Mark, 27, has been a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) for two and a half years. He is a rope rescue field trainer for the department's high angle rescue team. This team responds to rescues where ropes must be used to access people, i.e., a window washer stranded outside the fortieth floor of a high-rise. After high school, he attended the Alberta Fire Training School in Vermilion, Alberta, where he took courses that met the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1001 standard which outlines qualifications for professional firefighters. These courses ranged from basic fire behaviour to pump operations and hazardous materials response. He currently works in downtown Calgary where the department responds to about 6,300 calls per year.
Stephanie: What made you decide to be a firefighter? How did you become a firefighter?
Mark: I grew up in a small town in Alberta which had a volunteer fire department. At age 16, I had the opportunity to join the fire department as a junior firefighter. This allowed me to participate in training and station activities. I was allowed to respond to emergencies but for safety reasons was not permitted to enter any building fires. I fell in love with it instantly and decided that this would be my career choice. I took a lot of courses with the Alberta Fire Training School in Vermilion, Alberta. When I first applied to the Calgary Fire Department, I was not accepted. I went to Red Deer and got a job with an oilfield firefighting company. Through this job I became an instructor for fire, safety and rescue courses. I applied again for the Calgary Fire Department and was accepted in April 2000.
Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
Mark: I like the variety of challenges that are presented each and every day. I never know what will be thrown at me on any given day. I also like the excitement of responding to an emergency.
Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Mark: My least favourite part of the job is seeing kids get hurt.
Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a firefighter?
Mark: Go to the fire department in the city closest to you and see if you can go on a ride-along. This will help you decide if this is the career for you. You will find out that actual firefighting is a small part of what the fire department does. We are very involved in the community and with a number of charities so start volunteering for some now. It will help on your résumé and it will prepare you for a part of the job that most people don't know about.
Another large part of what we do is medical emergencies. Start with first aid and work your way up in medical training. A background as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) would be a great asset.
Stephanie: What kind of education do you need to be a firefighter? What kind of education did you get? What are some other requirements, i.e., strength, vision, etc.?
Mark: The minimum requirements vary from city to city. If there is a particular city you are hoping to work in, check with them for their requirements. They will all have a few things in common. They will all have some type of physical ability test as physical strength plays an important part of the day-to-day work we do. The CFD minimum requirements can be seen in the recruitment section of their Web site at http://www.calgaryfire.ca.
This is a very competitive job so your chances will be greatly improved if you take as many firefighting and rescue courses as you can. There are excellent fire training colleges across Canada to help you get there. I took a number of courses at the Alberta Fire Training School and an EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) course. I also took courses in high angle rescue, confined space rescue, industrial firefighting, fall protection, H2s (hydrogen sulfide) and other general safety courses.
Stephanie: What is the most effective way to protect yourself and your home from fire?
Mark: The best way to protect yourself is to be prepared to get out alive. Have an escape plan with more than one way out. Far too many people I talk to assume they will simply walk out the front door.
To protect your home there are a number of things you can do. Make sure smoke detectors are operating properly by testing them monthly. Having a fire extinguisher can save a lot of damage from fire. Finally and most important, if there is a fire big or small, phone the fire department immediately. We would rather show up to find that you have put the fire out yourself than to have you lose your home because you hesitated that extra two minutes to call.
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