Welcome to the rest of the interview with Sue Jones, a fire prevention officer with Ottawa Fire Services in Ontario, and one of the founders of Camp FFIT.
You rolled out the first Camp FFIT in August 2010. What were you looking to achieve with that first camp?
We wanted to introduce young women, 15-19-year-old, in the Ottawa area to the career we all loved. We weren’t looking to certify anyone but rather give them exposure and awareness that this career was out there and what it would take for them to get there.
What kind of support did you and Carisa and Louise get for your efforts and to support Camp FFIT?
I’ll start by saying that we just finished out 9th year and one of the main reasons for our success has always been
our instructors. They are full-time and volunteer firefighters, as well as recent pre-service firefighter graduates. Many of the students are also previous attendees of Camp FFIT. Most of our instructors volunteer their time to help at camp, some needing to take time off from their full-time jobs. Some even plan their schedule around Camp FFIT happening in August each year.
Our Chiefs at all levels have always been a great support. Our current Division Chief of Training, Terry Brennan, as well as Deputy Chief Tracey, and Chief Ayotte, and many others, have been tremendous. I’ve often knocked on their doors–usually usually without notice!–and they’ve always cleared a spot at the table for me.
Tell me about what Camp FFIT means to the young women who’ve gone through over the years.
Well we’ve now had 216 young women complete Camp FFIT and I think they biggest thing they get out of the camp is that being a firefighter is more than just learning the knowledge and skills stuff.
They learn that to truly be successful in this career—especially for a woman—you have to be physically fit and mentally sharp at all times. ‘Cause as a firefighter you’ve always got to have your eyes and ears open and taking it all in, and if you don’t you could get yourself or someone else seriously injured or killed.
And that’s what we’ve learned to focus on as instructors during camp. Yes, we make sure they do things correctly and safely, but we don’t look for perfection. We look for participation and we strive to show them what physically fit and mentally focused means. And we as instructors do that by showing up ready to do the job physically and mentally. You gotta lead by example, right?
Right! So, what would you say are the “take-aways” for your campers?
Many of the young women leave with a new passion to be a firefighter. Many are already athletes on some level, so they’re no stranger to hard physical work. And there are others who realize they may not have the physical capabilities at the time, so they go home and sign up for gym memberships or find other ways to introduce physical fitness into their lives.
We want to ensure they’re aware that they need to be fit and ready long before they are invited to the CPAT (Candidate Physical Abilities Test). And that you can’t start training for the CPAT the month or two beforehand. We remind them constantly throughout the week that if they train for the career, the CPAT will simply be a stepping stone.
They also realize that completing a post-secondary education is crucial to being successful as a firefighter candidate. They have the opportunity to speak to firefighters and recently graduated pre-service students about what is required. Currently Pre-Service or NFPA 1001 are not requirements to apply or be hired, but with over 1800 candidates applying every two years, they need to be as competitive as possible, in all respects.