Jamie Pickett moved away from his hometown of Fort McMurray only one month before wildfire swept through the city in 2016 and burned most of it to the ground.
It was his experience watching his hometown burn and the firefighters who rushed to the rescue that inspired him to look into becoming a firefighter.
“The Fort McMurray fire affected me pretty personally,” he explains. “Once I saw how many firefighters came up to help support the firefighting effort and all the love and support that came after that, I really grew a deeper appreciation for what firefighters do. That’s when I really knew that I absolutely needed to become a firefighter.”
He’d heard positive things about the Lakeland emergency services training program
and decided to enrol. Now, he's about to embark on his practicum. The experience gave him a well-rounded idea of what to expect as a firefighter.
“The program is run as if it is a genuine firehouse,” he says. “You do your truck checks every morning before you attend class, which is just like it would be in a drill or a lecture. The culture is very different than school. It’s not just learning how to operate a pump, it’s learning how to operate a pump while being a firefighter, while saying 'Yes sir, no sir.' It’s doing the drills, looking appropriate, shining your boots and wearing your uniform. It really envelops everything that a firefighter is into one program.”
Pickett is most grateful for the program's emphasis on physical fitness, which he didn’t realize was so essential to being a firefighter.
He explains, “The aspect of going running or swimming or biking every other day really puts into perspective how good a shape you need to be in. The workouts are hard and they don’t take it easy on us, because we need to really be prepared for the physical evaluation that comes from applying for a job and even more so being physically ready to perform the job.”
One of main lessons Pickett intends to take with him as he embarks on his practicum and his career, is about respect.
“It’s treating others the way you want to be treated and treating yourself the same. You have to take it to heart because it isn’t just words. You’re learning the proper etiquette of being a firefighter and respecting others is a big portion of it, as well as having confidence and respect for yourself and carrying yourself as a true firefighter.”
Now that his time at Lakeland is drawing to a close, Pickett has no regrets about his time here or the hard work it took to get this far.
“It's the hardest but most rewarding schooling you will ever take, and single-handedly the best financial investment you’ll make if you truly want to be a firefighter,” he says. “If you work hard enough and want it bad enough, this is the perfect place to be. This is a great stepping stone because, not only are you getting the classes they teach here, you also get the guidance and one-on-one instruction from the teachers. There are 31 students and I never once felt like the teachers didn’t know me individually.”
Pickett is excited to begin his practicum experience with Suncor in Fort McMurray, confident in his skills as a firefighter thanks to his experience here at Lakeland.
“I’m looking forward to having real life experience and seeing truly what the whole firefighter life is actually like,” he says. “In real life, it’s going to be much more stressful and more dangerous, but I feel like I did well in training at Lakeland and I will be able to adapt and overcome any circumstances in front of me.”
Photos: Top: Jamie Pickett at the Emergency Training Centre. Middle: Jamie Pickett with a group of fellow students during a night extrication exercise. Bottom: Jamie Pickett at the EST recognition ceremony with his new baby.