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Collingwood firefighter extinguishes flame on 28-year career

People of Collingwood: Jeff Kohut, retired Collingwood firefighter
2021-08-05 POCKohut JO-001
Jeff Kohut worked as a firefighter with Collingwood Fire for 28 years before his retirement on July 31, 2021.

A local firefighter has hung up his helmet for the last time.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Jeff Kohut, 60, retired Collingwood firefighter.

Q: For how long have you lived in the area?

A: I live in Clearview, right outside of Collingwood. I’ve lived here for 40 years.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in the booming mecca of Uxbridge.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a firefighter?

A: Not even close. My original career path was, I went to Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough. I took a two-year small-engine business course.

That, in turn, brought me to Collingwood where I worked at Walker’s Small Motors for 13 years.

At that point, I was interested in the volunteer fire department. They were looking for more volunteers at the time.

One of the reasons I applied is, when they’re looking for volunteers they’re usually looking for someone who also knows a trade. My trade is small engines so that would help the fire department as I could work on some of their equipment.

I was a volunteer from 1988 to 1994.

Q: What made you want to make the transition to full-time firefighter?

A: In October of 1994 I was hired on full-time. When I did it as a volunteer, my interest just grew.

Q: What is it about firefighting that drew you in?

A: It was time in my career for a switch.

When you go to work, everyday is a different day. I never knew what to expect.

Q: When you look back on your career with Collingwood Fire, are there any calls that stand out in your mind?

A: All the calls are unique.

One call that stands out in my mind happened about four or five years after I started.

My captain and I were called to a house fire. My captain talked to the residents while I operated the truck. Back in those days, we only responded with two guys.

My captain asked if there was anybody inside, and they said no.

Within five seconds we heard a banging and when we turned around there were two kids inside with their faces pressed against the window glass.

That’s the most memorable one. It was a happy ending. My captain and I broke the window and got them out, and after the rest of the crew showed up, we put the fire out.

Q: Have you ever had any significant brushes with danger in your career?

A: There was one call where our crew went into a burning structure and we had to do a search and rescue. It was filled with smoke.

When you go into a burning building, you’re on your hands and knees the whole time so you’re below the smoke and heat.

I went up to the second floor and found what I thought was a set of stairs to a third level. I started to climb the stairs and realized that something wasn’t right so I backed down and came out. We put the fire out.

After I retooled I went back to that room and what I had been climbing was a chest of drawers with the drawers open. So, (if I would have continued), I would have climbed up five drawers and then fallen behind it.

You don’t know that until after-the-fact because you can’t see your hands in front of you.

If I would have got in behind it, who knows what would have happened.

Q: You just retired as of July 31. What made you decide to retire now?

A: In the fire service, if you’re in suppression, you have to retire at 60. If you’re in prevention or management, you can stay until you’re 65.

My birthday was July 31, and July 31 was my last day of work.

Q: Are there any life lessons you’ve learned throughout your career you’d like to share?

A: Don’t take this the wrong way, but the most important lesson I’ve learned is when taking information from people at the scene, don’t always believe them.

In the heat of the moment, sometimes they get mixed up. Sometimes they lie. Sometimes they forget to tell you the truth.

A fine example was the residents I talked about earlier who said there was no one in the house, but then there were two kids in the house.

I took information people gave me but I always followed up to make sure it was truthful.

Q: How have you celebrated your retirement?

A: I didn’t have a retirement party, or a birthday party. We had a post-COVID get-together. Because of the COVID regulations... we had three get-togethers Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We had less than 25 people each night.

I requested no gifts, but that donations would be appreciated which would be collected and donated to Collingwood General and Marine Hospital and Hospice Georgian Triangle.

I didn’t need anything. I have everything I need.

I told everybody that any money raised, I would match.

At the end of three nights, the donations totalled $1,725. I matched it, and my wife and I pitched in another $550. All told, we raised $4,000.

Each charity will get a $2,000 cheque.

Q: Why are those specific charities important to you?

A: Those charities are important to both my wife and I because we’ve had friends and family that have needed and used those two facilities.

I think it’s money that would be well-invested into everybody.

Q: What are your retirement plans?

A: I’d like to spend more time at home. I live out in the country on 12 acres so I have lots of grass to cut and trees to trim.

Throughout my career, I’ve always had a second job as a contractor doing odd jobs, as a general handyman. I’m going to continue to do that to fill my days.

I’m from the old school. At the end of the day, I like to see what I’ve done.

I don’t golf, fish or ski because I don’t find it fulfilling. If I put a fence up, fix a wall, or replace a faucet, I can look at it and say, I did something constructive today.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I’d like to thank the citizens of Collingwood who have supplemented my paycheque for the last 28 years. I was happy to serve them every day I went to work.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email jessica@villagemedia.ca.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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