Thursday, January 8, 2009

The fire's out for now... but the embers are still hot

Honoured readers,

I want to thank you for the support you've shown for me this past year as I faced obstacle over obstacle, challenge after challenge, and met them all with courage, thanks to the faith you've all had in me. My dream was achieved last Fall when I was hired by Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service, in what at the time seemed such an distant goal... as a career firefighter!

What a fantastic journey! I learned so much about myself, and even more about the at-times foreign aspects of a career where I had no trades background or practical fire experience, save for burning food in the kitchen and setting off many a smoke alarm... sigh... But inexperience aside, I met an amazing group of people. My classmates, my Training Officers, my fellow firefighters.... even the great administrative staff for the city of Abbotsford.

During my 9 weeks of training, I studied like a madman, marched/drilled, cleaned, did PE, HUNDREDS of punishment pushups, rolled infinite amounts of hose, learned about building construction, tools, fire streams, hose lays and deploys, trucks and equipment, SCBA and PPE (our Darth-Vader-like breathing apparatus and oven-mitt-like turnout gear)... set up hoselines and ladders; advanced hoseline UP ladders; humped hose every which way; navigated confined spaces; caught hydrants; I got to run up and down, up and down, up and down, repeat-repeat-repeat the 6-storey stairs tower, and even carried big guys to safety :-)... I ascended up and rappelled down the Fire Tower; built tons of mechanical advantages for technical high angle rope rescue; learned about wildland firefighting; got to cut up cars with the Jaws of Life; dike, dam, and divert at Hazardous Materials training and wear a giant Level A marshmallow suit... I learned HEMP-LOC-AVPU-DABC-PQRST and more in First Responder training (did you know there are no band-aids on a fire truck?)... I can tear apart and put back together a chain saw, vent saw, K-12 rotary saw and Sawzall.... not mention make a lot of big holes in otherwise solid objects with the above-mentioned power tools, but also perform forcible entry with a good old-fashioned axe and Halligan.

And of course, I got to put out fires. There is nothing that compares to the thrill of being in the same heat-infused room alongside a raging inferno, and having the presence of mind NOT to run out screaming, but to KNOW you are in control and will put it out safely. Wow. "Hot" doesn't even begin to describe the feeling of being completely enveloped with smoke and flames all around you, while wearing the heavy gear designed to keep us safe.

Then they put us on the floor. Hoooo-wheeee!!! Out of the classroom, into a Hall, onto the trucks!! I was assigned to Engine 1, Hall 1, C-platoon. The main hall. I didn't care where I went, really. I didn't care if all I did was make coffee and do dishes. I would do it proudly as part of my duties as the newest probie in the AFRS. My crew was awesome, what can I say. They made me feel at home right away. They even played jokes on me. BTW, FYI, we don't have night-vision goggles at the AFRS. In case anyone asks. But they helped me train, they took me under their wing, and pretended to like the artisan coffee I brought in. Although we didn't get any big calls, boy, what a rush, that first time going Code 3 (lights and siren), jumping into the gear, wondering what we were going to get when we got there. More often than not, it was a false alarm, burned toast, or an old MVA rollover that had already been looked after by crews earlier on in the day. Or, Rescue 1, Engine 6 or Engine 2 stole it from us. Hmphff!! During our down time, we trained, whether it be FR scenarios, hose stuff, or going over the tools and truck piece by piece. Despite the hour long commute, I eagerly looked forward to going to work every shift.

At the 3-month probationary evaluations last Saturday, my journey with the AFRS drew to a close. I performed all of the required duties successfully, with confidence and ease, but part of my turnout gear was not on properly and so some tasks were deemed unsuccessful. According to AFRS Operating Guidelines, less that 100% during these evaluations means automatic dismissal, regardless of how seemingly insignificant the mistake. I was let go on Tuesday Jan 6... no second chance.

The meeting with HR went well, and the gal told me how they agonized over the meeting, but the OG's are black and white. She did ask, if I was interested, if I would put forth my name and apply as Fire Inspector when the position is posted after the city-wide hiring freeze, well, thawed out. She said this, with the blessing of the Deputy Chief of Training, is an acknowledgment that I am still a strong candidate for my good attitude, character, personality, work ethic, and integrity... but the as the technical aspects of the probationary period were not met, I am unable to continue my journey as an AFRS firefighter. I told her I would consider the position, but will continue to pursue firefighting with other departments as positions open and recruitment begins. When a door closes, another opens, and I hope that with all that I've learned with the AFRS, the next door will be the one I was meant to walk through all along.

As I say to many of my fitness training clients when their policing dreams take an unexpected turn, things happen for a reason. Perhaps it doesn't make sense at that moment, but I often turn to the Serenity Prayer in times such as this. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." I kept this in mind as I thanked the Chief, HR, and the Union for giving me the opportunity to develop my strengths and discover my weaknesses as a firefighter, and that I would take this experience and learn from it. To hold my head high with courage and grace is all I can ask of myself, hoping I tried my best, knowing I could have done better, while trying to have no regrets. But it's hard... and the hardest part for me I think is the tangible disappointment. In myself, for others that have supported me, for those that trained me and worked alongside me. All I can think to say is I'm sorry.

This post was almost as hard to write as the one about my mom. But I know however much it hurt to write, that post helped some people, and I'm hoping this one will too. Share your thoughts, either here or e-mail me at, wish me luck on my next endeavour, or just come to a kettlebell class this weekend and sweat it out the old-fashioned way. You know I will ;-).

Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.


aka: Donger
aka: T to the D

aka: Doug
aka: Kenney

1 comment:

Rachael said...

Wow. Your entry made me tear up. But it also inspired me. Thank you for sharing your journey and providing such a great example of how we should deal with our disappointments. I love the advice you gave about things happening for a reason. I will take this advice with me as I submit my police application.
Keep on keeping on!! :)