Student firefighter Jessica Gardiner gets a taste of all things firefighting this week in Oak Bay.
“I’ve been really interested in firefighting for a few years now and just recently got really curious about real life, how it actually works. I wanted to have a full on, hands-on experience,” Jessica said. The Grade 12 student shopped around and found Oak Bay willing to create the opportunity for work experience.
“We don’t have a formal work experience program up to this point,” said Darren Hughes, deputy fire chief. They’ve created job shadowing opportunities before for a few hours or a half day, but this is a four-day tour.
“Jessica’s here because she took the initiative to apply at several different departments and that was a very good indicator of dedication and true interest,” Hughes says. “We’re very happy to be able to offer the opportunity, but we do want a student who is seriously interested in having firefighting as a career.”
March 19 to 22 include a myriad of fire suppression drills.
— OakBayFire (@OakBayFireDept) March 21, 2018
“It’s been incredible. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Gardiner says. “Even just walking in the first time just made my jaw drop. Staring at the trucks I felt like a little kid in a candy store.”
“Doing the drills, even though it was a bit overwhelming at first, has been really fun and exciting and challenging,” Jessica said. The challenge is to do every task step by step, quickly and with intent.
“You’ve got to know what you’re going to do. It’s a bit challenging physically. Some movements are a bit tricky and you’ve got to have good technique or it pretty difficult,” she said.
Halfway through her experience, she’s already confirmed that desire to head into firefighting in the future.
“The first moment walking in was the coolest. There’s nothing like it. Knew I was going to be happy doing this. I think I’m already hooked,” she said.
She also fits into the team, which didn’t surprise Hughes, as she came on recommendation from her teacher.
“Jessica, even from her first moment walking into the station and requesting a spot within the department although it would be a good fit with the team and the work environment in just asking her a few basic questions,” Hughes said. He feels there’s potential to learn about their department from her perspective, as a young woman. Oak Bay has not had a female firefighter.
It’s a competitive industry but Jessica isn’t deterred. She plans to take a year, then head for Camosun College for a trades degree before pursuing firefighting training.
The work ethic Hughes saw shows, says firefighter John Ballantyne.
“Jessica’s working out great, she’s got a lot of enthusiasm,” says Oak Bay firefighter John Ballantyne. That work included moving lines, gearing up to traverse the five-storey tower and climbing the 75-foot ladder. “We have a lot of applicants who have issue with claiming the ladder, so for a student in Grade 12 coming out to do it is awesome. … It’s really nice to have her both on the drill court and her enthusiasm around the fire hall.”
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