JIBC firefighting grad from Ontario ready to be a firefighter

After years of working as a mechanic, Paul Lio decided it was time to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a firefighter. He recently completed JIBC’s Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate program and is now serving as a firefighter with Markham Fire & Emergency Services. (Story by Wanda Chow) 


Growing up, Paul Lio was like many young boys – he dreamed of being a firefighter. 

But also like many youngsters, he listened when adults in his life discouraged him from trying to join the fire service, telling him it was too competitive, that he should pursue a more practical vocation. So, Paul became a licensed mechanic in Oakville, Ont.

But after years servicing and repairing vehicles at an auto dealership, Paul, now 28, started to have second thoughts about the dream he left behind. 

“I started to realize, you know what, if I’m passionate enough about something I’m going to do what it takes to get there. I don’t let anything stand in my way now, no matter what anybody says. I chase my dreams.”

A longtime friend of his father is a fire captain in Oakville. His son recently got hired on as a firefighter in Oakville after attending the Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate (FFTC) program at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).

“He highly recommended it. He got great training out of it, telling me you get lots of hands on [experience] and lots of repetition in the program so it’s not like you get taught something and move on. No, you actually get a lot of work time on it.”

The respected fire captain also had really good things to say about the FFTC program, and after doing his own research, Paul decided it would be a good fit. For one thing, the fact the initial three months of training is done online allowed him to continue working full-time as a mechanic. He only needed to take a leave of absence from his job for the seven weeks of hands-on training in Maple Ridge.

And to top it off: “I love BC, I was here last year on vacation, absolutely loved it. I had no problems with coming out here for seven weeks,” he said with a laugh.


FFTC grad Paul Lio is his class’s recipient of the Jon Baillie Memorial Award, seen here with Bernie Magnan, chair of the JIBC Foundation Board of Directors, and Linda Baillie, wife of the late Jon Baillie.


Once at JIBC, Paul found a comfortable learning environment where training officers were open and engaging and questions were encouraged to help him make the most of his time there.

“I enjoyed being able to ask anything and everything. Not about just what we were learning that day. They prepped us a lot as to what to expect, even in the hiring process,” he said. “Just learning about the whole process, becoming a firefighter, what are the attributes they’re looking for, even just how to dress, all those to prep you to getting the job.”

The instructors, all highly experienced and still active firefighters themselves, were accessible and willing to stick around to provide students with any extra assistance or practice they needed, he said.

“I felt really comfortable in speaking up if I was unclear about something or if I was curious and wanted to learn more on a subject.”

The hands-on training gave a realistic perspective of the demands of the job, said Paul, who made sure he arrived in top shape.

“You got to see firsthand the reason why. It’s one thing thinking, ‘it doesn’t look too bad, I can do that.’ Then you put on your full gear and your breathing apparatus, and going in and working hard, it’s a whole new world.”

The Maple Ridge campus, one of the most comprehensive firefighter training facilities in Western Canada, provided unique opportunities for a wide range of scenario training and practice in thinking on their feet and dealing with the unexpected.

“You can work on everything from propane tanks to a mockup of a ship, burn building, container fire. So there was a wide variety of different scenarios they come across on a daily basis. I would say when we were doing a lot of the structure fires, the one main training officer we had, he was fantastic at throwing us curve balls to see how we would react, such as ‘new person on this end,’ ‘new fire breaking out over here.’ Just to get us to think outside the box and actually process things and figure things out on our own.”

Upon completion of the FFTC program, Paul was named his class’s recipient of The JIBC Foundation’s Jon Baillie Memorial Award for outstanding performance in academic and practical skills, leadership and professionalism.

“That was a great honour to get. I was shocked. I came here with the intention just to put my head down and work hard and it paid off. So I’m very grateful and very happy that that happened. It means a lot to me.”

The award and training has left him confident he will be successful in his pursuit of a firefighting career, either in BC or back home in Ontario.

“I’m getting to that point now when I look at my life I want to be able to say, ‘you know what, I was happy with what I chose.’ After taking these seven weeks I can definitely see myself doing this for the rest of my life. I’m very passionate about this line of work. I have a lot of respect for firefighters and what they do, I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

April 2018 update: Congratulations to Paul for recently being hired with Markham Fire & Emergency Services in Ontario!

For more information on JIBC’s Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate program visit jibc.ca/fftc.


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