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November 5, 2012
By Jennifer Grigg


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Nov. 5, 2012, Waubaushene, Ont. – I’m fascinated by people. Not in a stalking-on-Facebook kind of way, but in a what-makes-people-tick kind of way. I love to just sit and listen to people talk. You can tell a lot about people if you actually listen to what they say (as opposed to being preoccupied with what your response is going to be, and therefore missing out on most of what had been said).

Nov. 5, 2012, Waubaushene, Ont. – I’m fascinated by people. Not in a stalking-on-Facebook kind of way, but in a what-makes-people-tick kind of way. I love to just sit and listen to people talk. You can tell a lot about people if you actually listen to what they say (as opposed to being preoccupied with what your response is going to be, and therefore missing out on most of what had been said).

Take Halloween for example. I spent the better part of five hours at our community centre with one of our founding (been on for 40 years!!) firefighters, Big Jim. It rained all night so we spent most of the time sitting in the truck talking, and jumping out to give out candy whenever we saw a car pull in to the parking lot. (Including all the times we jumped out for cars that turned out to be there for yoga class.)

We chatted about everything from recent changes in my life (moving and taking on a new role at work all at the same time), to the changes over the past 40 years in the fire department, and of course, the good ol’ days.

Big Jim first decided he was going to join a fire department when he was 15 and the family house caught fire. Apparently, the fire truck showed up and it had no water in it. The firefighters used a portable pump in the well and that lasted for a whole 10 minutes. After that, all they could do was watch it burn to the ground. Big Jim told himself, “One day, I’m going to be on the fire department, and when I take a pumper to a call, it will have water on it.”

Keep in mind that was about 45 years ago. Fire departments were established by local fellas who saw the need for a (somewhat) organized system of responding to emergencies. Big Jim was one of a handful who built the first fire hall in Port Severn, Ont., which ended up burning down with everything in it after someone siphoned fuel out of the trucks, as the story goes.

Listening to Big Jim was like watching a television show about the history of the fire service. He is what the fire service is all about – the tradition, the history, the stories of good times and bad, how things have changed, and how they continue to change. I remember one story he told me and he laughed and laughed. He had me laughing as he recounted it. It wasn’t even so much the story, as the laughter. I recall thinking at the time that I don’t hear him laugh like that very often.

There is always so much more to people than we realize. Everyone has a story; stories that have shaped the people they are today. I feel very privileged to have been there to listen to Big Jim’s stories about him growing up in the area, which influenced his role in helping to create the fire department in Port Severn, and his years of bearing witness to the changes in the department, of which I am so proudly a member of today.

In the few hours that we hung out in the fire truck, we only scraped the surface of what this man is all about. I know there’s a lot more there and hopefully, maybe next Halloween, I’ll have the chance to hear about it.

Anyone who would spend his own time and money carefully selecting Halloween treats for the kids and making 60 individual goodie bags, and who has done so year after year, (and sometimes alone) is someone I would be glad to hang out with anytime.

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 jhook0312@yahoo.ca and follow her on Twitter at @jenmabee.


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