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John Collie takes a fun, hands-on approach in his training courses. ‘People never sit down for more than 20 minutes.’

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Innovators at Work is a contest to recognize talented people who not only have great ideas but also turn them into reality through their drive and their actions. You can nominate an Innovator here.

John Collie is familiar with emergencies.

In his past life as a firefighter, he would respond to calls at offices and factories to see dozens of bystanders "just watching some poor person on the floor, doing nothing."

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Maybe, he thought back in 1998, he could encourage more people to respond to emergency situations. And who better to educate the public, he realized, than the front-line responders who do that work every single day?

Mr. Collie launched emergency response company Rescue 7 out of his Markham, Ont., basement later that year. Sixteen years later, Mr. Collie now has 70 paramedics and firefighters teaching courses across Canada and internationally, and offers a suite of other services for clients, including access to some of the lightest, low-cost, public-access defibrilators on the market, which Rescue 7 has exclusive rights to distribute in Canada.

By rethinking emergency response training and accessibility, Mr. Collie has boosted interest in emergency preparedness among Canadians; the company was even recognized last year as one of the fastest-growing in the country.

He is up against some tough competition. St. John Ambulance, for instance, earned nearly $13-million from first aid courses in Ontario in 2012. The Canadian Red Cross, meanwhile, earned $279-million from its core programs and support services last year.

But Mr. Collie, who worked with another first aid trainer before launching Rescue 7, insists his teaching tactics are a step above the rest. "From the beginning, we wanted to put a lot of fun in this," he says of his courses, available in most provinces and slowly expanding to the United States. Everything is hands-on, with real-life examples from the paramedics and firefighters' first-hand experiences. "People never sit down for more than 20 minutes."

Rescue 7 also offers numerous value-added services to its clients, many of which hire the firm for in-house safety training. (There are also public courses.) Beyond offering inexpensive defibrilators and professional instructors, Rescue 7 also designs and prints custom instruction manuals in-house, working in instructions, schematics and policies specific to that client and its office space.

Mr. Collie also offers a blended onsite-online accredited first aid course in some provinces – one of the first of its kind, he says. "We've had a lot of clients say, 'Taking people out of the work environment is killing us,'" he says. The course, he says, takes employees out of work for just one day, instead of the standard two, letting them complete half the training online on their own time.

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Rescue 7 became so overwhelming that Mr. Collie left his job as a Toronto firefighter several years ago – but he's happy he's still in the business of saving lives. "If we can get it out to the masses that they can do something" when someone has a medical emergency, he says, "there's a better chance of survival."

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