Fire Fighting in Canada

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Embrace the shift to prevention, potential firefighters told

Feb. 24, 2014, Cambridge, Ont. – Potential firefighters need to understand and embrace the shift toward fire prevention, public education and code enforcement if they expect to get hired, fire-service leaders told participants at the 10th Firefighter Career Expo on Saturday.

February 24, 2014
By Olivia D'Orazio

Feb. 24, 2014, Cambridge, Ont. – Potential firefighters need to understand and embrace the shift toward fire prevention, public education and code enforcement if they expect to get hired, fire-service leaders told participants at the 10th Firefighter Career Expo on Saturday.

More than 80 potential firefighter recruits attended the Expo, which was hosted by Fire Fighting in Canada, Firehall.com and BecomingAFirefighter.com, and led by Kory Pearn, a firefighter in St. Thomas, Ont., and the author of the book Becoming a Firefighter.

The Expo offered firefighter hopefuls the opportunity to learn from chief fire officers, who spoke about everything from preparing for the firefighter interview to the recruitment process and the best kinds of specialty courses to take. Participants were also able to visit booths offering information about education and training, health and fitness, and preparing for the application process. Many vendors are volunteer firefighters, and offered some personal advice during the closing panel discussion.

One thing that was made obvious during the presentations and the firefighter panel was that the fire service today is different than it was in previous generations. Those entering the fire service now should be aware that fire fighting is about much more than about fighting fires, panelists said.

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In Ontario, the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) is pushing fire departments to put more resources into the first two lines of defence – public education and code enforcement – rather than focusing primarily on fire suppression operations.

Fire Chief Tim Beckett from Kitchener, Ont., echoed the emphasis of the OFMEM during his presentation, explaining that many departments are adjusting their internal structures to mirror that focus.

“There is more of a shift to fire prevention and those first two lines of defence,” Beckett told the room full of firefighter hopefuls. “Keep that shift in mind.”

Beckett said that, with that shift in focus, firefighters are expected to attend more public education events – school visits and public events at the fire hall – and that firefighter hopefuls should drop in to these events to learn about the department on which they would like to be hired.

The expo also highlighted varied hiring processes. Deputy Fire Chief Dave Decker and Chief Training Officer Mike Bekking from Markham Fire and Emergency Services and Platoon Chief Peter Gatto from Brampton Fire & Emergency Services in Ontario – both departments are currently hiring – each spoke about their respective systems.

In Brampton, recruits go through an elaborate 16-week training program, while in Markham, the recruit training program is 14 weeks long. In Kitchener, a practical hands-on evaluation is part of the interview process.

The firefighter panel, which included presenters and some of the vendors, offered potential recruits a chance to ask questions about everything from minorities in the fire service to dealing with the emotional stress that comes with being a firefighter.

“The most qualified candidate gets the job,” Beckett said regarding minorities in the fire service. He said departments are not receiving many applications from people in visible minority groups, and trying to attract the applicants is a bigger challenge than determining who gets hired.

Several members of the panel also said it’s important that firefighters lean on their peers and take advantage of critical incident stress teams following particularly trying calls. However, as Decker told the crowd, “You won’t know how you’ll react until it happens to you.”

Several of the day’s sponsors also explained the finer details of the hiring process. Chris Bedwell from Testreadypro offered tips on writing firefighting tests and the various resources available through Testreadypro.com to potential recruits. In particular, Bedwell urged participants to start studying as soon as possible. “If you come to me two days before you’re writing the test,” he said, “it’s too late.”

Dave Hagel of High Performance Human Resources spoke about the importance of a strong resume.

“I only look at a resume for 30 seconds at the most,” Beckett said earlier in the day, so participants were especially attentive to Hagel’s tips for writing the perfect resume and acing the interview.

Pearn, meanwhile, provided participants with the details of becoming a firefighter that are often left unsaid: finding the motivation to train harder, the strain the process can put on loved ones, and how to get up after set backs.

“Look at the big picture,” he told the participants.

“Don’t give yourself the option of failure. If you want to become a firefighter, do everything you can to become a firefighter.”

For more information on future Firefighter Career Expos, visit www.firefightingincanada.com/FFCareers.

And be sure to check out our photo gallery of the event here.