Front Seat: Rekindling passion for the fire service
By Jason ClarkFeatures Opinion canadian firefighter editors pick firefighter firefighter training
I am the kind of person who always tries to have an all-in, 100 per cent positive attitude with most of the daily activities I do, but it’s especially important when I walk into the fire station. I work with a great team of both firefighters and chiefs; upon arrival, we like to catch up if we haven’t seen everyone for a while and share a laugh or two. We will continue chatting while we are getting some of the station duties out of the way, like washing the rigs and floors and changing equipment around.
This year marks my 16th with the fire service and, as we know, as much as we strive to keep our spirits high and attitudes in a positive manner, we can lose focus of how we can do that. I think it was a combination of the pandemic and balancing work and extra-curricular activities, but I found it tough to be a positive person to be around at times. Around the middle of the pandemic, it felt like we were going through the same motions, and we were stuck on a merry-go-round that wasn’t so merry.
There were a lot of unknowns during that time and coming into the station to find out that courses were being cancelled, our response style was changing and we were being trained on new PPE and procedures all just felt a bit overwhelming to me. It started to chip away at the entire outlook of the service. Our station even lost a few senior personnel to retirement during this time.
In order to combat this attitude adjustment, I started showing up and helping out more where I could. I took on a bit more responsibility around the department in terms of extra duties and even took some shifts as an instructor at the fire school that was in the neighbouring county once the pandemic restrictions started to lift.
That’s one thing that can be really rewarding – teaching at the same level that you came into the fire service at. Unless you came from another fire service, you have zero experience and need to be trained from the basics onward. I enjoyed looking at some of these recruits, as they came from all over Ontario and were “all in” when it came to being firefighters. They had the positive attitude and they wanted to learn all the possible skills they could at their level. It was refreshing watching them come out of a live burn after seeing the various demonstrations of fire behaviour. They would peel off their SCBA masks—you could see the outline on their face due to how tight they had it sealed—and their looks of determination when the instructors were talking.
Around the middle of the pandemic, it felt like we were going through the same motions, and we were stuck on a merry-go-round that wasn’t so merry.
I loved the questions we got from the new generation of fire recruits. The hundreds of what-if questions and ‘what would you do here’ questions. It threw a spark back into the fire service for me to start leading again, but in a different setting than the operations side. Going through training evolutions and talking through the small skill sets to the bigger picture really put the fire service into perspective for me.
One of the most interesting parts of my experience in helping the recruit classes, was the entire group of instructors that had very similar start dates and years of experience as myself. It was like we all said to ourselves that we needed a reset but still wanted to help out, right at the same point in our careers. I still remember my first day walking into the fire station and I remember my first day at fire school; both were equally terrifying but I never doubted them for a moment. I wanted to see the faces of the new individuals joining the fire service and let them know that the feelings of fear and anxiety are normal, and it’s all going to make sense as soon as you’re on the trucks.
I firmly believe if you are having some trouble re-finding your passion for the fire service and you feel like you’ve hit a wall, it may not be lost for good. You just haven’t looked back far enough to where it all started.
Jason Clark has been a volunteer firefighter in southwestern Ontario since 2007. Having made the transition from firefighter to captain, Jason shares perspective on roles in the fire service and riding in the front seat. Contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jacejclark.
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