After graduating with a degree in geology during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, Mackenzie Millward was at a crossroads.

There were no jobs available in related fields and she found herself with time on her hands.

“It really gave me time to think of what I really wanted to do and what would make me happy day-to-day in a career. And I realized that helping people was a big part of what made me happy.”

Firefighting student Mackenzie Millward stands in front of fire truck at JIBC's Maple Ridge campus.
Firefighting student Mackenzie Millward learned the skills of her dream career at JIBC's Maple Ridge campus.

Her father is a career firefighter and a graduate himself of the Justice Institute of British Columbia’s (JIBC’s) Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate (FFTC) program. It was while speaking to him that she realized firefighting was her dream job. She spoke with a couple friends who had recently completed the FFTC program and gave it rave reviews. They were also thankful for the experience in preparing them for being successfully recruited by local fire departments.

It instills confidence for sure because [recruiters] ask questions like, 'what would you do in this scenario?' ... I have a lot more hands-on experience and I can pull from my own experience of what's happened.

Her timing was also fortuitous – she applied to be part of a cohort of FFTC students whose tuition was fully funded by the Government of British Columbia, and the Government of Canada through the Canada-B.C. Workforce Development Agreement. Prospective students who have been unemployed or precariously employed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are exploring new career opportunities, were eligible to apply.

“This grant allowed me to choose the school that I actually wanted to go to and alleviated my financial restrictions,” Mackenzie said. Without it, “I would’ve gone to a different program that may not have had the best training or the amount of practical experience that we get here.”

Mackenzie attended the seven weeks of hands-on, live-fire training at JIBC’s Maple Ridge campus, Western Canada’s most extensive firefighting training facility

The lengthy training not only taught her the skills she’ll need as a firefighter, but it gave her time to figure out which methods work best for her. She noted that the training officers come from a variety of different local fire departments, bringing with them different experiences and ways of performing certain skills.

“That’s a big thing firefighters have to learn is adapting to what you see in front of you and what will happen if you do one thing versus another.”

In addition to learning from the instructors’ years of experience, Mackenzie said she also learned about the different hiring processes at local fire departments. The training officers see how the students behave and perform in training, and are able to share those observations if they get called by departments during the hiring process.

Mackenzie Millward in firefighter turnout gear at JIBC's Maple Ridge campus.
Mackenzie Millward had just graduated from university and found jobs scarce when the pandemic hit. It also gave her time to reconsider her career prospects and was able to change her focus to firefighting thanks to having her JIBC tuition funded by the government grant.

In some ways, that makes the FFTC program akin to a seven-week-long job interview. It will all serve her well when it comes time to being in an actual job interview, she said.

“It instills confidence for sure because they ask questions like, ‘what would you do in this scenario?’ I don’t have to try and think of what somebody else told me they did. I have a lot more hands-on experience and I can pull from my own experience of what’s happened.”

Mackenzie said she’s grateful to have had her tuition paid for, which allowed her to complete her program sooner and participate in the current round of hiring processes, which don’t tend to happen on a regular schedule.

But even if she had to pay out of her own pocket, she says the FFTC program would have been worth it.

“I think it’s worth every penny.”

For more information on the Firefighting Technologies Certificate program at JIBC and to apply, visit