Dec. 5, 2014, Winnipeg – Darius is my new hero. Truth be told, I didn’t even know the kid before his babysitter and this little man showed up at my fire station; the young woman, all bundled up for a Winterpeg day, rang the fire-hall doorbell and I happened to be right there.
I answered the door and the woman asked if she and her young charge could see a fire truck. I looked down and there was this bright, smiley-faced kid that I put at about three years of age.
As I started to say, “Sure come on in,” the kid ker-klonked right by me, snow boots on and all. He loves fire trucks his babysitter said. For the next 15 minutes, Darius and I talked about the job in a way that I’ve never had the pleasure to do with a four year old.
You see, Darius will be a firefighter but he can’t apply now because he is only four, he informed me. He told me with certainty that when he is maybe 20 he can drive the truck. Darius and I talked about hoses and water supply, as he did not know that the fire truck had water in it already, explaining to me that firefighters get the water from the hydrants. It was quite apparent that this child had had someone in the family read to him about the fire service. I asked some more questions to find out if Darius had a relative on the job, but it did not seem like it.
Darius will be our future. Darius will be a first-generation firefighter when he is 20, and, until that time, I will do my best to keep the job moving along so when it is his time to take over the reins, the job will still be the same magical place for him as it is for me now.
For the rest of the day I felt invigorated and happy to serve, and Darius was the reason I felt this way; it was a quick reminder of the importance of what we do. Every day in the media we seem to see stories of public emergency services under some sort of attack – budget cuts here, firefighters doing this over there, and horrifically sad stories everywhere. It can get to you some times, and I will admit that there are days that the seed of complacency could be planted. It takes a good fire – which sounds awful but you now exactly what I mean – or a great save to really appreciate how lucky we are to do this for a living.
That same day we had that good fire in the middle of the afternoon at which the crew pulled together and made a really good stop on a dirty basement fire – high heat, lots of smoke and all in -25 C conditions makes for a stellar afternoon. There were no injuries and we were all thankful for the chance to practise our trade under really challenging conditions.
Right after the fire I had to get to my kid’s hockey practice; I am now the head coach of a group of 13-year-old boys. Several of the other coaches and a few mothers commented on how I smelled like a bonfire, even though I had had a quick shower. I informed them that I had just come from work. Suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed and parents were now looking at me funny. One dad said, “Wow I can’t believe you guys do that.” But all I could think about was how in 16 years I hope I am still on the job so I may have a chance to fight a fire with Darius.
When Darius left the fire hall, I loaded him up with fire-prevention colouring books and a stuffed fire dog and I asked him in front of his babysitter to tell his folks to check his smoke alarms. She smiled at me and knew I was really talking to her. I have to keep this kid safe for a few more years until he can drive me around on the truck.
Jay Shaw is a 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
and follow him on Twitter @firecollege
*Carousel photo from Flickr by Michael Himbeault
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