Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Dispatches: January 2015

Jennifer Grigg   

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Writer’s block, as you know, affects writers from time to time, and I seemed to be afflicted with it right about the time that this column was due. I started it and restarted it a couple of times, getting no further than a word or two.

Writing should not be this hard, I thought. When I’m inspired, it’s so effortless, so what the heck was stopping me? I think it’s one of those situations in which the harder you try, the harder it gets. So I decided to take a break and go for a haircut.

It was my first time at this salon so the stylist, Kiersten, and I chatted about my hair and what I wanted. “Well, I like this and I like that, but I don’t like this and don’t want that. . . . I’m not sure about the length I want. . . . ”

We looked at each other in the mirror and she said, “I’m not going to tell you yes or no, but I will say that you seem to be unsure of what you really want, so I suggest a trim.”

With a laugh and a sigh, I said, “OK, sounds good.” Like Kiersten told me, “It’s easy to take a little off and then go shorter if you decide, but I can’t put it back on if we go too short.”


While the stylist washed my hair, I thought of my column, and how Kiersten had made a very good point, one that I could relate easily to the fire service.

Most of us will go through times during which we think change is necessary. We may find that we’re getting complacent, tired, discouraged. We start to think that we need a change and maybe contemplate ways to facilitate that change. And then we start to flip flop: I should do this, nah I shouldn’t, maybe I should do that . . . and on it goes.

I learned that day that if it’s time to make a change, you’ll do it without having to get everyone else to weigh in on it. No waffling back and forth. When the time is right, you’ll just do it. And if you’re really unsure about things, it’s simply not the right time.

My recommendation is to figure out what you already have that is a good thing, and make it better – it doesn’t mean a drastic change, it just means that you already have something in which you’ve invested a lot of time and energy. Work with what you’ve already got and think of ways you can improve it.

The next lesson learned was that there is an OK way to do things (some might even say wrong) and there is a much better way to do things. We were discussing my frizzy hair when the stylist explained to me that using a towel creates more friction and causes more frizziness, whereas if you use an old cotton T-shirt, it absorbs the moisture without causing the frizz.

That’s fascinating, I thought. Much like in the fire service, there are many ways to do things – some methods are perhaps not the best, and others just make more sense and work more effectively.

At our last training night, I overheard two of the younger fellas checking the packs. One of the firefighters asked the other what he was doing. The newer of the two firefighters told him he was checking the mask for a seal.

Firefighter No. 1 said, “Who told you to do that”?

Firefighter No. 2 replied, “I’ve always done it that way; that’s how I was shown.”

I interjected and said, “How else are you supposed to check the seal?” (Since I knew full well that I had shown Firefighter No. 2 how to check the packs, the same way I had been shown 17 years earlier. Hey, I have no problem owning my mistakes; I was just passing on what I’d been taught.)

“Don’t do that, you’ll contaminate the mask,” said Firefighter No. 1. “What if you have a cold?”

Firefighter No. 2 and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders; he had a valid point. Just then another firefighter joined the conversation and pointed out that everyone is supposed to be fit tested so there is no need to check the seal or risk contamination. That was another good point.

I fully admit, as someone who has been on the department for many years, it’s easy to get into the we’ve-always-done-it-this-way mindset. But this exchange served as an excellent reminder to ask yourself if what you’re doing still makes sense.

When I started, we didn’t do fit testing, the equipment wasn’t as good, and contamination wasn’t a huge concern, so checking the seal was an accepted practice.

Lesson No. 3 I learned at the salon was about the quality of work that you do. I’ve been to many stylists over the years; although the result is a huge factor in things, the attitude and personality is an equally huge factor. I think this stylist was born with scissors in her hand; she was friendly and knowledgeable and took the time to understand where I was coming from and what I wanted (even if I wasn’t sure what that was), and explained helpful techniques.

Our attitudes and personalities have a lot to do with the quality of work we do and the differences we make in people’s lives. To quote a former fire chief of mine, “Be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving” and I’ll add, to everyone you meet. You never know where you’ll find the inspiration you’re looking for.

Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at and follow her on Twitter at @georgianbayjen

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