Community service is not new for Tany Yao. Indeed, it’s a family tradition, going back to his father, Joseph, who was a doctor in Fort McMurray. “I remember watching my father pack his medical bag late one evening. I asked him where he was going? He was on his way to an ill patients home. At this time, I didn’t know doctors still made house calls, but my father insisted it was easier on the patient.” Yao’s father emigrated from the Philippines after the Second World War, at one point settling in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, where Yao was born in 1971. The medical roots of the family run deep. His mother, Keiko, was a nurse and at one point, there were 14 physicians in the Yao clan. Given this background, perhaps it is no surprise that when Yao graduated from Fort McMurray Composite High School he wanted a career that would combine medicine and community service. In 1991, he was accepted into the EMT program in Lac La Biche. Ultimately, he went on to NAIT to become a Paramedic.
His first full-time job after graduating from NAIT was with the Alberta Central Air Ambulance in Lac La Biche. In 1997, Yao returned to Fort McMurray as a paramedic firefighter. He helped fight the House River Fire in 2002 and was the pump operator on the crew that saved the Abasand Apartment complex. In 2007, Yao was promoted to Assistant Deputy Chief of Operations – EMS for the region of Wood Buffalo. Although he loved his job – and loved helping the community in which he grew up in– in 2011, Yao put his career on hold to spend more time with his family. Life truly does move in mysterious ways though, because it was while he was visiting his father, who had suffered a stroke, at the University of Alberta Hospital that Yao was given one more chance to be of service to his community. Brian Jean, future leader of the Wildrose Party, was at the same hospital, tending to his terminally ill son.
“We ran into each other at a coffee shop in U of A. ” remembers Yao. “Brian and I had long conversations on just about every topic: family, work, the health care system, you name it and we talked about it.” When Jean, decided to get back into politics and run for the leadership of the Wildrose Party he told his new friend: “You’re going to have to hold down the fort for me, Tany.” Although Tany initially thought it was a joke, the “hold down the fort” request became serious and earnest in 2015, when Yao ran for a seat in the provincial election. When the ballots were counted, he had easily won, as the people in Alberta rejected the governing PC party. Yao had taken his second chance at community service and run with it. He worked diligently at his new career, continually meeting with local social profits, community groups, business and the municipal government.
Premier Rachel Notley officially named him one of the heroes of the 2016 wildfires, for his selfless and tireless work helping evacuees. He had previously used his maiden speech in the legislature to talk about the beauty of Northern Alberta, choking up at one point when he described the aurora borealis. “I am so grateful to Fort McMurray, for everything it has given me and my family” says Yao. “It is a city that welcomes people, that rewards hard work, that has the same values I was raised with. It was an honour to give something back to this community.” Yao normally drives to most of his out-of-town meetings. Like his father continuing to make house calls long after others had stopped, it is dedication to the community that defines Tany Yao