 17 years, including three years as a senior instructor at the college in Rīga. However, his roots in Vidzeme drew him back, first to Madona and then to Ērgļi where, as fire chief, he says he has to spend more time sitting, writing and thinking.

He describes himself as a self-disciplined, straightforward, practical Latvian who can cook and fix things. While he does have dreams, he always assesses the situation realistically instead of impulsively leaping into new projects without first considering the consequences.

The firefighter’s uniform is an essential element of his work in practical terms, being flame-retardant and providing protection from shards of metal or glass when attending accidents, for example. However, for Jānis, another important aspect is the discipline associated with wearing a uniform. He says the Fire Service has rules which must be observed in order to preserve high standards, reputation and trust from the general public. “When in uniform, you aren’t just an individual. You create an impression of the whole service,” he says.  “If you do something bad in uniform, people will think all firefighters are like that.”

Jānis is very active in local cultural activities, including amateur theatre and folk dancing. He says he likes being on stage, and that being well turned out helps him feel confident. “I can take the rubbish out in my slippers,” he says, “but if I put on a suit or folk costume that makes a totally different impression.” He feels a strong sense of belonging to Latvian culture and traditions; that they are an important aspect of social life and a good way to use your free time constructively.

Whether in uniform, tracksuit or folk costume, Jānis is a highly valued member of the Ērgļi community.

Thanks to Krista Zeibote for help with translating the text.

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