Like Father Like Son: Bolsby hangs up hat after more than three decades in Fire Service

·4 min read

As a child, Jim Bolsby watched as his father Fred left the house each day to serve the community as Deputy Chief of the then-Aurora Fire Department.

He grew up in a home where his father’s career was synonymous with community service and, when it was time to pick a vocation, Jim knew he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

This month, Captain Jim Bolsby hung up his hat, retiring from the Central York Fire Services fittingly at the Wellington Street East fire station that now bears his dad’s name.

“I grew up with my dad being on the fire department from the age of six,” says Jim. “I knew what the Fire Department was about, how it was involved in the community, and I wanted to be a part of that. It was just about helping people in need.”

The Bolsby family’s service to the Aurora community began in 1969. Jim grew up in a small, tight-knit community where many of his childhood friends also had fathers who served on the force. When he began pursuing his own career in fire services he found another tight-knit family united by a common cause: getting out there and helping people.

“A lot of my early experience was involved with the safety of firefighters,” Jim explains. “My dad being a firefighter for a long time, I was always worried about him growing up as a kid, so when I got on that’s what I jumped right into: firefighter safety.”

He dedicated himself to firefighter safety both as a volunteer and when he was able to join the force full-time in 1994.

“Once I joined, I was struck by the closeness of working with the firefighters,” he says. “I’ll always remember some of the important calls, some of the large fires we went to. We were able to help people as best as we possibly could and that was one of the most difficult things: you’re always trying to help somebody on their worst possible day. A lot of it sticks with you – everything from car accidents to medical calls. Every day you went to work you were hopeful you would be able to help somebody and if it was a slow day you just trained all day hoping you wouldn’t have to run a call. The less time you had to go out on calls, the less people were in need.”

But those calls always came and Bolsby was always at the ready.

These experiences, however, ultimately began to take their toll and this was a factor in deciding to retire.

“Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) about a year ago; I was getting very close to retirement and luckily I achieved enough time so I retired a bit early,” he says. “It is important to get help and don’t be afraid to ask. There is a stigma around it that it is weakness or whatever to ask for help. It is not. It is actually one of the bravest things you can do.

“Fire fighters, all emergency services, they see a lot and it accumulates. As I got closer to my retirement date… the calls started to affect me more. You think you have dealt with it and kind of put it in its place, but it all just came flooding back.”

Although Jim Bolsby has moved on from the department his family has served for more than 50 years, it is not the end of the family’s association with emergency services. He takes pride in the fact his stepdaughter has set her sights on becoming a fire fighter as well with her training well underway.

“The fire department is a great team environment,” he says. “I wouldn’t have gone as far as I did in my career without the crew I worked with. Anybody who is interested in becoming a firefighter, they can look forward to that if they are lucky enough to get that job. It’s a wonderful environment to work in because everybody probably sees so much they understand each other.”

As for advice for up-and-comers, Bolsby stresses training in all aspects of the job: “Train hard. Take every opportunity for training. I did that throughout my career [but] I wish PTSD training had been out there a little more than when I first started. The courses they offer for that, take as many as you can and learn as much as you can not only to be the best you can to help the people in your community, but to help yourself so you can go home to your family every day.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran