Sarnia fire service welcomes first hire from Aamjiwnaang
The Observer

Brian Bois says he always wanted to be a firefighter.

Fresh out of the military in 1998, he took a test at Clearwater Arena at the time for a potential spot in Sarnia’s service.

It included questions about responding to emergencies in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, the 45-year-old said.

“I don’t think I fared too well,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared for it.

“Then life kind of happened.”

Needing to make money, he started his own home renovation business and followed that working as a rescue specialist with the Canadian Coast Guard from 2010 to 2015. He then took a job as public works co-ordinator with Aamjiwnaang First Nation before a call for firefighter applicants in 2018 caught his eye.

Sarnia’s service, partnering with the local First Nation, City of Sarnia human resources and Ontario Fire Administration Inc., was holding a career access information event to encourage applicants from Aamjiwnaang.

The idea, said Sarnia Fire Rescue Services Chief Bryan VanGaver, was to make the service more representative of the community it serves.

Aamjiwnaang is within city limits and has a number of agreements with Sarnia for services such as water, sewer, policing and firefighting.

“We’re two different communities, but living under one roof basically,” said VanGaver, noting there were – and are – other Indigenous firefighters on the 127-member service, but none from Aamjiwnaang.

Bois was interested, so he started the certification process.

It wasn’t easy, he said.

“I had a full-time job. … I’ve got a wife and three kids, two kids that play hockey.”

He’d wake up at 3 a.m. to study before heading to the gym and then work, he said.

He completed his certification last December and was hired onto Sarnia’s service when a position opened up following a retirement.

He started Monday.

He’s the first Sarnia Fire and Rescue Services firefighter from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, VanGaver said.

“It’s something I’m really proud of,” said Bois, who also thanked individuals with the fire services in Sarnia and Brigden – where he did some training – as well as his instructors for their help getting him here.

“I really hope that it kind of opens up the opportunities to young guys, just a different career, and makes them realize that it can happen,” said the former small arms repairman with the United States Marines.

Bois also touted the accomplishment as the result of hard work.

“Hopefully, it gives (others) some incentive that, if you work really hard, that things will come to light,” he said.

Everyone with the Sarnia service has been welcoming, he said.

“Everybody has been great.”

Work to make the service more diverse overall is ongoing, VanGaver said.

“We’re getting there; we’re making progress,” he said.

He didn’t specify how many members are visible minorities.

There are three women on the service and that’s low by provincial norms, he said.

“We’re always striving to diversify,” he said.

He commended Bois on his hard work getting to this point, calling him a good role model for others who may want to join.

“He had to get a lot of certifications along the way,” he said. “I give him a lot of credit for the work he put in.”

VanGaver also pointed out “overwhelming support” for the initiative from the Aamjiwnaang band office and Sarnia human resources department.

“It was very important to us to really nurture that relationship,” he said.

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