By Corporal Nick Betts and Second Lieutenant Leo Zhou
Republished from RCAF News Article / March 20, 2020
Lieutenant Jenson Gilby is a Construction Engineering Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). He is currently undergoing on-the-job training at Real Property Operations Section Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before commissioning from the ranks in 2019, Lieutenant Gilby had been a military firefighter since 2007.
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Lieutenant Gilby had an interest in firefighting that was fostered by his grandmother when he was 18 years old. She told him about a new program at Holland College, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, called Basic Firefighting, which would teach him the elementary skills required to work in the field. He was selected to be one of the first students to undergo training in the program. From the moment he took part in his first live fire training exercise, he was hooked.
Lieutenant Gilby knew he was meant to be a firefighter from his very first call, which happened during an on-the-job training portion of his course at the Halifax Regional Fire Department’s Station 3 on West Street. “I was able to put what I had learned in to action and help a person having the worst day of their lives,” he says. “That was when I knew this is what I was going to do for a career.”
After completing the Basic Military Qualification course in 2007, he spent a short time at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden, Ontario, before attending his Qualification Level 3 Training in Stephenville, Newfoundland, at the Safety and Emergency Response Training Centre. After finishing the course in 2008, Lieutenant Gilby was posted to 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, until 2012. After six years at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba, he was posted back to 12 Wing in May 2018.
Lieutenant Gilby served as the Platoon Chief for the 12 Wing Fire Department, where he led a team of talented firefighters. He was responsible for facilitating training so that his crew had the capability to respond to any scenario. They practised scenarios such as flipped cars and structure fires. During this time, his on-scene role was Incident Commander, implementing strategies and tactics in order to solve the problem while coordinating with the Military Police and Emergency Health Services.
“Firefighting is more than simply putting water on a fire,” he says. “From the modernization of construction materials of homes, to electric cars, the science behind firefighting operations is consistently evolving. With that, we have to be prepared for whatever problem is presented to us.”
Lieutenant Gilby says the driving force behind his passion for firefighting is the people he works with, with whom there is a bond words can’t describe. No matter what happens, they support each other through the good and the bad in order to get the job done.
He has been fortunate to spend some time at sea on board HMCS Fredericton and HMCS Toronto. While sailing, he was impressed with the capabilities of the ships’ helicopter air detachment and the operational capability of the Navy. Acting as Flight Control Officer, he gained a profound respect for Maritime Helicopter aviators, especially when witnessing the importance of teamwork and communication.
Lieutenant Gilby deployed to Canadian Forces Station Alert, in Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, for four months in 2019, and returned to 12 Wing in April 2019.
“CFS Alert was an incredible experience full of amazing professionals, wildlife and a surreal experience of watching the sun rise for the first time in months,” he says. “Many of my firefighters were heavily involved in the wood shop on site, and presented me a Fire Axe Plaque the day before their departure at their farewell ceremony.
“It was an honour and privilege to spend the time I did there and, if given the opportunity, I would return in a heartbeat.”
Firefighting has taken Lieutenant Gilby to various taskings in northern Canada and around the world; everywhere from the frigid North Atlantic to the turquoise waters of the South.
Shortly after his return to 12 Wing in 2019, he received an offer for the Commission from the Ranks program. In September 2020, Lieutenant Gilby will go to CFB Gagetown to complete his Construction Engineering Officer Course. Becoming a Construction Engineering Officer was a natural career choice for Lieutenant Gilby.
“The Firefighter trade is typically governed by a Construction Engineer in the capacity of Fire Chief all the way through the ranks of the Fire Marshal’s Office,” he says, “so for me it was a logical decision to invest in this avenue of career progression and goal development.”