Burning Desire: Eric Fick the Firefighter

By Eric Fick as told to Brandon Pedersen, WorkStory Ambassador

Hello, my name is Eric Fick and I am from a little farm town called Bradford, Ontario  and this is the story about how I got to where I am today.

During the early stages of my life, my only wish in the world was to become a teacher. When you ask a 10 or 11 year old, “what would you like to be when you grow up?”, the response is usually: a hockey player, ballerina, astronaut, etc., but not me. As I grew older and matured into a high school student my dream was still there. Throughout grade nine and ten I was determined, and applied myself to my studies, achieving honours in academic courses. It came to my attention, though,  that it wasn't going to be easy going through university and teachers college. As my social life got the best of me for the last two years of high school, I had dropped from honours in academic courses to barely getting by in applied courses. Unfortunately, my lack of self-discipline resulted in me avoiding the university application process. I decided to take an alternative path and applied to Fanshawe College for electrical engineering. I have always been rather handy, so I figured I’d put that to good use. Luckily I was accepted, but did not last very long. I had once again let my social life take over.

After thousands of dollars were basically thrown down the drain, I decided to smarten up and take a more practical electrical course to become an electrician. I had finally been able to return to my former self and completed that course, but something was still missing. I was not happy with the career path that I had chosen. At this point in time I did not know what I was going to do with my life.

Then one day it came to me.

I always had an interest in the firefighting profession, but people had always told me it was too difficult to get into, especially in an era when fire departments are hiring more women and minorities. I had soon learned that, yes it is extremely competitive, but it is strictly the best man or women for the job that gets hired. This increased my desire – I’ve always loved a good competition.

I decided to apply to the Pre-Service Firefighting program at Seneca College. From day one I knew it was what I wanted  to pursue for as long as my body would allow me to. I worked for one year straight harder than I ever had in the past. I am happy to say that I graduated with honours and a GPA of 3.8. I had never achieved such good marks and feedback from my teachers before. It was extremely rewarding and helped me realise that this is truly what I was born to do.

It is commonly known that it can take years and a lot of money and volunteer hours to just get involved in the hiring process for any given fire department. The lengthy process includes a written test (with components such as reading compression, memory skills, math skills, and mechanical aptitude), a physical test (including eye sight, hearing, claustrophobia test, acrophobia test, strenuous endurance and strength test, swim test) on top of the entire interview process. Right from the moment I knew I wanted to be a firefighter I started practicing all on these skills.

I stayed focused and when an opportunity to become a volunteer firefighter arouse in the town of Bradford I obviously jumped on it. Not even half way through my Pre-Service Firefighter course,  I had been hired on the Bradford Fire Department as a paid part time employee.                       

As of January 27th 2015, I have responded to 47 emergency calls and counting. The job of a Firefighter is well respected and I love everything it has to offer. To me, there is no better pleasure in the world then to rush to the fire hall, jump on the fire apparatus, and head over to make the worst day of someone’s life better.  It has been a rollercoaster ride to get to where I am today, but it has all been worth it and it is only looking up from here. 

Finding the Fire Within: Carolyn’s Story

As gathered by WorkStory Ambassador, Karli Steen

Carolyn Herrmans' path has taken her many different places. She had always seen herself as an optometrist; until a job shadowing left her tired and unfulfilled: "I did a Grade 10 job shadow at my optometrist’s office and thought it was a total bore. I could barely stay awake. I think a light switch went off in my head one day. I saw a fire and thought ‘This is it. This is what I'm meant to do.’ I haven't looked back since and don't ever plan on it."

 Carolyn went in blazing, on the path to becoming a firefighter. She initially wanted to be a smoke-jumper, which would put her right in the middle of the fight against forest fires. To do this, she went to Portage College in Lac La Biche, Alberta to take her Wildland Initial Attack Certification. She has continued to blaze her trail by taking courses in Orangeville at the Ontario Fire Academy, which led to further testing in Richmond, Texas.

I asked Carolyn to outline both training processes and one thing was clear; they were both humbling experience! She had this to say about her time in Alberta: "We did a lot of field experience. We'd get in a huge van and they'd take us deep in the woods. They dropped us off with a compass and a partner and made us try to find out way out of the woods. For testing we had to do a circuit. With a big pack on our back full of hose, we'd run 100m, empty handed and back and then run again with a motor that we would put in the water to suck it up and send out the hose. That thing was heavy. Over 100 lbs. We also lifted weights in our circuit. It wasn't overly hard but it was challenging for sure. I learned a lot about weather and wind. Different types of forestry and what to do when caught in bad situations. It was an amazing experience.  While I was out there the Slave Lake fire of 2011 was going on. Such a humbling experience. So many people gave what they could. I was sitting in the Edmonton bus terminal and a man with a guitar and a bag of apples was sitting there. That's literally all he had left. I gave him a hug."

 Regarding her experience in Texas, Carolyn told me: "I worked with 5 Americans and 4 Canadians - all male. For me, that pushes me to do my best. My two instructors were ex NFL players. The guy that owned the school created it because a couple years before he was called out to a fire. He ran out of air during that fire and called a mayday. He somehow survived that fire for over 30 minutes with no air. He literally is a miracle. So this school is meant to put us in bad situations and we're to get out of them. It included being trapped in a room at temperatures over 900 degrees and fully engulfed in smoke (hay smoke so it's not very harmful). We had to take our regulators out of our mask (the device that sends air to our mask) and last for 10 seconds. I panicked and ran for the door.  We hit the floor and sucked the air off it. We also did a man down scenario --  350 lb  man who needed to get out a window! They ran us until we almost puked. They pushed us to the breaking point. When we did a live fire we were pushed so hard I don't even remember coming out of the building. I came to in full bunker gear in a horse trough full of water and ice. It was back breaking for sure. But totally worth it. I have the upmost respect for everyone in this line of work. It showed me who I want to be and shaped me into who I am today. I wouldn't be as confident or strong without those instructors."

Carolyn further described how the same leader who pushed her limits, also pushed her forward: "He would get in my face and start screaming 'We don't want you here. You're a girl. Nobody's gonna hire a girl'. He's screaming this at me while I lift a 60 lb baby (a big metal dumbbell) over my head more than 200 times while in full gear. He'd scream at us all day long. He knew how to push my buttons. He knew how to make me feel like I wanted this more than anything in the world. Essentially I found the fire in me and I found who I was as a person. And I love helping people." 

As Carolyn continues to follow the path of firefighting, she works as both a patient transfer assistant for Voyageur and a waitress at the Keg. She is not deterred by the extra work, as she is helping others in all the positions. She takes a little from every experience, and applies it to everyday life. She hopes that what she learns will help her achieve the ultimate goal of becoming a HAZMAT specialist.

For anyone interested in following the path of a firefighter, Carolyn had this to say: "it's tough. If you think you're going to get a job right out of school think again. I'm going on my 3rd year and I'm still trying. It's expensive – at a minimum, $200 to apply to each fire department. It's tough but stay true to who you are. Do it for you. Don't do it because of the "glory" aspect of the job. There's nothing glorious about it. It's tough and dirty and I love it. I can't wait to sit there and hear that tone go off. And to feel the rush of my first fire and first save! Get all the training you can. Stand out from everyone else. Be yourself."