In honor of International Firefighters’ Day on May 4, we are recognizing some of our amazing active, retired and volunteer firefighter families who are an integral part of the Firehouse Subs system, a restaurant brand founded by former firefighting brothers Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen.

Franchisee and retired firefighter Olimpia Panella owns and operates four Firehouse Subs restaurants in Canada with her husband Steve, a Peel Regional Police Officer. The Panellas, a true first responder family, opened their first restaurant with Firehouse Subs in 2018 in Stoney Creek and now own a second location in Stoney Creek and two more restaurants in Milton and Burlington. See below for what being a firefighter means to her!

What or who inspired you to become a firefighter? 

I think the biggest part was being part of a team that serves the community. There is something special about working with a group of people towards a common goal that inspires me. A bonus was being part of the fire department where I live.

What was the name of the department you worked for?

I was a firefighter with the Milton Fire Department!

What was your favorite part about being a firefighter? 

It’s all about teamwork and working together towards a common goal whatever that may be that day - public safety, community education, fighting fires, helping people in accidents and more. I also love engaging with the community.

What’s your favorite part about being a Firehouse Subs franchisee? 

Looking at it now, it is similar to the reasons I love being a firefighter; we have an amazing group at the Headquarters office in Jacksonville, FL as well as franchisees. I enjoy working together to grow the brand and bring awareness to the community. The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada is also one of my favorite things about being involved with Firehouse Subs. I am no longer a firefighter but I can still contribute to them, as well as other first responders.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you? 

I am a mother of four beautiful children. Steve and I have a daughter and three sons! I am also half Jamaican and half Italian.

What’s your favorite Firehouse Sub? 

It seems to change every few months but it would have to be the Firehouse Italian™ with cheddar cheese or the Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket™ with tomatoes.

What has been your proudest moment as a firefighter?

This is a hard question to answer… My proudest moment was when I graduated with the Milton Fire Department and my family, specifically my daughter, got to see me on stage. Firefighting is extremely competitive and I worked so hard to accomplish this. It was great to show my daughter that if you believe and strive for something, you can do it.

What are some words of advice or encouragement for future firefighters? 

If you want it, just keep working towards it. It doesn’t matter what you're doing right now, aim to gain experience in what you're doing; life skills are extremely important in firefighting.

What is one thing that the general public is not aware of about being a first responder?

When a first responder goes to work, we can see some pretty terrible things. We see people at their lowest points and within hours of witnessing a tragedy, you may see us at our kid’s soccer game pretending that everything is fine. To be a first responder, you need an awesome support group, whether it be family, friends, clubs, etc.