Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Dispatches: October 2012

Jennifer Grigg   

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“When you’ve worked hard and are finally able to walk through the door of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you, you leave it open and help others through.” – Michelle Obama

“When you’ve worked hard and are finally able to walk through the door of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you, you leave it open and help others through.” – Michelle Obama

That, to me, is what the fire service is all about.

By day I am a municipal law-enforcement officer but I’m lucky enough to work out of the fire hall under the direction of the fire chief, so I’m available for fire calls too. My co-workers – one is my supervisor, and the other was a summer student – are both eager to become firefighters. Can’t say I blame them, working in the fire hall, listening to the calls on the radio, and even being lucky enough to be out on patrol with me when I’ve been paged to a call once or twice has definitely sparked their interest (pardon the pun).

Over the course of the summer, their interest in joining our volunteer fire department grew into an obsession and many of our conversations revolved around what being a volunteer firefighter is all about.

They will hate me for saying this but, one of them even begged me to let them just sit in the truck with me while I backed it into the hall.

How cute is that? I remember way back when I was one of those eager-beaver-can’t-wait-to-join-the-fire-department-it’s-all-I-want-to-do-even-if-I-only-get-to-wash-the-truck wannabes. Wait a minute – that was last year! Maybe you never really grow out of that.

However, with the two minions – as I affectionately refer to them as in my Disptaches blog – their enthusiasm is contagious and that’s why I try to help them in whatever way I can in their pursuits to become volunteer firefighters, or perhaps even full-time firefighters someday.

I know how it feels to be on the outside looking in and, as Obama pointed out in her speech, when that door finally opens for you, you hold it open for the next person. I went through four years of being away from the fire department (following a move to a different town) and missed it every second I was away. When the opportunity to return to the fire service presented itself, I jumped at the chance even though it meant passing a written test, a fitness test and then completing a 100-hour recruit course with people half my age. This may not sound like much to some, but I found it incredibly intimidating for an almost 40-year-old woman who had been away from the fire department for four years. Even after completing the course, I had to wait another year before a position – and that door – finally opened for me.

So yes, I am familiar with the If-I-could-just-get-my-foot-in-the-door feeling, and the resulting excitement that occurs when you actually get the opportunity. Sometimes, it comes down to knowing the right people, and sometimes it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. One thing I know for sure is that finding someone who is willing to take the time to talk to you and give you some advice is worth its weight in gold.

It seems as though people like that are few and far between these days. With today’s technological advances, people spend more time texting, tweeting and messaging than they do talking face to face with people. The problem is that we’re missing out on so much that can be learned from other people in the fire service who are willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Not only knowledge and skills can be passed down, but perhaps, even more importantly, tradition. How many times have you heard someone in your hall say, “I remember, back in the old days . . . ” and then proceed to tell you some story about wearing turnout coats and high rubber boots to fire calls, or doing extrication with hand tools, or maybe even how the tanker was an old milk truck – and you could actually still faintly see the MILK logo on the side of the tank? (The milk-truck story is one of mine!) The stories are endless and can’t be told via text messaging.

We’ve all heard the fire-service saying, one hundred years of tradition unimpeded by progress. I like to think of today’s fire service – when we consider how far we’ve come and the technological advances available to us today – as a mixture of both rich heritage and tradition and amazing progress.

In our hall, we’ve just had three people promoted to captain. One female – our FPO and two males – one having been on the department for 20 years, who brings experience and tradition, and the other for just over four years, with plenty of training and progressive thinking; both are needed in the fire service in order to not only open that door but also to keep it open for new and old members alike.

Whether it’s the new guys who are excited to be getting involved with such a noble profession, like the minions, or an, ahem, older member like me, we all appreciate it when the knowledge of a few is shared among many, ensuring that the door remains open for those who wish to go through it.

Jennifer Mabee is a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario. She began her fire career with the Township of Georgian Bay in 1997 and became the department’s fire prevention officer in 2000 and a captain in 2003. She was a fire inspector with the City of Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services before taking time off to focus on family, and is excited to be back at it. E-mail her at

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