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July 28, 2014, Winnipeg - My son has just informed me that he wants to fight fire for a living. I quickly countered that he should try to get into the senate, but he just starred at me and said, Huh?

July 28, 2014
By Jay Shaw

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July 28, 2014, Winnipeg – My son has just informed me that he wants to fight fire for a living. I quickly countered that he should try to get into the senate, but he just starred at me and said, Huh? He’s 13 and has been to the fire station many times but on this occasion he was visiting a department out west where a close friend of the family works, and after talking to the guys in the hall, he seemed to have a new appreciation of what we do, or don’t do!
I remember talking to a fellow firefighter here in Winnipeg who told me a story about when he figured out what he wanted to do and finally was hired, then was shocked at how diverse the job actually was in terms of response possibilities. My son thinks the trucks and technology were very cool, as the captain in this department has a super laptop in front of him while he responds to calls. My son wanted to know what games you could get on that thing; maybe squeeze in a few minutes of Minecraft, or Call of Duty while heading to the fire?
I would be very happy for my son to join a fire service as, of course, following in your dad’s footsteps for future employment would be an honor. But is honor good enough for us to be recommending the fire service to our kids? The job has changed, the risks of cancer are increasing, the political atmosphere and attacks on our wages and benefits have crossed the 49th parallel and firefighters are not immune to deep cuts to our pensions and benefits. The shiny image of a firefighter may not hold the clout and respect from the general public it once did.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not stating that the sky is falling, however you would be blind to say the fire service has not faced difficult challenges as of late. Maybe it is just me, but I will be showing my kids multiple occupational profiles throughout their impressionable years that offer great rewards both personal and financial. We all tell our kids to follow their hearts, but will the job be the same as it is for them in 30 years as it is now for us? The world is always going to be in need of responders when bad stuff happens but the future of response will change and look very different, I suggest, in 50, 30, or even 20 years. Will we keep going to more medical calls and continue to be front and center for the huge increases in natural disasters? I would suggest that some may want us to stick to house fires and rescuing cats out of trees as the funding pie for response seems to have a lot of people wanting to pull up to the table. The firefighter job is becoming more political as every public-sector agency including police and EMS have been under the microscope to defend their budgets. I just wish the world could slow down a bit and breathe, maybe realize that while so much has changed, very little in the motivation of firefighters has. The job is to respond and give it everything you’ve got until it is time to go home. When the alarm sounds, I still get excited for the privilege of responding to your emergency. And while my son may not be able to verbally express why he thinks fire fighting is cool, I know that the reason I wanted to jump on a fire truck is most likely the same as his. And If that ever changes, we could all be in trouble.
Jay Shaw is Firefighter and Primary Care Paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Along with multiple fire and emergency services courses and certificates, Jay holds a Master's degree in Disaster and Emergency Management from Royal Roads University and is an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Contact him at jayshaw@mts.net and on twitter @disasterbucket


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