People of Georgian: Alumni forest firefighter blazes many career paths

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The Georgian community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives —and we’re sharing them as part of an ongoing series.

People of Georgian: Meet Joshua Bowles

The first forest fire I encountered was probably one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever felt.

In teams of five, my crew was mobilized by truck and pre-positioned in a high-risk area of our district with a red alert helicopter crew at base ready to respond. When we got a call to go, the adrenaline began pumping through me.

Five people wearing matching uniforms stand in front of a red helicopter.
Courtesy of Joshua Bowles.

We drove to a nearby lake where two barges and their operators were awaiting our arrival. We loaded the boats with our gear and, in tandem, began crossing the lake toward the fire.

Huddled in the boat, we heard an ear-shattering roar of a water bomber flying low directly over us on its way to drop a load of water on the fire. It was impressive watching two massive water bombers and a smaller one skillfully make laps of the lake to pick up water and then drop it on the flames.

When we arrived on shore, the front draw-door of the boat dropped and we saw an entire wall of forest completely engulfed in flames. We set up our pump and started extinguishing the flames in coordination with the bombers. We dragged hose through the bush, bombers flying overhead, the fire roaring with trees flaring up around us – it was a surreal and intense experience.

It’s very loud, but we strangely find a lot of peace in it because we can rely on our training and trust in one another. Our crew stays there, camping out in the bush for days or weeks, until the fire is pronounced out.

It’s a truly thankless job, but the experiences I’ve lived with my firefighting family will forever remain in my memory.

That is just one of the amazing experiences I have had while on my journey to find the right career for me.

A person stands on a dock next to a boat in a lake, with a forest in the background around the water's edge.
Joshua has tried a wide variety of jobs.

Serving the community runs in Joshua’s family

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been inspired to follow in my family’s footsteps and pursue a career in the public services.

Many of them have careers in the emergency services or the public service sector, such as social work, firefighting, health care, operating the town ambulance, and so on.

A child in a suit and an adult wearing a police officer's uniform kneel next to a German shepherd dog in front of a backdrop that reads "Barrie Police."
A young Joshua with his dad.

We also have a family history as firefighters for the Town of Wasaga Beach. My great-great-uncle was the first fire chief, and my great-grandpa was the first paid firefighter in Wasaga and became the first fire captain. My grandpa, papa, step-papa and other cousins and uncles were also volunteers.

My family’s commitment to their communities has absolutely steered my career journey, and I have tried many different jobs because I wanted to explore what was out there before dedicating myself to one career. I promised myself I would only work positions I love and find interesting.

A black-and-white photo of a person in an air force uniform standing next to a large airplane with an arm reaching up to touch a propellor.
Joshua’s papa, who was a Second World War navigator.

Joshua studies policing, firefighting

I started college in the Police Foundations program at Georgian, and during that time I had a variety of different jobs, including swim instructor/lifeguard and ski patroller. I also obtained the necessary certifications to become a safety officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

I was also a leader in training through my church’s youth group and volunteered at the town’s youth centre. This is when I became interested in teaching, and I ended up supply teaching at my local elementary school.

After completing Police Foundations, I joined Georgian’s Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training program to allow me to volunteer like my forefathers once did.

A person holds onto a ladder at the doorway of a very large, yellow helicopter that says "Ontario" on the side.
Joshua’s family has a long history of working in emergency services or the public service sector.

Afterward, I began volunteering as a firefighter for the Township of Georgian Bay and that’s when I got into forest firefighting.

Today, I am taking the Paramedic program at Georgian because I’ve found a great reward in providing emergency health care in the field and want to continue that. I’d like to work as a paramedic and volunteer as a firefighter in my community.

A group of people wearing paramedic uniforms stand together indoors in front of an ambulance facade, while one of them holds up a simulator patient sitting in a chair.
Joshua, right, is a student in Georgian’s Paramedic program.

Just like my family, who have dedicated their careers to serving their communities, that’s what I want to do. I find a lot of pride in that.

Joshua Bowles, a student in Georgian’s Paramedic program and two-time alumnus of the Police Foundations (class of 2018) and Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training (class of 2021) programs.

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