During my stint as an instructor at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst, one of the expectations that really impacted me was the awareness and importance of using gender neutral or gender-inclusive language in the classroom.
Last June, I began a journey that challenged, motivated and inspired me in ways that I never could have imagined. I started a new job as an instructor at the Ontario Fire College. It was everything I’d dreamed of and more, so much more.
May 10, 2016, Port Severn, Ont. - The devastating pictures and videos coming out of Fort McMurray, Alta., over the past week have struck a chord in everyone. Fire and its consumable nature is something that people don’t often think about until it hits close to home.Many people enjoy the sights and sounds (and even the distinct smell) of sitting by a campfire, but even the most innocent campfire can become out of control and damage property and structures. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have campfires, but we should enjoy them responsibly, use well-maintained fire pits, and respect the power that fires yield. It’s great to roast marshmallows but we don’t want to be roasting our lawn, trees, or home.Many homeowners use fire as a cost-effective and, for the most part, environmentally friendly way to clear brush, leaves and dead tree branches. Yet most of us have responded to a brush fire that was caused by an embarrassed homeowner who lost control of the blaze.Don’t get me wrong, responding to, controlling and extinguishing fire is one of our many duties and the reason we’re here, but we still need to educate and encourage people to take the necessary precautions so that we don’t need to respond in the first place. The fire department is a reactive measure; educating people about fire safety in all forms is a proactive measure.Those of us who join the fire department do so with different career paths and goals in mind, but we all joined for the same reason: to help our communities. If your fire department has a fire-prevention officer and/or a public-education officer, that’s fantastic, but educating the public is every firefighter’s job.Whether you are on a call or filling up the trucks at the local gas station after the call, share fire-safety information with the public. Never miss out on an opportunity to raise awareness about the services we offer and the knowledge we can share with others. We have a ton of training in so many different aspects of fire suppression, prevention, rescue, medical, hazardous materials, and so on, so why wouldn’t we share what we know? Why would we wait to help others?I haven’t heard how the fire in Fort McMurray was started, but clearly something got out of control – intentionally or accidently. More than 80,000 people were forced to leave their homes, their belongings and their lives behind, with no idea of what they’ll be returning to when it’s all over. To the firefighters continuing to battle the blaze, be safe, we’re praying for you.As for all the other firefighters out there who are reading these words, educate, educate, educate! Share your passion with others. Your words could be the ones that keep someone safe.Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it @georgianbayjen
April 25, 2016, Port Severn, Ont. - I had the honour of presenting an overview of the R2MR (Road to Mental Readiness) program to the Muskoka Association of Fire Chiefs at their meeting in Bracebridge last week.It was an honour for two reasons: the first is the topic of conversation – the R2MR program, which is near and dear to my heart. I am always happy to enlighten fire-service members on the fundamentals of the program and to help create interest and enthusiasm surrounding it, because I believe in it and its effectiveness so emphatically.The second reason it was an honour is because I am always grateful to spend time with other firefighters and officers – I have great respect for this profession in all of its forms – especially those who have worked their way up to such a multi-faceted position as chief.Those in the fire service who have moved into senior officer positions are generally those who have been in the service for many years, put forth consistent effort to pursue training, education and personal and professional growth, and bring a wealth of knowledge and insight to any conversation. They’ve seen a lot, they’ve done a lot, they know a lot, and there is a lot to learn from them.As I listened to the chiefs discuss co-ordinating the R2MR training for the six fire departments in the District of Muskoka, I was struck by the collaborative effort and dedication to working cohesively to bring the training to all of their fire-service members.Any new program or training has some implementation barriers, and it’s up to the leaders of the fire departments to be the agents of change. These leaders are clearly demonstrating their commitment to their firefighters, officers and departments as a whole, and to me, that’s what the fire service is all about.Something I’ve always loved about the fire service is how fortunate we are to be able to meet and/or work with members of other fire departments by taking courses at the fire college and other approved training facilities. We have the opportunity to create networks across the province with other members, who often become lifelong friends and colleagues. It really is a brotherhood and it extends across borders too. We face the same issues, the same challenges and the same struggles.I’m not sure if departments in the United States are implementing a version of the R2MR, but I hope they have some sort of mental-health awareness training program in place. We’ve all seen the staggering numbers of emergency services personnel taking their own lives.Regardless of what fire department you’re on, what country you live in, and whether you’re male or female, if you’re in the fire service (and I’m assuming you are if you are reading this), you are part of the brotherhood and we need to take care of our own.I hope that you too have leaders such as the ones I have in my area, and the ones whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through the R2MR trainers program, but keep in mind, you don’t have to be an officer to be a leader.As leadership author Robin Sharma says: “Lead without a title.”Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow her on Twitter @georgianbayjen
April 7, 2016, Port Severn, Ont. - Why challenge ourselves?Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of presenting the new Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) training program, along with eight other R2MR-certified trainers, to attendees at the Northeastern Fire Education Conference in North Bay, Ont.
March 30, 2016, Port Severn, Ont. - When I left my full-time job in the municipal planning department three weeks ago, I had no idea where I would end up or what I would do with myself. There were definitely things I wanted to do, but how often do we think to ourselves, “If I had the time, I would do this, this and this,” and then never actually do it?I’ve often daydreamed of travelling and having meaningful conversations with people who inspire me, and then writing a book about those experiences.The time I have on my hands right now, I’ve realized, is the perfect time to fulfill that dream. In the past three weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time chatting with the acting principal of the Ontario Fire College, a fire protection specialist with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, a suppression captain with Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services, and a former co-worker who is a fire inspector with MFES (and you all know how I have a special place in my heart for Mississauga).I am literally living my dream. Experiencing the knowledge, insight, humour, integrity, compassion and genuineness of the four people with whom I’ve had the honour of spending time is valuable beyond belief.If someone told me a year ago, or even six months ago, that I would drive an hour, each way, to spend an hour speaking with the principal at the fire college – whom I’d never actually met before – I never would have believed it. I knew who she was (doesn’t everyone? She’s a powerhouse in the fire service) and we’d connected and chatted often through social media, but that was the extent of our interaction. The idea of calling her up (messaging her, actually – we introverts prefer email/text to phone calls) to ask if I could visit for a quick chat would have totally freaked me out in the past. My fear would have been too great for me to make that move, regardless of how much I wanted to.Meeting the fire protection specialist for coffee and a chat two weeks ago was something else I would have been too shy to do in the past. I’d met him during a course I took last year, but did not get to know him well, and, for a shy introvert such as myself, the thought of a conversation with a near-stranger would have sent me back into my cocoon. Fortunately, shyness appears to be a non issue for me these days.The suppression captain I spent time with this week has been a hero of mine since my Mississauga days, and yet, today was the first day that I actually really spoke with her. I remember meeting her briefly in the fire station when I was a very new fire inspector back in 2004. The moment my captain introduced her as a captain, it was as though the heavens parted and the sun shone down on her. Sounds totally cheesy, I know, but when you come face to face with the small, silent dream that you carry within, it’s a pretty powerful moment. Since I first fell in love with the fire service, I’ve dreamed of being a full-time firefighter one day. Life may have taken me in another direction, but this captain will always be an inspiration.Which leads me to my friend, the Mississauga fire inspector. I worked for Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services 12 years ago, for a mere six months, and I have never been more impacted by a job in my life. The friends I made during those six months have remained cherished friends, which is rare for an introvert. I have a knack for falling out of touch with people, yet I’ve never hesitated to hop in my car and drive to Mississauga just to have coffee with the guys. It’s awesome and unbelievable to me how much that job and those six months changed me, and became a part of who I am. I’m always happy to have the opportunity to meet up with old colleagues, particularly this fire inspector, and catch up with life in the big city (me being the country bumpkin that I am.)I instinctively know that there is great power in the right conversations, and the past few weeks have proved that to be absolutely true. I learned from the principal that I’m smarter than I give myself credit for; the fire protection advisor showed me that we all have similar stories and can use them to reach out to others; the suppression captain taught me to have the mindset: why not me?; and my very good friend the inspector reminded me – yet again – about the career that I could still have.These are valuable life lessons to be sure, but the best part of these conversations was feeling fully alive, engaged and inspired, and knowing that in those moments, with those people, having those conversations, was exactly where I was meant to be.Looking forward to wherever this crazy adventure of mine takes me.#fd4lifeJennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow her on Twitter @georgianbayjen
Training and preparation play a tremendous role in firefighters’ lives. These two activities foster an environment of mandated lifelong learning in the fire service. Canadian Firefighter’s annual Training Day, which has traditionally been held in September, has an exciting new partnership with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC).
May 18, 2017, Toronto - A firefighter with experience in water-ice rescue testified Wednesday at an inquest examining training deaths that he avoids exercises in icy, swift water because it is too dangerous.
Jan. 19, 2017, Toronto -  It’s complicated, this two-hatter issue. But the gist of it is this: an American-based trade union is denying its members the freedom that other Canadians have to work and do what they want in their spare time – build decks, plow snow, fix plumbing, be volunteer/part-time firefighters in their home communities.The union – the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – on Monday tried four of its members who work full time in Mississauga, Ont., and also work part time¬ in Halton Hills, a community northwest of Toronto with a composite fire department.The IAFF constitution prohibits secondary employment – it forbids firefighters from working part time in another union shop (as firefighters, paramedics or public-safety officers), and members who do so are disciplined for violating an oath. Oddly, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association allows, by its own count, about 1,000 of its members to work as paramedics, without reprisal. Monday’s session ¬– an internal trial board hearing ¬– was closed; Mississauga’s past union president Mark Train, who sometimes represents the union in legal matters, declined to discuss details, saying the process has not concluded and, “as such I will not comment on the matter.”The hearing started and ended Monday but the trial board has a period of time during which to mete out penalties. One of the four firefighters on trail admitted to violating the IAFF constitution and resigned Monday night from the Halton Hills Fire Department. The penalty being considered for the other firefighters is a $1,000 initial fine followed by monthly levies of $500, and another $500 for every six months during which the part-time activities continue – a fairly blunt deterrent. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the union would revoke the two-hatters’ memberships, thereby potentially affecting their full-time jobs; most collective agreements require municipalities to employ only firefighters who are associatin members, and the IAFF has pressed towns and cities to terminate firefighters who have been dismissed from the union.The Halton Hills firefighters represented themselves at Monday’s hearing – legal counsel was not provided; in fact, the municipality is eliminating two-hatters through attrition, and has declined to hire two hatters for its part-time roster since 2011 in anticipation of union action.That’s in contrast to Caledon, Ont., a large, composite department with 22 unionized career firefighters and more than 250 volunteers. Some Brampton firefighters who work part time in Caledon received letters from their locals in the fall, making it clear that there would be repercussions if they continued to respond to calls as two-hatters. Some two-hatters handed in their pagers but the issue is ongoing. Town of Caledon management is supporting the two-hatters and providing legal counsel. And that may lead to the test of Bill 109, which was introduced by the governing Liberals and passed in 2016; it amended Ontario’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act to include a non-discrimination clause meant to ensure that full-time firefighters can also work part time in their smaller, home communities. But there’s politics at play. Ontario’s IAFF members, of course, roundly backed Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals during the 2014 provincial election; if Bill 109 is, indeed, tested, and holds up to scrutiny, that sea of support could evaporate. While the IAFF is American-based, the two-hatter issue arises only if charges are laid by a member of the offending firefighter’s home local, or by someone else affected by the two-hatting activity. I’m at a bit of a loss to understand how unionized firefighters in Mississauga are affected by their colleagues’ part-time employment in Halton Hills, but maybe I’m missing something.And, in what seems to be a conflicting philosophy, the OPFFA’s fire-paramedic proposal would allow members who are both firefighters and paramedics to administer symptom relief to patients at medical calls; critics claim the plan is simply a way to ensure firefighter jobs. Read between the lines.
Nov. 24, 2016, Niagara Falls, Ont. – Sometimes, as an objective and trained observer, it’s fascinating to be the proverbial fly on the wall, to gather information, filter the rhetoric, and over time, give readers a clear and contextual picture of fire-service issues. That’s what I’m doing (or trying to do, despite some obstacles) this week, at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) mid-term conference in Niagara Falls. While the OAFC unveiled the basics of its new strategic plan Wednesday morning – enhanced communication, revenue generation, government relations, and members services are at the crux of the document – it is, of course, what’s going on in the background that has people talking. While the OAFC is getting its ducks in a row for its four-year plan– more detail was provided and approval sought from members in Thursday’s closed businesses session – the much larger, better organized Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) is ensconced in its legislative conference at Queen’s Park, and it has the ear of the governing Liberals. Although the chiefs association has made considerable strides in government relations recently, the better-financed OPFFA, with a strong presence at the legislature and 13,000 boots on the ground, is, as OAFC executive vice-president Rick Arnel noted Wednesday morning, simply, better resourced. Again this week, the union has caused a bit of a kerfuffle with its fire-medic-turned-fire-paramedic-turned-patients-first proposal, about which the government is asking municipalities for input, and about which the chiefs have not been consulted by government. The two associations met earlier this week; OPFFA president Rob Hyndman and others, with the OAFC board, to pitch the IAFF’s new fire-ground survival protocol; the two groups have also discussed other issues, including the ever-frustrating two-hatter controversy, of which Brampton and Caledon firefighters are the most recent targets. Several people have said this week that Tuesday’s chiefs-union get together was productive and that the two associations can, indeed, work well together on issues. Save, perhaps, the fire-paramedic situation. Bizarrely, the government issued a discussion paper on Monday titled Patients First: Expanding Medical Responses, which, ostensibly, addresses challenges with land-ambulance service and promotes the OPFFA’s proposal to give expanded duties to firefighters who are also employed as paramedics, in a tiered-response situation (it’s not clear how many firefighters also work as paramedics). According to the discussion paper, this approach would be voluntary for municipalities. Any changes, of course, to firefighters’ roles, require amendments to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. Essentially, the government wants input about the fire-paramedic proposal “to determine service viability and opportunities.” Ontario, of course, post-amalgamation in 1998, has three tiers of government: municipal, regional and provincial. Fire is municipally funded; EMS is regional. And according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), that complicates things. The government document includes no financials, organizational or operations details. Simply, this: “There are three levels of paramedic scope of practice in Ontario. The ministry is exploring the potential option to allow eligible municipalities to choose to allow full-time firefighter to provide care up to the first level (primary care paramedic level).” A companion document – a lengthy survey being sent to stakeholders, including municipalities – however, makes it clear that any new costs would be municipal responsibilities. “Funding responsibility of the optional service will remain at 100% municipal cost,” the survey documents says. “The proposal would be an optional approach that municipalities can choose to implement at councils’ discretion based upon local decision and needs.” AMO has consistently opposed the fire-medic proposal, since it was first introduced in March 2015. “Municipal governments are deeply concerned about the direct and significant impact of the proposal on municipal emergency services, both financially and operationally,” AMO says on its website. “We will read the [government] discussion paper carefully, but to date, there has been no evidence or cost-benefit analysis seen that shows such an approach would improve patient outcomes.” More bluntly, AMO says that given the lack of evidence, it’s flummoxed that the proposal is a provincial priority given that municipalities would bear all the costs., labour challenges, and risks. “Fire services are 100 [per cent] funded by municipalities and only an elected municipal council has the authority to determine the level and type of fire protection services needed by its community,” AMO says. “We are also concerned that if any municipal council agrees to this proposal it would be replicated throughout Ontario by the current interest arbitration system.” Instead, AMO says, it wants the government to redevelop land-ambulance dispatch to improve patient outcomes. To a fly on the wall and an objective and trained observer, it’s interesting to hear the chatter about issues of the day: frustration that on the one hand, some union members refuse to allow their brethren work as part-time firefighters in their home municipalities, but on the other, could be seen to be impinging on another trade union to guarantee themselves employment longevity.        
Nov. 23, 2016, Niagara Falls, Ont. - Not once, in Fire Marshal Ross Nichols’ hour-long address to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs on Wednesday, did he claim to be “working on” the myriad initiatives that fire services across the province are anxious to see come to fruition.
Oct. 26, 2016 – An email landed in my in box last week from the always affable Brent Ross, spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety; Ross was replying to my request for details about the Ontario government’s response to the recommendations from the Elliot Lake inquiry.The gist is this: an RFS – request for service – has been issued for a review of emergency management in Ontario. The successful vendor will be engaged in November (more than two years after the inquiry recommendations were released); the review will begin in December and be completed in the spring (five years after the collapse of the Algo Centre mall); the process includes consultation but it’s not clear with whom.  “As part of the emergency management review,” Ross said in the email, “the incident management system will be reviewed and a way forward developed.” Ontario’s incident management system is a weighty document developed years ago with good intentions but it fails to suit the province’s myriad fire-department configurations and staffing models – career, composite, volunteer, urban, suburban, rural – and needs an overhaul.With emergency management becoming more relevant given weather events and security issues, it will be interesting to see how the review deals with a key recommendation of Elliot Lake Commissioner Paul Belanger, specifically, to steer clear of unified command.“There should be only one person in overall charge of a response; a ‘unified command’ structure should be avoided,” Belanger wrote in his final report from the inquiry. Yet emergency services across the province are training on responses to major incidents using unified command. Last week in Mississauga, police, fire and EMS personnel used unified command in an exercise that simulated an attack on a pipeline; and a few weeks ago in East Gwillimbury, unified command was embraced in a tri-services an exercise involving a threat.Belanger’s logic is as follows: “One final decision maker is essential to avoid conflicts or impasses caused by failure to reach a consensus. The concept of a unified command structure intrinsically contradicts the unity of command doctrine because it fails to ensure that decisions are made by someone who is ultimately responsible and accountable.”Indeed, to make his point, Belanger quotes the testimony of Dan Hefkey, the former Commissioner of Community Safety, who helped to write the provincial IMS doctrine.“So, under unified command, it is operating on the assumption that . . . I don’t know everything you know and you don’t know everything I know, so we are dependent, co-dependent, as a result that’s why you have a unified command,” Hefkey said. “And it then, when you enter into that agreement . . . there is no supreme arbiter to things; you and I are committing to commanding this incident jointly so that we can come to a mutually acceptable conclusion, so that your interests and my priorities are all met . . .  But. . . it’s not clean and it’s not to say that you’re going to have harmony one hundred per cent of the time. There are times when there are disagreement but when you decide that you are entering into a unified command arrangement that’s what you are doing.” Question: “A course of action between the two leaders of a unified command, assuming it is two, to disagree is not acceptable, correct?Hefkey: “No, they can disagree.” Question: “Sorry, if the disagreement results in no decision being made?”Hefkey: “That’s unacceptable.”Question: “That’s unacceptable?”Hefkey: “Absolutely correct.” Question: “You, in that particular case you would have dysfunctional unified command?”Hefkey. “That’s correct.” “As I have indicated,” Belanger said in the report, “the unified command structure is not well understood by the men and women who have to work with it on a regular basis. This difficulty is, in my view, because they understand that a system which allows for the possibility of clashing or inconsistent decisions, is unworkable.”Essentially, the commissioner said, the province’s incident-management system should be amended to eliminate the unified command model and require one incident commander “at all times.”According to Brent Ross, once the emergency management and IMS consultation/review is completed in the spring, the ministry will develop proposals to government in response to the review findings. I expect Commissioner Belanger will be watching, with interest.

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