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Dispatches: A lifetime of learning in 18 months

Jennifer Grigg   

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Last June, I began a journey that challenged, motivated and inspired me in ways that I never could have imagined. I started a new job as an instructor at the Ontario Fire College. It was everything I’d dreamed of and more, so much more.

At the end of the day Columnist Jennifer Grigg reflects on overcoming obstacles and instructing at the Ontario Fire College.

Being the introverted person that I am, such a leap into the unknown seemed like a huge stretch, but somehow, I still knew I could do it. In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of the job was finding my bearings and getting comfortable with being at the front of the class. As someone who has experienced anxiety (and written about it in past columns), it took some work to overcome the anxiousness and discomfort, but it really came down to one thing: passion.

I knew that if I could just get out of my head (and away from the broken record of negative thoughts), and tap into my passion for the service, then I would be fine. Whenever I taught the Fire Instructor 1 course and had students that were nervous about their presentations, I would share my story with them. I knew that if it worked for me, it would work for anyone.

One of my favourite things about my time at the Fire College was watching people go from “I’m so nervous, I just want to get this over with” to understanding how powerful and fun the instructing experience can be. Everyone is passionate about aspects of the fire service – it’s why they joined in the first place. When students tap into that, you can see their body language change, their tone of voice and inflection shifts and their faces light up. I was honoured to witness that time and time again over the last year and a half.

When I talk about being an introvert, or my anxiety, I’m sharing things that expose my vulnerability. But that’s what connects us to others. We all have things that make us feel vulnerable, but sharing why we’re so passionate about the fire service is a beautiful thing.


Aside from finding comfort at the front of the class, another challenge I faced was finding my voice. Again, one might think that having a strong voice is a prerequisite for being an instructor. I’ve always been strong in my commitment to my core beliefs and passionate about sharing experiences, but this was more about speaking my truth while honouring my boundaries.

For most of my tenure, I brought work home on evenings and weekends. This wasn’t unique to me. Many of the other instructors did the same. However, I was motivated by a feeling that I still wasn’t good enough. I thought I needed to do it to keep up. I told myself that it would only be for the first few months and that I wouldn’t bring work home as much once I got a handle on things.

Note to self: when your motivation for doing anything is coming from a place of feeling like you’re not good enough this should be one heck of a clue. For me, it’s about boundaries. I’ve found that doing too much for others, regardless of whether it’s at work or at home, comes back to not honouring ourselves and what’s best for us, usually stemming from feelings of “not enough”. If we’re feeling stressed about having to do something, we need to ask ourselves why we’re doing it.

I eventually learned to distinguish between a reasonable amount of time working at home and the unrealistic expectations I put on myself. From then on, I created a healthier work-life balance. Again, it comes back to boundaries. There is only so much you can do effectively in a day. I left my weekends open for spending time with my family, and focused on work at work. If I did bring work home, I limited myself to only an hour or two in the evenings. I was extremely fortunate to be able to develop personally and professionally in that job and I’m forever grateful.

Something else I appreciated about my time at the college was how much everyone cares. They care about the Ontario Fire College and what it stands for. They care about the fire service and the impact they have on the service province wide. They care about the integrity of training and certification, and most importantly, they care about each other.

I developed relationships with my colleagues that went beyond being mere co-workers. They encouraged me, inspired me and supported me. They made me aspire to rise to their level of professionalism. They were always there to listen or help and brought their absolute best to work everyday.

As with any workplace, organization or company, there is much that goes on behind the scenes that outsiders never see. It’s easy to pass judgment on how things appear from an external view. We’ve all done it at one point. Having been at the front of the classroom for 18 months, I have a new appreciation for the challenges instructors face at the College, and also for the challenges faced by municipal fire departments in Ontario.

At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to have a positive effect on the fire service.

I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for me and how I can contribute in my own little way, having gained a lifetime of learning in a year and a half. 

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

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