Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Dispatches: January 2016

Jennifer Grigg   

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When I looked in the mirror on the morning of my 44th birthday, I had a profound thought: it wasn’t the wrinkles I noticed, although I knew they were there; it was much deeper than that.

Firefighters with the Tay Township Fire Department meet a man whose life they saved by performing CPR in 2014. We never know what call may be the one that touches our lives

“So this is what 44 looks like,” I thought as I studied my reflection. My next thought was: “I haven’t done enough with my life. I haven’t done enough to help others.”

I wasn’t disappointed in myself; it was more of a call to action. I didn’t quite know where the thought came from or what it meant, but I knew that something was about to change.

I’ve always felt that being a volunteer firefighter is a gift – an honour bestowed upon me. Fire fighting is a way for me to help others and provide a service to my community. But is that enough?

Being in the presence of those who are suffering – physically or emotionally – gives those of us in a first-responder role, in that moment, a unique perspective on life. We may not all feel the same in all situations, but no one walks away from a tough call unaffected or unchanged in some way.


We think of our kids when a child is involved, our parents if an elderly person is the patient, and our spouses when we’re working on someone’s beloved while the husband or wife stands desperately nearby. It’s impossible to not relate. We are a compassionate bunch, which is what draws us to this line of work.

Sitting in the back of the rescue truck one day after a call for a cancer patient, I said to the firefighter next to me – who happens to be a paramedic – “He’s near the end, isn’t he?”

“Oh yeah. Definitely,” the firefighter replied.

I was immediately struck by what an honour and privilege it was to bear witness to the very personal, very sad moment in this family’s life.

I was also vitally aware of the feeling of being in the right place at the right time, infinitely understanding why we’re called to do what we do. We don’t make it to every call, but we’re definitely meant to be at the ones we attend, for whatever reason that may be.

My husband and his fellow firefighters from the Tay Township Fire Department in Ontario had the profound experience of meeting a gentleman whose life they saved after performing CPR. The gentleman is from England and was visiting family during the summer of 2014 when he collapsed and EMS was called.

When my husband arrived on scene, he took over CPR from his captain and continued compressions until two more firefighters arrived with the med bag and the defibrillator and assisted with resuscitation. The patient was revived more than once during the call, which forever left an imprint on the lives of the firefighters who were there that day. The firefighters had the opportunity to meet this gentleman when he returned to the area, and it was a moment they will likely never forget.

When I asked my husband what word he would use to describe the experience, he said, “Gratifying.” He, unlike me, is able to sum up an experience in one word, but I know there’s so much more to say.

We never know what call may be the one that touches our lives, or changes us forever. Even the routine calls are opportunities to be present, focused and of service to others.

When you’re on a call and in the moment, it’s easy to know and to feel that you’re making a difference. But what about the rest of the time?

That’s the question I was left with after my thought-provoking glance in the mirror on my birthday. How do I make a difference when I’m not on a call? What can I do to help others, connect with others or maybe even inspire others?

The question demanded my attention. I knew I needed to take some time to explore this further because whatever it was, it had ignited a spark.

I recently took a month off work without pay. I socked away some money for the month’s bills and cut back on non-essential spending. Sound crazy? Likely. Am I inspired? Amazingly so.

I have no idea where this journey will take me, but I’m committed to taking the best of me and turning it into the rest of me.

Stay tuned!

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

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