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From firefighting to finance: Why keeping calm under pressure is key

(Photo credit: Maggie Popiel)

Joe Markham was a volunteer firefighter for six years in Ontario’s Horseshoe Valley, and during that time he learned a lot. On top of specific firefighting skills, he learned the importance of teamwork, clear communication, problem solving and how to stay calm when things get dicey.

Like many people in emergency services, Markham has an internal drive to help people. He says he’s always been this way, recalling his grade school days when he won a citizen of the year award for his good deeds.

Now, rather than helping people escape safely from their homes, Markham helps people get into them.

He is a mortgage broker in Kingsville, Ont., and is also the creator of ONSCENE, a mobile-based response app that allows volunteers/on-call firefighters to receive 911 emergency details and other critical, time-saving information directly on their smartphones.

Markham’s training as a firefighter is what gave him the background to create this app, but his firefighting training also gave him the skills to succeed as a mortgage broker and an entrepreneur.

As a mortgage broker in the current housing market, he says it’s easy to get caught up and stressed. In an ideal scenario, he’d get five days to do financing for a mortgage application, but those situations aren’t typical. “People are making offers with no conditions and looking for financing within 24 hours,” he explained.

“You need the ability to act in the moment. You need to have a quick response time, give clients clear communication, understand the importance of urgency but keep calm at the same time. People want to know where you are at, what you are doing and what the conditions are like — same as a fire.” 

Markham admits that the adrenaline rush from a mortgage application coming in isn’t quite the same as it is for a structure fire or a car accident, but says there are times as a broker that his firefighting instincts go into overdrive.

When he was first starting out as a broker, a former colleague reached out because her family needed help. They were days away from losing their home. “I was a new broker. I was nervous. They came to me and I had to solve this massive problem,” he said. Instead of sweating and trying to figure it out on his own, Markham reached out to some more experienced brokers. With some guidance, he was able to get the family an approval so they could keep their home and even worked out a six-to-twelve-month plan to help them become financially stable.

Markham’s ability to focus under pressure and to know when to call in backup is what got him through this situation successfully — as it would have on the scene of an emergency.

It has definitely taught me to keep calm under pressure — all things that are important in my business.

Life as a mortgage broker and entrepreneur isn’t always this exciting, but Markham appreciates all of what he has. He’s learned that even when numbers aren’t lining up or potential clients back out, you need to look at the big picture.

“Firefighting puts life into perspective. You are seeing people who are sometimes experiencing the worst day of their lives,” he said. “It has helped me with analyzing the task at hand, thinking outside the box, and it has definitely taught me to keep calm under pressure — all things that are important in my business.”