A Day In The Life Of A Firefighter

Captain Corinne Grant is a firefighter in Alberta. One of four duty officers for the Yellowhead County Fire Department, Grant is responsible for the oversight of all incidents throughout the entire county and, if needed, responds to incidents to provide support to those on call. On her duty week, she must be available 24 hours a day to answer dispatch, respond to calls, or monitor calls.

Her days can be long, taxing and hellish; but she wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. Here’s what she said about her job.

SDTC: Had you always dreamed of becoming a firefighter?

CG: No. I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, helping animals, or something to do with training horses or dogs. When I was 18, I went to Station 8 Niton practice with my boyfriend, who had recently joined, and the Chief, Jay Lowe, convinced me to join.

I realized quite quickly that I loved helping people and giving back to the community. I’ve been to many calls where I know the patient, and being a familiar face during a stressful event helps to calm people down.

Walk us thru a typical day in your life, from getting up til going to bed.

A typical day is waking up at 5:30, getting ready for work, sneaking into the rooms of my 4 children to kiss them goodbye, and driving 30-40 minutes depending on which fire station I am working at for that day.

When I get to the station, if I am scheduled to be crew on the truck I have to check my SCBA pack, put my gear on the truck, and log the crew on for the day (this has to be done before 7am shift start). I get a cup of coffee and have a chat with the crew on what tasks need to be done for the day. I will then go to my desk, check emails and my schedule, and start on the many projects and tasks that I have on the go.

Some of my projects include building lesson plans and scheduling training for all seven stations, planning courses and hiring instructors, teaching courses and station trainings, writing SOGs and SOPs, and I am currently heading the development of our 10 year master plan. I also have two programs on the go, our Cadet program

For lunch, I will go out and hang out with the crew. We cook our lunch as a crew, then sit around the lunch table and chat. If a fire call comes in at any time while working on a project or during lunch, everything comes to a halt while we respond to the incident. Shift ends at 5pm, but if it is a Tuesday or a Thursday I may be heading out to one of the stations to teach and will not be home until 10pm.

Once I get home, depending the time, I have supper with my family, spend time with my boyfriend and my kids, watch some Netflix, then go to sleep.

If the pager goes off when I am home, and it is for station 7 or 8, I respond to the station if the incident will require lots of members (structure fires, MVC with entrapment) or if there are too few members responding. On the weekends I can be teaching many different courses including: Recruit Course, Heavy Vehicle Extrication, Pump Operator, Apparatus Driver/Operator, Wildland Urban Interface, On top of these, I attend regular training for my special operations positions including: Technical Rope Rescue, Critical Incident Stress Management Peer Support Team Member, Drone Pilot, as well as Chief Officer Meetings.

What was the most dangerous situation you encountered on the job?

The most dangerous situations have been on the highway attending MVC’sm(Motor Vehicle Collisions). Highway 16 is the Trans-Canada highway, lots of traffic and high speeds. The two that come to mind are: being hit in the fire truck while providing traffic management for a scene and being Incident Command at a 17 vehicle pileup in zero visibility conditions due to smoke from burning brush piles.

Being hit in the fire truck is the closest call that I have ever had. I was the driver of YCF-55, which is an 80,000 lb tandem axle custom cab Rosenbauer. There was a snow storm, we got dispatched to a semi rollover on Highway 16. The tanker is the second out apparatus as it is the blocker vehicle to direct traffic away from the accident and provide our crews with a safe working area. As I was pulling up to the scene and stopped, I was watching in my mirrors and preparing to stage my truck at an angle across the lane that was being shut down for the incident. I noticed a van that was in my lane, going fairly fast and there was a semi-tractor in the lane beside him. I told my officer to hold on and I stepped on the throttle (an 80,000 lb truck does not accelerate very quickly). I watched as the van swerved and struck the back of the semi-tractor, flipped onto its side, and proceeded to skid down the highway towards me. Once I saw that I was pulling away from the van, I stopped the truck, got out, and ran to the back to see if I’d actually been hit. I noticed that there was a large gash in the roof of the van where it had hit the corner of the rear step on the truck. Traffic was still barreling towards me so I ran back to the truck to tell my officer that we had been hit, and to call a Mayday to get help rolling towards us.

There was only two of us in the tanker, and we ended up having to extricate the driver of the van. My officer and I worked on initial stabilization and windshield removal while more crew members arrived on scene. After extrication, looking at the positioning of the gash in the roof in comparison to where the drivers head would be located; if I was not moving forward to lessen the impact, then the state of the driver could have been much worse. As it was, he walked away with nothing but a couple scrapes and bruises and a bit sore.

The scariest situation I have encountered was a 17 vehicle pileup, fairly early in my officer career. I was a paid on call member, and I was the senior ranking firefighter that responded to reports of a MVC on Highway 16. In the Engine, we had 3; I was in the officer seat, my brother was the driver, and my sister in-law was in one of the rear seats. When we arrived on scene, it was like hitting a wall of smoke. We pulled up on a very serious MVC in the eastbound lane, and we quickly made the decision to shut down the highway as it was too dangerous to have any traffic moving. I radioed to the tanker that was responding behind us to provide blocker and to shut the highway down at the intersection. We quickly got out to check the status of the driver of the pickup truck with serious front end damage. At this point you could barely see your hand out in front of yourself. Then we heard, what I can only describe as sounding like bombs going off. Quickly you realize that the sound you are hearing is vehicles crashing into each other in the westbound lanes. With zero visibility, it was very hard to tell exactly where the sound was coming from, and at one point I thought that maybe the blocker tanker was hit. You could see headlights veering into the ditch. We continued on our assessment and extrication of the person in the pickup, I ran up to the driver of the tractor trailer that the truck hit to make sure he was okay. It was pure relief when the two firefighters that had staged the tanker ran up. They thought it was us that had been hit. We focused on the patient that we had in front of us. Every time we would hear the crashing, everyone would cringe and think about how many extrications and injuries could possibly be on the other highway, but we all knew it was way too dangerous to go over there until the highway was shut down by the next in units. At one point we heard a terrifying scream just before the crunch and a woman carrying a child was running down the median and jumped in another vehicle. As units started to arrive, the smoke had started to dissipate. EMS arrived to take over patient care from us. We were completely shocked to hear that no one was injured, pinned, or trapped, in any of the 15 vehicles that piled into each other in the westbound lanes. I went with my brother to go look at the damage, I vividly remember a pickup truck with an enclosed sled trailer, the only thing left was the deck of the trailer and the entire cab of the truck was ripped off. There were snowmobiles wrapped up in the carnage, they never located one of the sleds. I am now extremely cautious when driving into any fog or smoke conditions.

What do you need to do this job well?

You have to have empathy and realize that you are helping people on their worst day. You have to be able to keep an open mind; things are constantly changing in the fire service and if you are not learning anymore, then it is time to get out of the job. Firefighters need to think quickly on their feet and sometimes think outside of the box and adapt to get the job done. It pretty much goes without saying–we are running in when everyone else is running out—so you have to have courage.
You need to be dedicated; running calls at 2am, training two hours a week, putting your life on the line—you have to be committed to the cause of protecting People, Property, and the Environment.

What would be your advice to other women wanting to get into this field?

Don’t be scared to try. I have learned that women can do everything that men can do, we may just have to do it slightly differently. I am not as tall or as strong as the guys that I work with, but I have learned different techniques to get the job done.

I am extremely blessed to be in a department with over 33% women and in my current recruit class of 19 students I have 12 women. I make sure to teach a variety of techniques to accomplish the tasks that have been given, I like to make sure that everybody has enough “tools in their toolbox” to be able to get the job done as no one technique will work for every person or every situation.

What do you love most about what you do? 

I love the camaraderie and family mentality of the Fire Service. We look out for each other and help each other both on the job and in our personal lives. We look at each other as teammates instead of employees. Every person on the job has a place on the team, no one is left out and no one is left behind.

What’s your least fave thing?

The thing that I like the least about this job is the increased risks that I have to take, and the possibility of not going home to my family, as well as the increased risks of long term health and mental health issues. But weighing risks versus gains, this job is so rewarding, both to myself and my family, that it outweighs the risks. I am a role model for my daughters and sons, being a female ranking officer and doing a job that I love to do. I know that they are proud of me and I hope that I can inspire them to seek out a career that they love.

Capt. Corinne Grant appears in Season 2 of Hellfire Heroes, debuting Tuesday, Oct. 22 on the Discovery Channel. The show follows firefighters from fire departments in Alberta, Port Alberni, British Columbia and Swift Current, Saskatchewan as they protect and serve the communities in which they live.

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