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Dispatches: April 2012

I was about to dig in to my super awesome looking breakfast when my significant other suddenly bolted up the stairs.

April 4, 2012 
By Jennifer Grigg

I was about to dig in to my super awesome looking breakfast when my significant other suddenly bolted up the stairs. He came back down the stairs with a pager in each hand and tones going off. “Whose is it?” I casually (in my mind anyway) asked.

“Yours,” he replied.

 “OMG!” I looked at my breakfast again and grabbed a piece of bacon and ran upstairs to get my socks. I ran back downstairs, grabbed my keys, my pager and a toque, and off I went.

The call was for a residential smoke alarm. As I listened to the call while driving to the hall, a slew of stuff was running through my mind.

“It’s probably a false alarm,” the fire alarm technician in me thought. “Maybe they have a leak and there’s water in the device, or it could be dust or a spider in the smoke detector that caused it to trip.” Next was, “Holy crap, this drive is taking forever,” followed by, “Only pump 3 is responding so far. I’ve still got a chance to catch a truck.”

I’m almost there when I hear the tanker responding. The voice in my head starts again, “Crap! Missed that truck . . . but there’s still one in the hall that hasn’t responded yet.”

I pull into the parking lot, jump out of the truck and run into the hall. I kick off my boots and start to put my gear on. I look up to see my captain coming in. He looks at me and shakes his head. “Ah, crap,” I think to myself.

It’s now confirmed to be a false alarm and the guys are about to clear. I step back out of my bunker pants and put my boots back on. My captain had picked up a broom and had started to sweep the floor. He said to me, “If you want to sweep, I’ll start the paperwork.” “Sure, I’d be happy to.” I reply, the wind sucked out of my sails by my failed attempt to catch a truck.

Twenty minutes later, we’re standing around yapping and then . . . tones go off. (And therein lies the beauty of being a firefighter – volunteer or full time – those moments when you’re just chilling and doing your thing and the tones go off . . . it changes everything in an instant.) We all look at each other, and wait. The first set of tones wasn’t ours, but now we’re hearing the second set, which is.

We get our gear on again. It’s an MVC. I head for the rescue truck (which is normally the only unit that responds from our hall when we are backing up another hall for an MVC). Then I look at the pumper and think, “I’ll go jump in the back of it because there’s more room in the pumper and I’m thinking that the other three firefighters will be going in the rescue.” I start to head to the pumper and then I think, “Is the pumper even going, because it’s an MVC?” and then, “Remember that the other station didn’t respond to the first call so there’s probably still no one around and we’ll therefore need all three of our trucks.” As I’m going in circles trying to figure out what truck to jump in to, a booming voice says, “Jennifer, back of the rescue.” I do what I’m told, thankful to be relieved of my inner conflict.

It reminded me of the movie, Ladder 49, when Jack jumps out of the truck at his first fire, all eager to go, and his chief, played by John Travolta, catches him as he runs by and says, “Helmet,” which Jack has forgotten and has to go back and get.

A fellow firefighter and I are in the two jump seats in the back of the rescue. I’m thinking to myself excitedly, “Yeehaw! Here we go,” followed by a less enthusiastic, “OMG, here we go. Will I remember everything?” My mental barrage has started and we’re not even out of the parking lot yet. (I’m not sure if it’s a female thing or just a still-a-little-nervous-about-being-back thing.)

I look across at the other firefighter and see him buckling up his seat belt. I search for my seatbelt and buckle it up. Then I start to do up my coat and struggle a bit to get the clasps together with the seatbelt on. This time I’m reminded of the movie Backdraft, when Brian has to help the rookie do up his gear properly.

Self-deprecation aside, I realize how glad I am to be back. Ten years on the department, four years away, six months back. There’s nowhere I’d rather be. Our MVC turned out to be someone who had pulled over on a bridge overpass and another good Samaritan had called it in thinking that the people had been involved in an accident.

We headed back to the hall. As we were discussing how amazing it was that we hadn’t come across any accidents due to the weather and road conditions, dispatch called us back with a report of a single vehicle rollover.

Lights and sirens back on, we took the next exit, turned around and headed north to our third call of the day.

Although we didn’t actually do a lot that day, I felt like (forgive the third movie analogy) Jack when he comes out of his first fire with John Travolta and he’s all smiling and laughing and hugging Travolta.

I admit to thinking at times, that it didn’t really matter whether I made it to a call or not.

But I realized on that Saturday that it does matter. Every member of the fire department matters. Volunteer fire departments rely on all of the members – to be there for training, to be there for calls, to be there for each other. It matters.

Jennifer Mabee is a blogger, mother and volunteer firefighter (not necessarily in that order) with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario, in her 11th year. She joined in 1997, left in 2007, and returned in 2011 after completing a 100-hour recruit course. She is also assistant director for Ontario with the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association. Contact her at

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