Guelph/ Eramosa Fire Chief also making progress in ovarian cancer research

By: Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,
There’s likely few people who have the same set of responsibilities as Jim Petrik.
The Eden Mills resident balances cancer research at the Ontario Veterinary College with duties as chief of the Guelph Eramosa Fire Department.
Petrik said his time with U of G started after he completed his PhD in molecular cell biology and became a professor in 1999.
At this same time, he ended up in a stable living situation and found himself able to dedicate more of his time to helping the community.
“It was something I always wanted to do so I signed onto the volunteer fire department and started as a volunteer firefighter in 1999 as well,” Petrik said.
He’s has had success in both fields.
Petrik explained his lab is working on therapies for women with advanced stage ovarian cancer that could go to clinical trial in the next year depending on funding.
Although cautiously optimistic, he called this a potential game changer as therapy options for ovarian cancer patients haven’t changed much in 40 years.
“It’s such a difficult disease to deal with, typically it’s not detected until late stage when therapeutic options are somewhat reduced,” Petrik explained.
“In our pre-clinical models some were able to reverse advanced metastatic disease and leave some animals disease-free.”
He has also climbed the ranks at the Rockwood fire hall from firefighter to captain to deputy chief and a year ago became the first chief of the Guelph Eramosa Fire Department, a position previously covered by the Guelph Fire Department.
At a glance, both seem like wildly different roles, but Petrik said in some ways they’re not.
Both have direct impacts to people but differ in timeline
“We’re really excited we may have a real significant impact on the lives of cancer patients but the reality of it is those things take a long time,” Petrik said.
“Whereas in the fire service, if we respond to someone that’s in a car accident and we extricate them from the car, we’ve had a positive impact on their day immediately. I love the dichotomy of that.”
There’s also parallels to foster talent in others through leadership.
Petrik sees his role in both situations as creating an environment that lets people achieve their maximum potential.
“We have amazing people in the fire department…they’re selfless people, they devote their time to come and help their community.” Petrik said.
“Similarly in the research lab, I write grants and fortunately we’ve been very successful in getting grant funding to run the lab. So my job is to create the resources that allow my extremely talented grad students to work in the lab and work on these novel therapies.”
He said people are sometimes surprised to hear he holds these two roles on top of being a father to four boys, with comments that he must be very busy.
Petrik gives credit to his wife Nicole for shouldering the load when he has to attend to a call.
“She understands that people are having a really serious issue and they’re relying on us to come do it,” Petrik said, extending his thanks to all the firefighter spouses who he thinks don’t get enough recognition.
“The sacrifices they made are not trivial for us to be able to go out and help the community and we just drop whatever we are doing.”