Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Dispatches: October 2013

Jennifer Grigg   

Features Hot Topics Opinion

It has often been said that the fire department is like one big family, and you don’t have to look far to find stories of firefighters donating their time and energy to help out their communities.

It has often been said that the fire department is like one big family, and you don’t have to look far to find stories of firefighters donating their time and energy to help out their communities.

Being a member of the fire department means you’re part of an extended family in which you share a bond with the people in your hall, but it also means that family extends far beyond the fire hall.

I know of firefighters from a neighbouring department who, during the course of a weekend, cleared, landscaped and fenced in a yard, and built a pergola and a patio for one of their own – actually the recipient of the good deeds isn’t on the department anymore, but will always be one of them.

“It was a gift to our son who has been struggling with vision issues and them knowing his vision could totally go at some point motivated them to make a safe haven to relax in,” the former firefighter’s wife told the local newspaper.


The brotherhood is another term often used to describe the ubiquitous culture of the fire department. I once penned a poem describing what the brotherhood means to me. It was written at a time during which I had transferred to another hall in my department, and was thankful for the casual way that I was accepted as one of the guys, rather than as an outsider. Last I saw, the poem was still hanging in that hall, which is kind of nice because I no longer have a copy of it.

If you’ve ever been to the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst, in the corner of the bar above the shuffleboard table is a poster size version of another poem I wrote, entitled “Our Calling.” Written after 9-11, that poem was another outpouring of my innards, if you will, on paper.

I refer to “the thread that connects us all,” which in the context of the poem, relates to the fire service as a whole, but that common thread can be used in reference to our at-home family, too.

Our immediate families are those we live with at home, with whom we have grown, and with whom we will grow old. Our fire-hall families are the ones we live with through the tough calls, grow with as firefighters, and in some cases, also will grow old with – evidence of which can be heard in the comments that start with, “Remember back in the day…”

And sometimes, the two families mix and you have family members who are part of the same fire-hall family. It’s not uncommon to find siblings, parents and their offspring, and/or couples on the same hall. One of our stations had a father, son, daughter and brother all on at the same time.

I even saw a post on Twitter recently in regard to a fire-hall wedding in a local volunteer department, which, quite honestly, doesn’t surprise me. We’ve had four couples on our department over the years, and I know of several other couples who share a common interest in the ’hood. I recently became one of those couples when my significant other joined my department.

I admit to slight feelings of trepidation the first night that he came to training with me. As intermingled as our home and fire-hall lives may be, we still tend to keep them at arm’s length from one another.

We’d discussed him joining “my” hall a couple of times, but had always decided that being on two different departments was probably a good idea.”You have your hall, I have mine,” we would say, or “It’s good that we each have our own thing,” we would reason.

Those sentiments took a back seat not long after we bought a house, three minutes from you-know-who’s hall. It took about three months for the conversation to turn to, “I was thinking about talking to your chief . . .”

I had to look at the facts: 1) we’re close to the hall (his own hall is now about a 10-minute drive); 2) we need the manpower in our hall; and 3) he has 20 years in the fire service and knows his stuff.

He has been on the hall for almost a month now. Together we have been on a medical call (he drove the truck, so I took command and he did patient care with another firefighter), an MVC (we arrived at the hall together but jumped in two different trucks – a fellow firefighter asked me if I was going to jump in the pumper with him and my response was, “No way, I’m getting in the back of the rescue. Truck’s not full yet.”), and two bush fires, including one at which he was in command.

Any initial concerns I had were quickly replaced by the realization that this is an opportunity for me to become a better firefighter; he knows the way I think and how I learn, and can help me with things that I find challenging.

I had questions about electronic governors – because our new truck has one. He dug out his pump-ops videos from the course he taught and found one that would benefit me the most. When we had our training on the actual truck, it made a lot more sense because of the time we had spent at home discussing it.

Benefits to me aside, our department was fortunate to have him join when he did. Three weeks after he joined, we had a storm roll through our area that required us to call in mutual aid from two neighbouring departments to help us with three simultaneous bush fires and a desperate need for manpower.

With tornado warnings for our area, I left work and went home to be with the kids. I was thankful that I was home with them, but I was also glad that one of us could still be on the fire calls helping out.

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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