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March 4, 2013
By Jennifer Grigg


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March 4, 2013, Waubaushene, Ont. – Everything happens for a reason. You’ve heard that before, right? Or perhaps you’ve even told yourself that’s the case in an attempt to understand something that seemed beyond an obvious, reasonable explanation.

March 4, 2013, Waubaushene, Ont.  – Everything happens for a reason. You’ve heard that before, right? Or perhaps you’ve even told yourself that’s the case in an attempt to understand something that seemed beyond an obvious, reasonable explanation.

When I got an email at the beginning of February inviting me to interview for the position of probationary firefighter, I wondered if this was one of those circumstances, given that it had been four (!!) years since I’d written for that department and had all but forgotten about it.

My first thought was that it was either a joke or someone had made a mistake and sent the invite to the wrong email address. I had to re-read the email several times to comprehend the fact that it was legitimate, and it wasn’t until I called the number and booked my interview time that it finally started to sink in. The interview was less than a week away.

It seemed almost unbelievable that the opportunity was presenting itself, especially after all this time. There was lots to think about. I had been offered a permanent position in January working in the planning and building departments for the same municipality in which I am a volunteer firefighter. I work next door to the fire hall, can leave work to attend calls and I have a five-minute drive to work. (The commute I could potentially be facing would be just shy of two hours.) Things are pretty great just the way they are but . . . the chance to be a full-time firefighter? What would YOU do if you were in my shoes? What volunteer firefighter hasn’t wanted that at some point? 

Well, my attitude was that everything happens for a reason, and I have to at least try. I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t.

As soon as I could, I started searching the net for information on firefighter interviews. I hadn’t gone through the process before but I knew it to be something for which I needed to prepare well.

I found a great website called www.fireprep.com and read up on preparing for the interview. I made notes, studied the 30 questions, formulated my answers and then practised them. I consulted a friend with impeccable style for advice on the appropriate interview outfit. I was feeling prepared, but decided that there was one more thing I could do: I decided to work with an interview coach.

My coach ran through typical questions with me, and helped me hone my answers. We worked on my presentation, delivery and mannerisms. By interview day, I was feeling ready – nervous, but ready.

My first interview went really well. I think it was probably the best interview I had ever done, and I’ve been through many of them.  The time I spent working with the interview coach definitely paid off. However, I tried to maintain the attitude that, regardless of the outcome, the important thing is that I gave it my best. We would be told the following week whether we had made it through to the second interview.

I got an email two days later inviting me for the next interview.

This time I had two weeks to prepare. I had gone from total disbelief to thinking that my life may be about to change in a big way. Maybe this really was meant to be for me. Maybe it was my time – time for me to focus on my career now that my kids are older. Could it be?

Again, I decided that if I was going to do this, I had to give it my best shot because this would likely be the only time I would go through this process ¬– I’m no spring chicken, after all.

I went back to the interview coach and spent time updating my resume because the time simply hadn’t been there to do it before the first interview, and I wanted to make sure I had done everything I could. I also made an appointment to meet with a personal trainer because I knew that the fitness test wouldn’t be far behind. (This particular department didn’t require applicants to have the fitness test at this point in the process.) I am in OK shape and I do work out (kinda sorta when I feel like it . . . ), but I knew that I needed to focus on certain things (cardio, upper body strength) if I was going to have a chance at passing the test.

In the meantime, thanks to the advice of a co-worker (a minion from blogs past) I got back into my cardio workouts every morning before work, along with some extra push-ups for good measure. 

I joked with another co-worker one morning that the whole month had basically been about me working on myself in one form or another, and it was exhausting! But I had definitely noticed a new sense of purpose that I was bringing to all areas of my life as a result of going through the process.

Having said that, me being me, something was about to trip me up. I had a bit of a moment in between interviews and coaching and working out and keeping up with normal life and kids and family and work where I lost my sense of momentum and seriously questioned what I was doing. Apparently I hadn’t noticed that the stress of pursuing my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was slowly catching up to me. It’s a little hard to keep things in perspective when you are looking at any situation as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

OK, it wasn’t a bit of a moment at all: it was a total meltdown. I told my hubby through tears that I just wanted to give up, that I didn’t know if I could make a change like this at this point in my life. Life was good; did I really want to turn it upside down? It’s good to push yourself beyond your comfort zone now and then, but this was a whole lot of being outside of my comfort zone.

Needless to say, after a cry and a good night’s sleep, I felt better. However, it caused me to ask myself if this was really something I wanted, or was I just getting caught up in a dream from long ago. I loved being a firefighter – there was no doubt about that. I made up my mind to continue with the process, give it my best, and just see where things went: same effort, but from a less stressful perspective.

The second interview went well, that is, up until the part where they told me that the fitness test would be the following week for those who made it through. I don’t think I heard anything that was said after that. Shock was setting in.

The entire drive home, I thought about the fitness test. The endless conversation in my head went something like this: There is no way I can pass that test next week, end of story. It’s impossible. I’m not ready. It would take a miracle. That’s the way this is going to end. With the fitness test. What a shame to get that far and fail that test.

About half way home, I found myself starting to think, but what if I did pass that test? I’m not in that bad shape. Maybe I’m stronger than I realize. I’m sure I can do some of the test without a problem; maybe it’s only a couple of things that I need to work on. Maybe it is possible . . .

By the time I got home, I had myself convinced that it was possible that I could pass the test. I wouldn’t know until the week of the test if I had gotten through, but I already had a game plan.

I was setting my sights on the fitness test. Hubby was going to get the treadmill out of storage for me, I had printed off the nine components of the fitness test and we were going to set it up in the fire hall so I could run through it. Then I could concentrate on the areas in which I was weakest.

I had come this far and I wasn’t going to give up now. I had learned a lot about myself throughout this process, especially that I was capable of much more than I had ever realized. Regardless of the outcome, I was walking away with valuable life lessons learned that would stay with me forever.

The day after my second interview, I received an email telling me that I would not be progressing to the next stage. It was just after lunch on Friday and I sat quietly at my desk as the words sunk in.

Disappointed. Yes.

In myself? Not a chance.

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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