Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Dispatches: July 2015

Jennifer Grigg   

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It’s the second Monday of the month, and for members of the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario, that means it is a training night. I have missed the last couple of training sessions and I am about to miss another one. Does that mean that I have lost interest? That I am not as dedicated as I once was? Or is it simply a reflection of the myriad things going on in my life and my efforts to somehow maintain a sense of balance?

The happier and healthier we are Jennifer Grigg has a message: Sometimes it's more important for firefighters to take care of themselves

We all know that training is the foundation of the fire service. You train hard, you train often. At least, that is what you are supposed to do.  

Training is all about preparing. Our training is supposed to keep us safe when we are responding to dangerous conditions and unforeseen events. The saying, “Don’t practise until you get it right, practise until you can’t get it wrong,” speaks to the gravity of the mindset. There is a heavy emphasis on the importance of training in the fire service, and rightly so. The operations and tasks that we perform on fire calls are not everyday activities. It’s not like riding a bike.

How many times do you practise tying knots in order to do them effortlessly, only to forget how the minute you walk out of the fire hall? I know there are four steps to firing up the Wajax pump and I know I can start it at the fire hall, but can I remember the sequence and get it started at a brush fire when it really counts? Just because I’m not usually the one tying the knots or starting the Wajax does not mean that I don’t need to know how it’s done.

Some firefighters seem to be able to grasp new concepts and ideas with little effort. I wholeheartedly admit that I’m one of those people who needs routine training. I like the theory. I appreciate the PowerPoint (most of the time). I learn best by the triple-combination approach: teach, show and do. I know most fire-service personality types like to skip the theory and go straight to the hands-on part, but I’m the exception to the rule.


So why – after extolling the virtues of training – am I missing it again?

Life gets busy for all of us. While there is an expectation that training be a priority in the lives of volunteers, it is also necessary to maintain balanced lives. We give what we can, when we can. Volunteer fire departments are composed of people that are available when they can be – at various times and on various days. There is never a guarantee of when those times will be.

Some people can make it to most of the training, but others cannot. Some may make it out to most of the calls; others aren’t able to. Inconsistency is consistent in the world of a volunteer fire department. However, we all consistently do our part. The quantity may vary but the quality is assured. We may not all be there all of the time, but we are all valuable members of the team.

Over the past few months I wrote a book and worked with a consultant to prepare the book for publishing, joined a volunteer critical-incident stress management team to help other members of emergency services deal with difficult calls, took on a new role at work to cover a staff shortage, and, most importantly, ensured I have the proper habits and behaviours in place to remain depression and anxiety free without the use of medication – which can be a delicate operation at the best of times.

My dedication to the fire service hasn’t waned, faded or fallen by the wayside by any means. If anything, I fully understand the importance of taking care of myself, so I can be present and at my best when I am at training or responding to a call.

One of the ways we are able to serve others is to manage our time effectively and know when we have to pull back. We can’t be 100 per cent all of the time. We are all guilty of less-than-enthusiastic moods at one time or another, but negative attitudes and judgements certainly don’t do anything to encourage morale. When we experience stress due to the busyness of our everyday lives, it’s important that we recognize that it might be time to pull back.

Train hard and train often. This is not just a motto for the fire service – it’s a motto for life. We owe it to our teams and to ourselves to be as dedicated to learning to take care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally, as we are to training in the fire service.

The happier and healthier we are, the better equipped we are to deal with whatever comes our way.

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

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