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Fire Prevention: Quietly Saving Lives

Gary Jarrett

Gary Jarrett

Gary Jarrett jokes that his firefighter colleagues complain that because of him, they aren’t getting as many fires to fight.

And, that’s exactly the point of his job as Assistant Division Chief of Fire Prevention with Brampton’s Fire and Emergency Services.

Jarrett, a graduate of Seneca’s Fire Protection Engineering Technology program, the leading Canadian program for this career, heads up a 16-member team of fire prevention officers whose primary objective is to ensure that fires do not occur.

“My staff inspects and they apply the Ontario Fire Code and legislation,” Jarrett says

“We educate people on fire safety planning — how to keep the fire from happening and what to do in the event that one does occur,” he explains. “In a workplace example, you would have a fire warden and if the alarm goes off that person would make sure everyone gets out. So we’re ensuring that those plans are created and we teach to make sure people know what they’re doing.”

The team also conducts on-scene investigations when fires have occurred to determine the causes.

Fire prevention is a career that is experiencing increased demand as GTA municipalities continue to grow and provincial regulations change to require better protections, including sprinklers in multi-story buildings and nursing homes.

It’s also an area that has traditionally been under-recognized by students entering post-secondary education, creating a high demand for graduates, Jarrett believes.

It was that supply-and-demand factor, along with a good starting salary, that drew him to the industry, and Seneca, more than two decades ago, when he was looking for a change in vocation.

Nicole Higgins, now a Fire Protection Technologist at Randal Brown and Associates Engineering Ltd., testifies to the career’s under-the-radar profile.

Nicole Higgins

Nicole Higgins

She entered the Seneca program with plans to become a firefighter but soon realized that her career options were far more wide-ranging.

“The fire protection industry is much larger than I originally thought,” Higgins says. “The program offered a great base of fire protection knowledge. To me, it was very important that I experienced the variety of courses Seneca offered because they allowed me to decide the path that was best suited for me.”

Those career options include much more than working with fire services, Jarrett says.
In addition to prevention and investigation, they include opportunities in risk management, sprinkler design, the insurance industry, fire alarms and code consulting.

The three-year advanced diploma program exposes students to hands-on experience with sprinkler, alarm and special extinguishing systems, ensuring familiarity with all the tools and devices that will be integral to their careers. They also graduate with a thorough knowledge of fire protection software and building code requirements.

The Seneca program is, in fact, unique in that it’s the only three-year program that encompasses engineering, technology and fire sciences, says Jarrett.

He is now also a professor in that program, which he graduated from.

Another unique feature of the program is the option to do a paid co-op placement, allowing students to gain valuable work experience as well as employer contacts.

This leads to an impressive job placement ratio, says Derek Gruchy, Program Co-ordinator and a professor.

“We generally have more job opportunities than graduates,” Gruchy notes. “Every major company involved in the fire protection industry has many graduates of our program.”

An example of this is a long-standing relationship with SimplexGrinnell, provider of a comprehensive array of fire alarm, fire sprinkler, fire suppression systems and services across North America, with its head office in Mississauga.

The company has hired 30 Seneca co-op students since 2003 and more students will start placements there this summer. As well, with 150 offices and one million customers in Canada and the United States, it often approaches the college looking for qualified candidates to fill full-time positions around the continent.