Mission Fire/Rescue Service captain Jason Symons was sitting at an annual general meeting for Mission Minor Soccer Association two weeks ago when his pager sounded.
The series of high-pitched tones were unmistakable. Something was on fire and someone needed the fire department’s help.
He quietly slipped out of the meeting at the Mission Leisure Centre and made his way to Fire Station 1 on Seventh Avenue within minutes.
From the voice message, Symons already knew a structure was burning on 14th Avenue. He got into his gear, climbed aboard one of fire trucks and roared down the street towards the plume of smoke.
Even after being a firefighter for 23 years and having responded to thousands of 911 calls, adrenalin and excitement still rushed through his body.
But once on scene, his feelings were brushed aside and his training took over.
He was in his comfort zone and his instinct was to put the fire out without putting anyone or anything at risk.
“Jason is one of our senior captains,” said Mission Fire Chief Larry Watkinson, who described Symons as one of the busiest guys he knows.
Symons has been coaching soccer for years, owns a successful business, volunteers around the community, and makes a significant contribution to the local fire department.
According to Watkinson The training Symons has received with the fire department has helped him become a well-rounded individual who can face crises and hazardous situations with a sense of calm and confidence.
Symons joined the department when he was just 19 years old.
“I joined because as a kid, I was always interested in the fire department,” said Symons, who was born and raised in Mission.
Over the years, he has missed out on family celebrations, parties and countless hours of sleep because of his commitment to the department. He even skipped out on Christmas dinner one year.
Symons’ family and friends are supportive of his work, and even his three children understand what he must do.
“You get used to it,” states Symons, who doesn’t complain when he is called out at 4 a.m. and has to be at work a few hours later. “I enjoy it, and that makes it easier to get up in the middle of the night.”
Symons cannot imagine life without the fire department. The crew at the hall is his second family. They support each other in their work and personal lives.
For many firefighters, the sacrifice is overwhelmed by self-gratification, explained Watkinson.
“Paid on-call firefighters are self-motivated individuals who want to do well for the community and serve those impacted by tragedy.”
They have a high level of integrity and moral ethics, which is why people put their complete trust and faith in them, Watkinson added.
Watkinson is now looking for more community-minded individuals to join his group.
It’s not often the fire department puts on a recruitment drive like the one that is currently underway. But because of operational changes and retirements, there are close to 20 positions available.
“We’ve never had vacancies like this before,” said Watkinson, who is looking for individuals who live in the community and have some daytime availability.
The number of calls and when they occur varies, he explained, noting firefighters respond to people in medical distress, motor vehicle crashes, and, of course, fires.
Firefighters work on a rotation and can be called upon five times a day or just once a week.
There are some basic requirements applicants must meet, such as being at least 19 years old, have a valid B.C. driver’s licence, and be in good physical condition.
It’s strenuous work, said the fire chief, adding there are weekly training sessions, work around the hall, and volunteer commitments in the community.
Symons expects there will be fierce competition. When he joined, more than 100 others were aspiring for the same thing.
“We want team players,” said Symons.
But most of all, Watkinson said, the fire department is looking for individuals with “characteristics” to represent the group.
“We can train people on their ability, but we can’t train character.”
Anyone interested in applying for a position can pick up an application form at Fire Station 1, 33330 Seventh Ave., or at mission.ca. Applications must be in by April 22, 2015. For more information, call Mission Fire/Rescue Service at 6004-820-3794.