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Jennifer Grigg   

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July 9, 2015, Gravenhurst, Ont. - Leave it to the fire college to bring out the blogger in me.

I’m currently taking the retrofit course at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst. The course is part of the NFPA Fire Inspector Level 1 program, and I’m not going to lie, it’s been a challenge.

The last course I attended was on courtroom procedures in October; and it was more of a seminar because there were almost 70 in the class.

Taking one course a year doesn’t allow for continuous learning by any means. Another challenge is the fact that I don’t use the Ontario Fire Code every day, or any day for that matter, because I’m not a fire inspector.

It actually took me a day or two to get back into the swing of things and to know where to find stuff in the fire code. OK, that’s not entirely true; it took me until yesterday to feel as though I had a handle on things. I suppose the quiz we did yesterday afternoon will be the evidence of whether it actually came back to me or missed me altogether.

Last fall when I was here for the courtroom procedures course, I understood it to be the next logical step in achieving my NFPA Inspector Level 2 equivalency. It turns out that the course was part of Level 1, which is OK because I would have needed to take it sooner or later. The only reason I took courtroom procedures was because I’m one of the old timers that have been at this awhile and fell under the grandfathering option for the NFPA equivalency. (In 2014 Ontario transitioned to an education system based on NFPA standards from the previous Ontario Fire Services Standards.)

So why am I taking these courses if I’m not a fire inspector, you may ask? In addition to being a volunteer firefighter for almost 20 years, I was also a fire prevention officer in a past life on more than one occasion and I’ve always tried to keep a foot in the door. Even though I’m only able to take one course a year, I am still plugging away. I’m not sure if it’s persistence, determination or that I just don’t know when to give up (and maybe that’s a good thing).

For those of you that follow my blog and/or column in Canadian Firefighter magazine, you may remember me mentioning that I experience anxiety at certain times or in certain situations, such as being in a class with people I don’t know. Whether you call it shy, introverted or socially awkward, I feel like a turtle wanting to crawl back into its shell. The first couple of days of the retrofit course were no different.

Until Wednesday, that is.

Monday and Tuesday I had gone home to Port Severn (it’s only an hour-long drive) to get my husband’s help with some issues I was having with the fire code. I’m sure any one of the people in my class would have been more than happy to help me with any questions I had, but since I was being Tammy the Turtle, it would’ve meant me actually sticking my head out of my shell and talking to them.

My husband also has a way of explaining things in Jenny terms so that I understand.

People with anxiety often have trouble focusing and absorbing new information when they’re feeling anxious. The first couple days of the course were difficult for me. The most frustrating thing about all this is that I knew I used to be really good with the code when I was a fire prevention officer.

Much to my relief, by Wednesday I was feeling more like myself. I was reacquainted with the code and decided to stay at the college and go out with the gang for dinner and a water ski show at the local Boston Pizza.

That was the best decision I’ve made in a while. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. Our class is small – only 13 – and most of us were there for dinner. Once I relaxed and came out of my shell, I instantly wished I’d done it sooner. What a great group of people and there is no better way for people to connect than through laughter. And laugh we did, to the point where several of us had tears streaming down our faces, including one of the guys!

I’d just like to sincerely thank the class of retrofit 2015 for the laughter, the knowledge, the connection and the friendship.

You never know how you touch the lives of others.

Once again, a trip to the fire college has enlightened me personally and professionally.

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

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