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Father, son share a burning desire for volunteer firefighting

'We fight fires just like the full-time people. We go inside dangerous situations, we rescue people, and we put fires out,' says Andy Jones, who volunteers alongside his son, Mark
Mark Jones, right, and his father, Andy Jones, have a combined 45 years of volunteer firefighting service in Coldwater.

Volunteer firefighters are critical to the safety of residents in many small communities.

That rings true in Coldwater and throughout Severn Township, where Andy Jones and his son, Mark Jones, have a combined 45 years of dedicated contributions through volunteer firefighting. The duo were recently recognized for 30 and 15 years of service, respectively.

Andy, 54, started his firefighting career 30 years ago after following in the footsteps of his mother-in-law and father-in-law, who were firefighters in the former Matchedash Township.

“When I married their daughter, they got me involved,” he said. “I was interested right away.”

Unfortunately, Andy’s eyesight didn’t pass the requirements to become a full-time firefighter, and not even surgery could sufficiently correct it.

“It was frustrating when I was younger, but I have a great job now and I enjoy volunteering,” he said.

He has been working for various municipalities in the area for nearly 35 years and is currently the chief building official for Gravenhurst, a job he’s had since 2014. While he loves his job, firefighting is his passion.

“I mostly enjoy the group that we have here,” he said. “The firefighters are fantastic. We have a bunch of men and women who are dedicated and really work hard.”

Andy’s favourite part of the job is being able to serve his community.

“I’ve lived in Coldwater pretty much most of my life,” he said. “I went to Coldwater Public School. So did my kids, and we love this little village.”

He has his pager with him 24/7 and is always ready to respond to a call.

“We fight fires just like the full-time people,” he said. “We go inside dangerous situations, we rescue people, and we put fires out.”

While volunteer firefighters get an honorarium, he says it isn’t about the money.

“If you are in it for the money, you probably aren’t making much money,” he said with a chuckle. “The thing that stands out the most is the friends that I’ve made here. It becomes a real brotherhood.”

Being a volunteer firefighter comes with a lot of sacrifices, Andy says.

“One time, there was a fire on Christmas Eve,” he recalled. “I’ve missed some birthdays, anniversaries, but I still wouldn’t change a thing.”

Retirement is creeping up on Andy, but as long as he stays healthy, he wants to keep his current position as the district fire chief for Station 3 in Coldwater.

“I’ve seen a lot of people that spent maybe a little too much time on the job when they probably shouldn’t have,” he said. “I don’t want to put anybody at risk. If I’m not able to do the job and do all of the job, that’s when I will say it’s enough.” 

Andy is a father of three. His son, Mark, is also a volunteer firefighter in Coldwater.

“I didn’t force him at all,” Andy said. “When he first started coming to the fire hall, he was probably 12. He would help us with our hall duties. He would hop on his bike and would beat us to calls. He was just really keen from a young age.”

Mark, 33, is married and has three children. He not only volunteers in Coldwater but also Orillia while working full-time at Sunbelt Rentals. While Andy enjoys sharing a fire hall with his son, he admits it’s tough going into dangerous situations with someone he loves.

“When we are here, we try very hard not to be father and son,” Andy said. “Obviously, it’s a challenge, but with any person, when you are going into a dangerous situation, you are concerned with how you are going to get them out of there.”

Mark has been a volunteer firefighter for 15 years, and says firefighting is in his blood.

“The family aspect is just really great,” he said. “I feel like I just have a giant family here at the station and I enjoy being able to help the community I grew up in.”

While Mark acknowledges it’s probably stressful for his dad to work with him at the fire hall, he says he has a lot of fun.

“It’s something that we have in common,” he said.

In 2018, Mark was dubbed a hero for saving a woman who was unconscious on the floor of an Oro-Medonte home that was engulfed in flames. Mark was off duty at the time and made the rescue with the help of a stranger and no equipment.

“I wasn’t thinking as a citizen,” he said. “I went into firefighter mode and did what I had to do at the time.”

Saving lives is a rewarding part of the job, as is the ability to give back to the community, Mark says.

“I enjoy going to the (Coldwater) Duck Race and different community events,” he said. “Getting out to see and meet different people that we might not get to interact with unless it’s an emergency situation is a fulfilling part of the job.”

Mark is doing what he can to make his dad proud and become a full-time firefighter, but he says that pursuit is a challenge.

“There isn’t a ton of jobs around,” he said. “There are many people wanting those jobs.”

Mark anticipates he will land the job one day. He’s been waiting for the call for more than a decade.

“It just hasn’t been my turn,” he said. “I’m trying to stay persistent.”

Severn Township Fire Chief Tim Cranney said it takes dedication and a sense of community to be a volunteer firefighter.

“To have members of the same family with that same dedication is very special,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Andy and Mark have proven they are dedicated to serving their community through their many years of service. On behalf of the department, thank you.”

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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