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January 29, 2024

Grey Highlands safety officer: Staying safe is everybody’s business

Jessica Yaniw, Fire Prevention Officer and Public Fire & Life Safety Educator

Jessica Yaniw, Fire Prevention Officer and Public Fire & Life Safety Educator with the Grey Highlands Fire and Emergency Services Department, loves it when things don’t happen — when buildings don’t burn, when people aren’t made vulnerable, when folks aren’t killed or injured. But she knows — and she wants all of us to know — what we can do as individuals, families and communities to keep these tragedies from happening.

She will tell us what’s being done, and what still needs to be done to promote fire safety and life safety when she speaks on these subjects on Wednesday February 14 at 2:00 pm in the Kimberley Community Hall, 235309 Grey Road 13 in Kimberley (doors open at 1:30 pm). This free event, open to everyone, is sponsored by the Grey Highlands Probus Club in cooperation with the Kimberley Community Association, the Grey Highlands Public Library and the Grey Highlands Museum.

Jessica is well qualified to speak on the subjects, having completed rigorous education and achieved certification as a Fire Prevention Officer, a Public and Life Safety Officer and as a Community Emergency Management Coordinator.

Jessica’s interest in community wellbeing came early in life. Born in Montreal and raised in Barrie, her childhood best friend’s father was a district chief with the Barrie Fire Service. As she grew to adulthood, Jessica became a fire service volunteer in Barrie and helped operate her community’s Out Of the Cold Program, which included a soup kitchen and a warming centre among its activities. It was this volunteer activity that deepened her interest in the needs of vulnerable populations – an interest she has carried with her to her work with Grey Highlands Fire and Emergency Services. Jessica’s own grandfather was a policeman and a firefighter, a family heritage she treasures.

Jessica is now in her eleventh year with Grey Highlands Fire and Emergency Services. She took on her current position in 2017. Jessica credits former Chief Marty Wellwood with creating the position and mentoring her as she acquired the skills to do the job. Over the years she has come to understand the need for rules and enforcement of rules to protect public safety, but she believes that education goes hand in hand with enforcement to produce a safe community, particularly for vulnerable people such as seniors and people with low incomes. Jessica also points out that children form a vast and promising group for whom education is essential as they develop lifelong safety practices.

Jessica takes pride in the broader team that comprises Grey Highlands Fire and Emergency Services — a team that can take some satisfaction in knowing that there has been only one fire fatality in Grey Highlands in the past decade, although she quickly points out that the team won’t be satisfied until there are zero fatalities. When asked to describe indicators of the success of the department’s safety programs, Jessica cites the increased number of premises in Grey Highlands that have fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. She also relies heavily on community feedback. She cites the example of a child who learned about detectors from one of her educational programs and brought that information home to her family, who promptly installed them. Jessica also gives the example of a child who had learned about the importance of resounding immediately to indications that fire may have started in a house. He immediately alerted his parents when he sensed a fire in the house, an act his parents credit to the information Jessica’s program gave him.

In terms of the future of public fire and life safety in Grey Highlands, Jessica foresees the need to make sure that both individuals and the community as a whole are well prepared to ensure safety. She also perceives new threats to safety because of a likely increase in extreme weather events, and believes that proactive community emergency planning will help us deal with those threats.

Jessica intends to tell her audience in Kimberley even more about safety’s present and future, and the Grey Highlands Probus Club looks forward to greeting you on the afternoon of Valentine’s day in the heart of Kimberley.

You will likely leave Jessica’s presentation wiser and safer.


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