Chris McCallum shares his multifaceted journey towards becoming a firefighter at 37
From Zamboni driver to chimney cleaner, from teacher to firefighter, Chris McCallum has done it all.
Originally from of Fort Smith, N.W.T., McCallum has created quite the diverse resume. However, his job-changing journey has landed him the job he always wanted: working for the Calgary Fire Department.
“I was a volunteer firefighter while I was up north and I absolutely loved it,” McCallum said. “My wife and I were moving down to Okotoks from up north, and I decided I wanted to apply to work with the Calgary Fire Department.”
Before he and his wife, Karen, decided to move to Alberta, McCallum was an elementary school teacher and volunteer firefighter in Fort Smith.
“A number of teachers that I grew up with were firemen and they were becoming captains, and I thought I might want to get involved with that,” said McCallum. “One day I ran into one of them and he told me to apply, so I did and I got on with the department and haven’t looked back since.”
McCallum fell in love with volunteering with the small fire department, where he dedicated many long days and nights, eventually becoming captain.
“There was a real sense of community, because everyone knew each other and made the job more intimate,” he said. “At the same time, when there was an incident that resulted in a loss of life it was very difficult to handle.”
McCallum added that there are some incidents from the job that still bother him to this day, but nothing that would make him quit his dream.
“There are so many good things that happen with this job on a day-to-day basis that allow you to help people, which really makes you want to continue on,” he said.
Even though it was McCallum’s dream to be a firefighter, he also adored teaching and mentoring young kids.
“The hardest thing about leaving my teaching career was the kids. It was surprisingly emotional,” he said.
McCallum started as a classroom assistant, then worked his way into a teaching position in Fort Smith. Once in Okotoks, McCallum taught Grade 5 for just over a year before being accepted into the Calgary Fire Department.
“I made a real connection with those kids; they were just awesome. They all laughed at my jokes, which means a lot to me,” McCallum chuckled. “The kids were really excited that I was following my dream and I think [they] were inspired by it.”
McCallum was 37 when he made it into the Calgary Fire Department, and said it was tougher to compete with the young guys applying.
“I was applying with these guys and gals that were super intelligent and super in-shape, and I felt like it was a real achievement to get on with all of these younger guys,” he said.
When McCallum graduated from his training in 2005, his class honoured him with the award for top recruit.
McCallum has gained experience from two years of studying music at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, as well as two years of broadcasting at Mount Royal University (then College). He started his education degree at Nunavut Arctic College and finished that degree at the University of Saskatchewan.
The list of jobs on McCallum’s resume continues with running a chimney cleaning business, driving a Zamboni, serving as a town councilor and suiting up as the mascot for the Okotoks Dawgs baseball team.
He emphasizes the importance of following your passions and changing careers until you find what you truly love.
“If you want to change careers, change careers,” he said. “The thing about teaching is that if you don’t like it then get out of it, because it’s not fair to the kids.”
McCallum now loves the work and people around him so much that he will focus on his career at the Calgary Fire Department until he retires.
“This job has so many rewards,” he said. “I get to work with great people, ride around in a fire truck and help people everyday, which is an amazing feeling.”