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Fully Engaged: April 2012

I’ve been writing for this publication for more than a year now and my focus has been to get firefighters

April 4, 2012
By Ken Sheridan

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I’ve been writing for this publication for more than a year now and my focus has been to get firefighters (like you and me) to believe that fire prevention and public education play a crucial roll in the well-being of our municipalities.

I’ve discussed quite candidly my experiences as a firefighter (first responder) and my career experiences in fire prevention and public education. I have received several emails from readers agreeing that our global fire prevention strategy must continue and become even more prolific.

Many of you have commented on how your desires are not met with as much enthusiasm (by colleagues or higher-ups) as you wish, and some of you have even been forced to scale back your personal convictions to do the right thing and be less aggressive (a sad state indeed). I encourage you to not give up.

It’s important at this point to congratulate all the Canadian fire services that are making fire prevention and public educatin work. Many of you have toiled tirelessly to make your communities safer from fire. You put in extra time, often sacrificing time with family, friends or hobbies. You are making a difference! To all the fire chiefs who permit, or even encourage, your staff (and especially suppression staff) to dig-in and expand in areas of fire prevention and education, my hat is off to you.

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I attended FDIC (Fire Department Instructors Conference) in Indianapolis in 2010. This was, for me, a career highlight. If you are thinking, “What does this have to do with fire prevention?” I’ll tell you. Firstly, yes, the six-day long program is very much geared to fire suppression and its associated equipment. If it’s manufactured for the fire service, it’s there. If there is a hot topic, it’s discussed. If there are new techniques in training, they do it in at FDIC. You get the idea. However, like much of life, there were a few diamonds in the rough in Indianapolis. I attended a couple of sessions on public fire and life safety education, and also on leadership. Although at first glance these may not have much to do with each other, they do.

Firstly, Tom Kiurski, a training officer from Livonia Fire and Rescue in Missouri and author of Creating A Fire-Safe Community: A Guide For Fire Safety Educators, discussed an arsenal of public fire-education programs he uses in his municipality. Some he designed; others are programs used around North America. Many were simple yet unique; some were a bit more involved, however all had value. What really impacted me was the fact that Kiurski started doing these programs when he was in fire suppression; that’s right – one of these guys I’ve been talking about all along. He said in his presentation that when the thought came to him to educate his community he would do it, without being asked. He saw the need, becasue nobody else within his department was doing it at the time.

Secondly, I attended a session entitled Be a leader, not just a position, by Richmond Hill Fire Chief Steve Kraft (who was then the deputy chief). Again, this had all the signs of being intended for fire suppression staff, yet people are people and leadership knows no restrictions to staff, level of responsibility or position. Leading is something you can do by just doing the right thing over and over again. But don’t worry, not everybody wants to be led.

There is a lot to be said about leadership (and there has been) but when it comes to the fire service we stand apart. However, this column is not necessarily about how to become a better leader or even a better fire safety educator, it’s about being who you are and who you were meant to be.

So ask yourself two simple questions: 1. Am I happy with my contribution to my community as a firefighter? 2. Is there anything more I can do to fulfill the need to educate the citizens where I serve?

If you answered yes to question one, then great, soldier on with what you are doing. If you answered yes, but . . . , then this is your opportunity to take it to the next level. If you answered no, then you have a few more questions to ask yourself such as, “Am I in the fire service for the right reasons?” If you answered no to question two, you may want to re-evaluate your community’s needs and its opportunities to receive the message of fire safety. If you answered yes, then this is your time – time to make a difference.

Many of you have asked questions like this in other areas of your life such as marriage (or divorce for that matter), when playing on a sports team or sitting on a board of directors for some other worthy organization.

The thing is, many of you are making outstanding contributions to the fire service; take pride in that. You may not see the fruits of your labour today or even tomorrow, but one day you will. Take a moment and think of all you have done or accomplished in your fire service. Stop waiting for the day you rescue a child from a second-storey window with flames raging all around and you both escape safely. That day will probably never come. There will most likely not be any headlines in the local paper or accolades about you when you’re gone, but someday, somewhere, a person may come to you and tell you of a lesson he learned from you and how it saved a fire from having devastating effects on his family. That’s why I take fire education so seriously.

I encourage you to write to me and this publication with your success stories of programs you have designed, altered, used, stolen (being funny here!) or of “saves” in your community as a result of your programs and initiatives. Check out Firehall.com (www.firehall.com) an electronic forum owned by this publication that allows comments on stories (almost 190,000 of them and counting) and for you to share your own.

And most of all, keep up the good work.


Ken Sheridan is captain of fire prevention in Norfolk County, Ont. He is a certified fire prevention officer and certified fire and life safety educator for the Province of Ontario. He is a graduate of the Dalhousie University fire administration program and has more than 21 years in fire suppression and fire prevention. Contact him at ken.sheridan@norfolkcounty.ca


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