Life / Careers

You can do this: Firefighters in the heat and heart of the community

Zen Stefani is Fire Lieutenant with North Grenville Fire Services: "I love being involved in the community, helping people and solving complex problems."

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You can do this: Firefighting
Zen Stefani, 25, Fire Lieutenant with North Grenville Fire Services in Kemptville, Ont.

Why I like my job
I love being involved in the community, helping people and solving complex problems. If you do, too, then I’d say you’re right on track to joining our team!

My career started when I was pretty young (I started volunteering at age 17), but that’s not to say it’s a requirement in firefighting. In fact, candidates with a bit more life experience are often favoured over younger applicants, and I’ve certainly benefited from the mentorship and guidance of my older peers.

After high school, I volunteered on a part-time basis with North Grenville Fire Services while also attending Algonquin College for the Pre-Service Firefighter and Training program. I’m now in my eighth year with the same department, currently serving as fire lieutenant. It’s my job to ensure that all crewmembers are properly outfitted with personal protective equipment, in addition to providing on-site training in departmental policies, objectives, safety and quality assurance. I’m also responsible for educating the public on fire prevention.

Our department serves a population of roughly 15,000 people over 353 square kilometres. We respond to everything from medical emergencies, to ice and water rescues, chemical spills, and the common kitchen fire. It definitely keeps me on my toes, but it’s rewarding to know I’m saving people’s lives and keeping the community safe.

How to start
Generally, each municipality in Canada establishes and enforces its own hiring criteria based on the number of citizens. However, an aspiring firefighter must obtain proper training if he or she expects to stand the heat. Smaller municipalities of less than 25,000 typically require 275 hours of training on a volunteer basis, whereas larger communities may require an additional 120-hour training program or college-level training.

Many Ontario colleges offer the Pre-Service Firefighter Education & Training Program, which teaches the principles of fire science, emergency patient care, and fire suppression and prevention. Otherwise, most provinces provide standard National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1001 Levels I & II training to qualified candidates. There are some physical, mental and fitness assessments involved, so be sure to look these up.

What you can expect
If the recent Fort McMurray forest fires were any indication, firefighters must be well equipped to respond to any imaginable emergency call, including chemical spills, cardiac arrests and residential, commercial and industrial fires. Many municipal fire departments require all firefighters to be trained in EMT-P (Paramedic) to effectively diagnose and treat patients in trauma situations. Previous experience in building construction or the skilled trades, ice and water rescue, and heavy equipment operation will also attract interest from fire chiefs and captains.     

The basics: Municipal Firefighter
$61,540:
Median full-time salary for municipal firefighters with at least two years of experience. In some (larger) municipalities and departments, a firefighter’s salary could peak at about $96,000 annually.

+5%: Projected job growth rate over the next seven years.

Data for this feature was provided by payscale.com, mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca, acadmicinvest.com and onetonline.org

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