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July 2, 2013, Gravenhurst, Ont. – I finished the FPO 501 Advanced Fire Prevention Theory course at the Ontario Fire College last week, and I must admit, it was a really good course.

July 2, 2013, Gravenhurst, Ont. – I finished the FPO 501 Advanced Fire Prevention Theory course at the Ontario Fire College last week, and I must admit, it was a really good course.

As with any course at the fire college, three factors determine how enjoyable a course will be: the instructor, the class itself and, of course, the content.

The instructor pretty much sets the tone for the course, and if he or she is relatively easy going and has a good sense of humour, you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy the course. I think we’ve all taken a course at one time or another with an instructor who had little or no sense of humour. How painful was that?

As far as I’m concerned, a sense of humour should be a prerequisite for teaching at the fire college because it’s guaranteed that a class full of fire prevention/suppression students will have a class clown or two. Even more likely, the class will be predominantly clowns with the odd straight-faced adult learner stuck in the mix who, I’m sure, may not be showing it on the outside, but is laughing at the clowns on the inside.


(It goes without saying that the instructor would also have to be knowledgeable about the course that he or she is teaching, and I have yet to take a course at the college during which the instructor didn’t know the material.)

Even though some courses tend to be a little drier than others, I’d be willing to bet that content isn’t a factor in the satisfaction level of the class participants, because if you’re taking a course – any course – at the fire college, you’re there to learn anything and everything that you can.

This brings me to the classmates. Again, a sense of humour goes a long way toward the overall experience of any given course, along with the knowledge level of your classmates. One of the great things about taking any fire-service course is that it’s generally a mixture of full-time and volunteer firefighters, as well as any and all ranks of members of the fire service. We had volunteer firefighters, full-time fire prevention officers, full-time suppression firefighters who had just switched to fire prevention, a chief, and even a program specialist in our class. The knowledge base and experience of the class as a whole was phenomenal, and added to the course content significantly.

Let’s not forget about the after-class networking and socializing, and I’m not just talking about the time spent in the bar, although that’s a big part of it, too. These moments offer the opportunity to really get to know your classmates, and swap fire-hall stories and experiences.

Speaking of the bar, and Doug – I can’t imagine anyone who has set foot in the fire college who doesn’t know Doug – he said something to me that will stay with me for a long time: “Good to have you back in the program.” Not only was it a nice thing to say, knowing that I hadn’t taken courses in a few years, but the fact that he remembered me and knew enough about me to make a comment such as that is a reflection upon the man himself. I heard many of my classmates commenting on how they were amazed that he remembered what their beer (or drink) of choice was. He asks about the family, the kids, what you’ve been up to.

OK – I know he’s a bartender and it’s part of the job to make chit-chat, but it’s something else.
Doug is like anyone else you’d meet in the fire service, just a different breed of person. Maybe you have to be in it to fully understand, but I gather anyone reading this gets the point I’m trying to make.

Back to my classmates. . . it’s amazing how well you get to know people in your class after spending five days with them, eating meals with them, and just hanging out with them. Take one morning for example; a few of us were down in the mostly empty cafeteria having some breakfast and a fellow classmate said to me, “You’ve been down for coffee already, haven’t you?”

Wondering how he knew, I said hesitantly, “Yeah, I was. . .” I’d gotten a coffee earlier and returned to my room since the caf had been empty at the time.

He said, “Yep. I knew it. I could smell your perfume in the hall upstairs.”

I laughed and thought, “Uh-oh. Hope that’s not his way of telling me that I basically stink.” But then he went on to describe it as a fresh scent, so I take it that it’s not a bad thing. We did have a laugh over it though. As I said, it’s amazing what you can learn about people in a short period of time.

Mind you, it’s not like there are a lot of females up there, so I imagine it’s fairly easy to pick up on a not-your-typical-man-smell scent.

As is typical of any course I’ve ever taken at the fire college, it was a great week with a lot of laughs (some that can’t be repeated here, as is also typical of the fire college) and a lot of learning. I got a lot out of the course – I’m all brushed up on Part 3 and Part 5 of the fire code, I met 14 new colleagues and a new (to me) instructor, and I grew both personally and professionally.

Being a volunteer firefighter is a very unique and, at times, very challenging experience, as is being a member of the fire service in any capacity.

It’s also one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences I’ve ever had the good fortune to be a part of, and it’s the people who make it that way.

Thanks to all my classmates (and instructor) in the last (due to the changeover to NFPA) FPO 501 Advanced Fire Prevention Theory course for making it a great week!

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 and follow her on Twitter at @jenmabee.

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