People of Georgian: Sister’s death inspires firefighter’s career

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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 John Wilcox

I was working as a mail carrier in Thornhill when I got a phone call that my sister was killed in a car accident.

That really got me into the idea of firefighting as a career, with a particular interest in vehicle rescue. She didn’t survive, but I figured something I could do is help save other people’s lives and be the best I could be at vehicle rescue.

One day, I was reading a newspaper and saw an ad for volunteer firefighters in the area, so I applied and started my career from there.

A person wearing a firefighter's uniform walks across a parking lot.
John was a Barrie firefighter for 27 years.

‘You could help rectify somebody’s worst day of their life’

As a firefighter, you never know what you’re going to be doing day to day. You could help rectify somebody’s worst day of their life.

We could have anything from ice water rescue calls, to confined space calls, to fire calls, to vehicle rescue calls, to high angle calls.

We have to know First Aid and CPR, and also be part-electrician, part-contractor. Firefighters have to be pretty proficient at everything.

Not many people have that kind of background where they jump into any situation at any time. It’s been a rewarding career in that way.

I’ve been teaching in Georgian’s Pre-service Firefighter Education and Training program for years, so it was a surprise to have a new student award named after me. Plenty of people turned out for the award ceremony, and I was quite happy about that. It caught me off guard.

Four people stand next to each other and one of them holds up a framed certificate.
A new student award was named after John, second from left, this summer.
A group of people wearing black uniforms sit on three rows of benches, with one person standing in the centre holding a framed certificate.
John, centre, says the best part of teaching is helping prepare Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training students for their careers.

John has taught at Georgian for 20 years

I was a full-time firefighter in Barrie for 27 years, and I started teaching part time at Georgian when the firefighting program started in 2003.

I was first approached about teaching the program’s vehicle extrication section.

I thought, “Sure, it’s a few extra dollars – why not try it?” From there, it snowballed into teaching different aspects of firefighting.

But what I love the most is when I hear from grads who land their first firefighting jobs.

It makes me feel good I was part of their career. It’s one of those jobs not everyone gets to do.

A person wearing a firefighter uniform and beekeeper's hat stands in front of a fire truck.
John wears parts of the uniforms of two of his passions – firefighting and beekeeping.

Becoming a firefighter ‘the best thing I ever did’

I’ve had to reduce my hours of teaching a little bit more recently since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year.

I’ve been battling that and still teaching at the same time, but my medications and treatment have kept me at status quo.

My diagnosis is one of those things I try not to let fly under the radar. Don’t feel sorry for me – I’ve had a great life because of Georgian and because of the fire service.

Between myself and a bunch of other people, we’ve made the firefighting program what it is today. It’s one of the better programs, if not the best, in Canada.

Being a firefighter is the best job in the world. It’s the best thing I ever did.

John Wilcox, part-time instructor in the Pre-service Firefighter Education and Training program and an alumnus of Georgian’s former Air Traffic Control program. A new student award, the John Wilcox Auto Extrication Award, was named after John for his years of dedicated instruction at the college. John is also an avid beekeeper and played trumpet in a cover songs rock band, Station House, for 12 years.

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