Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From Hire to Retire: A coach approach for firefighters

Arjuna George   


As I write this column, I am celebrating my completion of the Royal Roads University Executive Coaching Program and excited about a new chapter coaching firefighters. The knowledge I have gained during this program has changed my life and I am now reflecting on how aspects of coaching would help our fire service function smoother. I felt it was best to start with the core competencies of coaching and how they already resemble many areas of our fire organizations.

Coaching is a big part of developing our firefighters. We coach them from day one on our culture, our norms, and our operations. Coaching is a skill not all have, thus creating a coaching culture within the fire department may help reshape the development and culture for the better.  

A coach approach is a mindset. It means that every decision and every challenge can access the power of coaching to help solve problems and grow.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s leading organization for coaching and is dedicated to setting high standards for the profession. The gold standard for coaching is like the gold standard for fire fighting, which is NFPA.  The aim for both is to ensure the best service is provided while keeping all parties safe.


The ICF has eight core competencies for coaches to abide by. Let’s review each of these and see how a coach approach may help you in dealing with fire hall challenges.

Competency #1 is the foundation of coaching as well as the fire service. It is the ability to demonstrate ethical practices through actions. As firefighters, this skill set is critical but can sometimes be dismissed. Ethical behaviour and decision-making are critical to the fire service in maintaining the trust and respect of our communities. Every decision and every action need to be considered through an ethical lens.

Competency #2 is embodying a coaching mindset. A coaching mindset is the ability to be open, honest, curious, and flexible to change. A mindset like this is very client-focused, where service to the client is the main goal. A coaching mindset can keep us focused on our priorities and be in service to the client (patient, occupant, colleague, etc.)

Competency #3 is called establishing the agreement. What that means in the coaching world is to clearly define the areas of coaching, including the process and goals. The “agreement” is the specific area of work to be done during coaching.  How could this be used in the fire service? I would suggest that the same strategy could be used in all professional development discussions. Clear communications on expectations, goals and the process would provide both parties with clarity and a better understanding.

Competency #4 is the ability to cultivate trust and safety. This area for me, personally, is critical to the success of any organization. In coaching, building trust and safety allows for clients to open-up and be vulnerable. Trust and safety are not always evident in some fire departments. It is all our jobs to ensure each member feels safe to speak, safe to share, and safe to be themselves. Without safety, our organizations will never excel.

Competency #5 is how the coach maintains a stable and calm presence. What that means is that the coach shows up each day, present and grounded. How important is this for fire personnel?  Being present means having intentional focus, living a healthy lifestyle, getting the rest, as well as the hydration you need.  All of these allow you to show up to work 100 per cent ready to be of service.  

Competency #6 is the ability to listen actively. In all aspects of life, listening with intention is critical to any relationship. As coaches, we listen for what is said, but also to what is not said. To build a firefighter’s coaching mindset, listening is step one. There is a wealth of knowledge, input and ideas floating around our stations. Our job is to provide the space to be heard.  

Competency #7 is about evoking awareness in the client. Through powerful questioning and listening actively, coaches can bring out new insights and views on issues or challenges that were previously not evident. With this mindset, firefighters would be open to seeing things with a different lens and combating challenges from multiple unique perspectives.   

Competency #8 is the skill of facilitating the growth of the client. This critical piece of coaching is easily transferred over to the fire service.  One of our key jobs in the service is to grow our new members into becoming seasoned and skilled firefighters. A coach approach can build confidence that increases their feeling of autonomy and personal growth but also creates opportunities for executing action.  

Each of these core ICF competencies can be used in part throughout our fire services and how we manage our people.  The fire service already has a solid foundation for success, but we can always improve.

If you want to embrace more of a coaching mindset in your fire hall conversations, consider these core competencies for establishing a trusting environment for success. This recipe for a healthy organization will not only help those members now but all future firefighters. 

Arjuna George retired as a fire chief in November of 2021 after serving the department in Salt Spring Island, B.C., since 1997. He is now a fire service coach and consultant. Visit or email

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