Jeffrey Cowen - Firefighter

CurioCity Careers
29 June 2018

Jeffrey Cowen

Firefighter with the City of Sarnia

I was born/grew up in: Windsor, Ontario, Canada and raised in London, Ontario, Canada

I now live in: Point Edward, Ontario, Canada.

I completed my training/education at: Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Ontario; Paramedic Diploma from Fanshawe College>; Basic Fire Suppression Certificate from Training Division in Crowley, Texas; Arborist Certificate from Lambton College

Describe what you do at work.

At work we work a 24-hour shift which starts at 7:00 a.m. and finishes at 7:00 a.m. the following morning. At shift change the firefighter you are replacing will brief you on anything important that happened during the prior shift. After speaking with the outgoing shift, we do vehicle and equipment checks. This is followed by routine cleaning of the fire station.

During the shift we may respond to, automatic fire alarms, car accidents, fires, technical rescue incidents such as rope and water rescue, carbon monoxide alarms, medical emergencies and hazardous materials incidents. At these incidents we will use various types of equipment depending on the emergency. For example we use such tools as auto extrication tools, fire pumps, hoses and appliances, generators, gas powered saws, electric and gas-powered fans.

Emergency incidents can be unpredictable and sometimes require intervention before all relevant information can be collected. Because emergency operations take place anywhere, all potential hazards are difficult to identify. Identifying the problem is usually not difficult; people call 911 with a problem. But selecting the best decision to solve the problem can sometimes be challenging. Decision making is often guided by standard operating guidelines and past experiences of senior firefighters. Teamwork selflessness and effective communication are essential components for dealing with fires and emergencies.

During the course of our duties it is beneficial to have a background in science and math. Responding to hazardous materials calls requires firefighters have some background knowledge of chemistry and physics. Understanding chemical properties such as vapour pressure, specific gravity, and toxicity are important for safe and effective solution to a hazardous materials incident. A physics background is important for firefighting. Having a basic understanding of thermodynamics and gas laws is extremely important for effectively extinguishing fires inside buildings. Basic math skills are also required of pumping apparatus operators when making hydraulic calculations for determining correct fire pump discharge pressures.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect peoples lives?

The fire service can be an extremely rewarding career. The job gives you the opportunity to meet and interact with all sorts of people from your community. As a firefighter in Sarnia I feel invested in the community. It’s a privilege to be able to try to help people when they are experiencing some type of crisis. It is impossible to describe how it feels when you have played a role in saving someone's life.

What motivates you in your career?

I love my job! It’s the perfect job for me. When I was looking for a career I knew I didn’t want to sit at a desk. I wanted a job that was physically demanding, where you had to get dirty. I wanted to be able to work in a group to accomplish things that were hard. I needed a job that could be unpredictable, chaotic, and had an element of danger to it and the fire service met all those needs. I enjoy every aspect of the fire service from interacting with the public, to responding to fires and emergencies to cleaning hose and equipment. The fire service is the type of job you could work for 100 years and still not know everything or have seen everything. To be a good firefighter you have to be dedicated to constantly learning and practising; that has always appealed to me as an ideal career. I like working in a career that values honesty, integrity, courage and hard physical labour. It’s a privilege to be part of the fire services proud history.


When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

When I finished high school, I did not know what I wanted to do for a career. So I went to university with the goal of obtaining a Bachelor of Science Degree. Unfortunately, I really struggled with university level science, even though I did well in high school science. I barely passed my first year of university, so I switched my degree to a Bachelor of Arts and took classes that interested me. In the summers I worked for a landscape design company and then as an apprentice for a tree company. There I realized I preferred a job that was physically challenging. But I found landscaping and certain aspects of the arborist apprenticeship really boring.

After University I decided I might be interested in a career in the fire service. I spoke with some firefighters in the city of London and they recommended that I consider getting a paramedic diploma. This is because of the fire service’s expanding role within the emergency medical service. I took their advice and enrolled in the paramedic program at Fanshawe College. Following that I obtained my basic firefighter training in Texas.

After paramedic school I worked a number of years as a paramedic while trying to get hired with a fire department. Competition for firefighter jobs is fierce; the first time I was interviewed for a position with the Sarnia Fire Department I was unsuccessful. The next time the City of Sarnia advertised for firefighter positions I re-applied and was offered an interview. For my second interview, I spent more time practising and preparing for the interview and was offered the job.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

Outside work I enjoy spending time with my family. We like going on bike rides and stand up paddle boarding. In the summer we relax by spending time at my in-laws trailer near Ipperwash. Some of my coworkers and I work out together on our days off. Our Sarnia Professional Firefighters Association does a lot of fundraising and volunteer work in Sarnia and I participate in some of my association's fund raising activities.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

For youth interested in a career in the fire service I highly recommend obtaining some type of post-secondary degree or diploma. A paramedic or a fire science diploma would be an asset for anyone applying to the fire service. An apprenticeship and/ or work experience in the trades is also an asset. There is a lot of competition for relatively few firefighter positions. To be successful in the fire service you must be self-motivated, capable of independent learning, have excellent interpersonal skills and be an effective listener.

CurioCity Careers

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