The White Helmets of Syria is a volunteer civilian force in that war-ravaged country.
Since that country's civil war began in 2011, its members have gone into bombed buildings to look for survivors, remove the dead, and have even recovered executed victims in order to ensure their remains are returned to families.
That the volunteers put themselves in danger is clear, what is equally bad is that they are often targeted as they carryout their work, with Syrian government helicopters dropping barrel bombs — oil drums containing explosives, shrapnel and diesel.
To date, the White Helmets is estimated to have saved almost 22,000 lives.
The group's struggles and selflessness captured the imagination and respect of Whistler resident Paul Hookham, a songwriter and retired fire captain from the Delta Fire Department.
"My son sent me an email link about them," he says.
"I've been on YouTube a fair bit, looking at videos on the White Helmets in the city of Aleppo, which seems to be the worst hit."
Inspired by what he saw, he wrote a song — "A Far Cry" — about the White Helmets, with the aim of lifting its profile and that of a petition being sent to the United Nations (UN) on its behalf, which aims to stop the barrel bombing in Syria by creating a UN no-fly zone.
"You can imagine, any kind of fire scene or rescue scene there is a lot of hurt and a lot of loss," Hookham says.
"And when you're exposed to that a lot, you either deal with it well or you don't.... My way is to preserve life, to be positive, to maintain my optimism and be ready to help."
He has no connection with the White Helmets, apart from an interest in helping first responders worldwide.
"I wanted to provide the song for free as an incentive for people to sign the petition to the UN. I saw the power that I had, using really good players. It isn't about money, it's about helping the White Helmets," Hookham says.
Hookham pulled together a musical team from Canada and the U.S. to record "A Far Cry": Collective Soul's Ryan Hoyle on drums, Blind Melon's Brad Smith on bass, Carrie Underwood keyboardist Jonathan Hamby, and Stevie Black, who has performed with Miley Cyrus, on strings.
Vocals are by Marlon O'Reilly from Coquitlam.
This was a self-funded project for Hookham.
"I'm very fortunate. I'm not rich but I have enough money to do this," he said.
"It was my Canada Day activity. For Canada Day I spent all day, until 9:30 p.m. sending out emails to people I thought would be interested in helping.
"I wanted to speak on (the White Helmet's) behalf. I've been very apolitical all my life and my fire department connections drew me to this. I felt compelled to see this idea through."
Hookham has been a songwriter for 20 years and has previously released a song about bullying, "Stand on Your Own."
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