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Jennifer Grigg   

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March 5, 2015, Port Severn, Ont. - “Hi deputy; it’s nice to meet you. My name is Jen. I heard you mention two positions in prevention that your department is currently recruiting for . . .”

Voicing those words was not something that I would have necessarily done in the past, but I did it last weekend. I may not have been as super confident in my approach as I had envisioned prior to that moment (are we ever?), but the point is that I did it.

A fellow volunteer firefighter and I attended the 2015 Firefighter Career Expo in Vaughan, Ont., on Saturday. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew that it would be a good experience (any gathering of fire service members always is) and a great opportunity to make new connections.

The first speaker was Kory Pearn who provided us with an overview of the recruitment process from his own experience. Attendees also received a copy of his book, The Complete Guide to Becoming a Firefighter – a must read for anyone interested in a career in the fire service. Pearn talked about the importance of networking, which had clearly made an impression on me and was the catalyst for me to approach the deputy later that day.

Chelsey Reid from Emergency Services Academy in Alberta was up after Kory to share information on programs and courses, followed by Chris Bedwell from TESTREADYPRO, who offered valuable tips and resources about the test taking portion of the recruitment process.

Jason Loyd and Chris Framsted from Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) introduced the group to the Firefighter Academy virtual classroom and on-site programs for current and future firefighters.

After a short networking break, Richard Boyes, executive director of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, spoke to the future firefighters about the newly created Candidate Testing Service (CTS) offered by Ontario Fire Administration Inc. (OFAI) and their mission of establishing a standardized selection process for firefighters in Ontario.

After lunch, Deputy Chief Deryn Rizzi and Chief Training Officer Jim MacDonald of Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service, as well as two HR reps from the City of Vaughan, Gina Lijoi and Sandra McKenzie, took the stage to offer information and advice about recruitment trends in career departments.

Following that was a presentation by Tonya Rumas from Isagenix about food science and nutrition. Who knew that maintaining a healthy body is 75 per cent diet and 25 per cent fitness? I guess a lot of fitness buffs would know that, but I sure didn’t.

The final session of the day was my favourite and worth its weight in gold. Deputy Chief Deryn Rizzi and Toronto Deputy Chief Debbie Higgins from Fire Service Women of Ontario, along with Sandra McKenzie from human resources at the City of Vaughan, took part in mock interviews with volunteers from the audience. I cannot say enough about the value of that session. I’ve been through a suppression interview before and I worked with an interview coach to prepare myself – which was hugely beneficial – but I learned things in the mock interview session that I’d never heard before.

If you remember only one thing that you’ve read today, let it be this: the STAR acronym. When you’re asked a question that starts with “Tell me about a time when . . .” the criteria that the panel members are looking for are STAR – situation, task, action, and result. If you hit those benchmarks in your answer, you’ve given them what they’re looking for. Knowing about STAR ahead of time allows you to respond in the best way possible.

You may be up against 20 to 30 other candidates going through the interview process so you need to stand apart from the rest. You must demonstrate why you’re unique and what sets you apart from the competition. Prepare yourself, do your homework and check out the speakers and websites of the people and/or organizations I’ve mentioned above.

And if the opportunity presents itself to meet a higher ranking member of a department that you’re interested in, don’t be intimidated by the uniform. Be thankful that you’re in the right place at the right time and in the company of those that inspire you, and introduce yourself. You never know where it could lead.

Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. @georgianbayjen

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