Teaching Firefighters

I joined a women’s choir in my new town in Canada. One of the members asked if I was interested in doing some teaching through the local community college. They were running a program aimed at people in business and industry.  I met the coordinator of the program and was hired to teach two classes of fire fighters on a Monday night. I had to drive to an area beyond my comfort zone. Since, I didn’t have access to a car every day, each journey I made was a new experience in coping with Canadian highways and weather. A teenager who lived down the street sat with the kids and gave them dinner.

I was rather nervous about the classes. In those days, women in fire stations were a rarity. I did my own typing for the various worksheets which were meant to be aimed at improving their level of English. The chief of the local organization had been dismayed by the responses of his fire fighters on a witness stand recently. Although it wasn’t in my brief, concentrating on oral work might have been more useful. a

The fire hall wasn’t a big one and it didn’t have a pole to slide down. In fact, the guy had to come upstairs to get to the trucks. The older men on the team were less educated than the younger ones. A couple of the oldest men hadn’t gone to or completed high school. There’s a vast difference in qualifying as a fire fighter today. You need Grade 12 and then a diploma from a community college. After that it’s not a shoe-in, Because so many have those basic qualifications, an applicant must pass further tests before he or he is selected. It’s a long process and one my grandson went through to get his job.

The guys were very kind to me but couldn’t resist their teasing when I typed SEX instead of SIX on a worksheet one night.  I happened to be wearing a red jumpsuit and I’m sure I was crimson from the top of my head down to my toes. They also had a lot of fun with using correct pronouns rather than the more usual colloquial ones. I remember one guy asking another.  ‘Who is on the hose?’ The reply from his mate was, ‘It is I on the hose.’ And then they all burst out laughing. I was teaching grammar because that’s what the chief thought his people needed.

Teaching fire fighters had its moments. When an alarm came in, half the class vanished upstairs and I had no idea when they might return, I remember one man still in his gear, trying to decide if he would rather hose snow and salt off the truck or complete my assignment. The truck won. The first night i was there, I asked the returning guys about their call-out. I had the naive idea that they only fought fires and was quickly told they had cut a body from a car which had collided with a semi. The details were graphic enough that I never asked for another report.  The hall was near a major highway so accident work was far more common than fire work.

I still have some teaching stuff to tell you so will continue n this vein next week.