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May 13, 2013
By Jennifer Grigg


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May 13, 2013, Waubaushene, Ont. – Picture this: I’m at my desk at work (in the township office, across the parking lot from the fire hall) and the pager goes off, toning out my hall and another hall. My pager is in a drawer at my desk so I didn’t catch what the call actually was. I’m on the phone with someone, so I dig through my purse in order to find my pager and turn it off, in order to hear what the person on the phone is saying. When I finish the conversation and hang up, a co-worker asks me what the call was.

May 13, 2013, Waubaushene, Ont. – Picture this: I’m at my desk at work (in the township office, across the parking lot from the fire hall) and the pager goes off, toning out my hall and another hall. My pager is in a drawer at my desk so I didn’t catch what the call actually was. I’m on the phone with someone, so I dig through my purse in order to find my pager and turn it off, in order to hear what the person on the phone is saying. When I finish the conversation and hang up, a co-worker asks me what the call was.

“I have no idea, I had to turn my pager off to hear the person on the phone, but it must be something good because they toned out two stations,” I say. “I can’t go anyway because I’m the only one here.”

“This must be killing you not to be going to that call,” my co-worker replies.

“It is, but what can I do?” I answered.

I happened to be the only one in my department that day and, although the municipality is very good about allowing its employees to respond to fire calls while at work, there is not much you can do if you’re the only one holding down the fort, so to speak.

The page goes out again, having had no response from either hall. It turns out to be a brush fire with two exposures. And it’s a windy day. I quickly send a text message to our FPO and let her know I can’t respond, but if the call turns bad, I’ll go.

“Ugh,” I think to myself. “Moral dilemmas. . .”

It’s not that anyone would forbid me from responding to a call, especially where the manpower is really needed. But I am the only one in the department, and leaving is just not something I can do (in my mind, anyway); no matter how badly I want to.

Crews start to respond and a call is put out for mutual aid with a neighbouring township. No chances can be taken with two cottages nearby, a limited number of responding firefighters, and the wind.

My heart sinks. “Mutual aid? Now I feel really bad,” I think to myself.

How do I justify not going when our fire department is calling another township for manpower and trucks?

Moral dilemma, indeed. The fact is that we do have a policy in our municipality that allows staff to respond to calls during work hours, with the expectation that if there is a deadline they need to meet or an important duty that cannot be put off, that the staff member will not respond to the call. It comes down to a judgement call, basically.

Seems fair, right? Absolutely. Easy to make that call? Not so much. It’s like the dieter who desperately wants the chocolate cake in front of her, but fights the urge . . . or doesn’t. It’s like the person who knows that he should work out regularly, but misses a day or two, and then it turns into a week or two (self confession), and then he has totally fallen off the workout wagon (for the record, I’m still trying to get back on that wagon). It ultimately comes down to you having to answer to yourself – the worst critic of all.

I digress; my point is that whether you call it self-regulating or discipline or commitment, it comes down to the choices you make and, as an esteemed co-worker in Mississauga, Ont., used to say, “It’s what you can live with at the end of the day.”

I happened to be outside on break when the last truck left the hall. It was surreal for me to be sitting there watching them pull out of the station. It was almost like an out of body experience. It felt weird.

Then I happened to be outside at lunch when the crew returned to the hall. I felt sad, somehow, as if I had let them down. I could see them washing the trucks. I secretly hoped none of the guys could see me, because I was sure they’d be wondering why the heck I was just sitting there, appearing to be doing nothing, and why I’d chosen not to go to the call.

If only they knew . . .

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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