Inside The Hall
Written by Arjuna George
Recruiting firefighters is becoming more challenging. Incorporating a comprehensive onboarding program may help departments attract and retain solid members.
Written by Jay Shaw
How many firefighters does it take to redesign your highrise and standpipe-equipped building-operations procedures? It’s a rhetorical question, based on that old lightbulb analogy, because every fire service does things a bit differently.
Written by Jason Clark
Most firefighters, officers, or chief officers strive for perfection on the job. Every run that I am on, in whatever role I find myself, I try to perform to the best of my abilities and rely on my training and lessons learned from past experiences. Some of those experiences are mistakes I’ve made. We all slip up now and then, whether we choose to admit it or not. I believe a good leader admits those mistakes, learns from them and moves on.

In my first year as an acting captain I made a few funny blunders that prove I’m human. None of those mistakes caused any harm to my crew or myself and really only bruised my new red-helmet ego. 

When I took the front seat I was aware of my new responsibilities and I knew the time would come when I would serve as an incident commander (IC). The opportunity arrived when my crew was called to a single car motor-vehicle collision with air-bag deployment. I took the IC role and climbed in the first-responding truck with a crew of three. Upon arrival I announced our situation to dispatch and jumped off the truck onto the highway. My second-due apparatus blocked off the north-bound lanes and I called for the same on the south-bound lanes. 

My crew performed patient care and I obtained information from bystanders. I kept fidgeting with my traffic vest, which read INCIDENT COMMAND on the back in big letters on a reflective background. I couldn’t get the vest to stay latched in the front (I was thinking it was time for a diet plan). One of my firefighters came up and offered to help. Without making too much of a scene he gave me the heads up that my vest was on upside down. We all get a chuckle out of small, funny mistakes that happen during calls. My chiefs said something like: “If that is the worst thing that happened on the scene, we’ll take it.” 

It takes time to adjust to the role of captain and to feel comfortable riding up front on the first truck. During my first response as IC, the biggest challenge was being hands off. I wanted to grab a hose or the extrication tools and get involved with the tactical operations. Becoming a captain doesn’t mean my hands-on days are over, but it does mean I will sometimes take on the command role. An IC needs to be available to the crews on scene, dispatchers and incoming trucks in order to manage the scene and keep everyone safe. 

It’s tough to stay separated from the tasks that need to be done, which depend on the type of incident and number of staff. A captain needs to trust his or her crews and to supervise them in a non-micromanaging fashion. You’ve trained alongside your crew members and you know their abilities. Your job is to keep your firefighters safe, to save saveable lives and to stabilize the incident. Sometimes you need to take a couple of deep, calming breaths to keep yourself in the right mind frame to accomplish your priorities. 

I’m proud to work with the members on my department. I know that even though I am still learning how to lead a scene or supervise at the task level, those members will help me with what needs to be done. If I’m backing up one of my other crew members or chief officers at a scene, I’ll do the same for them. Egos and personalities are set aside during these operations as we all focus on the common goal of resolving the scene.

New captains in fire services, don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake. Acknowledgment allows you to learn from that mistake and become a better leader. Your crews should respect your humility and you will, hopefully, not make the same mistake twice. 

As firefighters, we train as best as we can to make our emergency responses perfect, but we all know the real world throws us curves. We may not obtain perfection on all our calls, but if we aim to be perfect, we should at least come very close and be more than satisfied with our crews’ performance as well as our own.


Jason Clark has been a volunteer firefighter in southwestern Ontario since 2007. Having recently made the transition to captain from firefighter, Jason has had a new perspective on roles in the fire service and riding in the front seat.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it    @jacejclark
Written by Jennifer Grigg
Life is all about making decisions and as I write this column, I find myself in between the last big decision I made, and the one I’m about to make. I decided in March to leave my full-time job in the planning department with the municipality for which I am a volunteer firefighter. I knew unequivocally at that point that it was time for me to go. My heart wasn’t in it and my spirit had dwindled.

Some in my inner circle (OK, my mother) expressed surprise and dismay at me walking away from a secure job with good benefits. No surprise really – I’m 44 and she’s 82 and she still mothers me, but that’s what mothers do, and I’m OK with that. I’m thankful that she’s still here to do it. I knew leaving my job was the right move for me, but what we know in our hearts to be true is sometimes called into question by those we love.

Other people assumed that my husband and I were well enough off that I didn’t have to work. After hearing that comment for the second or third time, I matter-of-factly pointed out that we weren’t any better off than anyone else, that this was something I had prepared for financially, and that I would be getting another job at some point. 

One co-worker in particular gave me all of the support and encouragement she could muster, in spite of losing one of her closest work buddies.

So what does my last career decision have to do with fire fighting? 

I believe that we are all put here for a reason, and that reason is unique for each of us. We all have gifts buried deep within, and it’s our mission to unveil these gifts and offer them to the world. 

For many of you, the gift that you share found its wings through the serving of others in the role of firefighter, fire-prevention officer, public-information officer, public-education officer, inspector, lieutenant, captain, chief, dispatcher, or any other fire-service role conceivable. You love what you do. You find your work inspiring, motivating and rewarding. You feel it in your soul that it’s what you are called to do, especially when you’ve come to the aid of someone in their time of need, and witnessed the positive effect you’ve had on the lives of – in most cases – strangers.

It’s an honour and a privilege to serve in such a way, and it’s an integral part of restoring our faith in humanity. When there is tragedy, we’re told to look for the helpers. As I write this, the wildfire in Fort McMurray is devastating the lives of Albertans – but we bear witness to acts of courage, bravery, love, determination and humanity. On the very worst days of peoples’ lives, they received the very best that people have to offer of themselves – their gifts. Whether it’s a bottle of water, a kind word, or a hug, people gave humanity back to humanity. Tragedies are just that, tragic, but they also provide us with opportunities to bare our souls to others in their times of need. 

I’ve often struggled with the notion that so many people live their lives in shrouds, behind facades. Why are we so afraid to drop the bravado and just be who we really, truly are? We are vulnerable, honest, caring, compassionate, loving human beings. At our core, we all want the same things: to be loved, acknowledged and accepted for who we are. 

I believe that we in the fire service do just that when we’re called upon to help others. When firefighters are putting out flames, we are working together as a team with a common goal of stopping the loss. We come together, whether it’s multiple stations, departments, provinces, or entire countries. When we’re performing a rescue, we’re present in the moment, focused on the task at hand; we’re genuine in the words we use with patients and the actions we take to get them to safety. 

That is what I’m on a mission to do and that’s why I left my job at the township. I am on a mission to live a more authentic, honest, heartfelt life of service. No, I’m not joining a convent, I am simply following my heart and doing the best I can with what I’ve been given – to help humanity in whatever way I’m called to do.

I will always be in the fire service, because the love runs far too deeply for me to ever not be, and because I’ve always found a fulfilling connection to the act of helping others. Where life takes me next is anyone’s guess, but as long as I’m using my life as a vehicle for positive intention and sharing my gifts with others for the greater good, I’m OK not knowing.

Update: It turns out that my leap of faith led me to a new way of sharing my passion for the fire service – as an instructor at the Ontario Fire College. I’m blessed to be working with a fantastic team of dedicated individuals and grateful to be in a position through which I’m fortunate to meet so many members from throughout the fire service. 


Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  @georgianbayjen
Written by Jordan Paris
The phone rings in your fire chief’s office with news that  one of the department’s members has passed away suddenly; it is a line of duty death (LODD). With a sinking heart and eyes full of tears, the chief mourns the loss of one of his firefighters. After getting a grip on emotions, the chief’s mind races frantically over the details that will have to be organized over the next 48 hours.
The chief needs to inform the department, contact the family, the funeral home and fire-department chaplain (if the department has one) and make various other arrangements. Depending on the circumstances, the media might also have to be informed. Visitation, funeral and reception details need to be sorted. City police might be enlisted to assist with road closures. Arrangements will have to be made with local hotels to accommodate firefighters from other departments who may want to pay their respects. The overwhelming number of details for which the department is responsible causes the chief to realize how truly unprepared everyone is to effectively handle this situation. 

Was there a way to reduce this stress and anxiety ahead of time? Can departments be better prepared for such a daunting task? Absolutely. The addition of an honour-guard division to a department puts into place the tools to assist members, and to support each other and the grieving family. The creed of the honour guard is to honour the fallen, remember the traditions and support the families of those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their communities. An honour guard provides stability and guidance, and maintains meaningful practices in the fire service.

Components of an honour-guard division
In order for an honour-guard division to run smoothly, the following team positions should be in place:

A co-ordinator, who is responsible for overseeing all facets of the division and provides guidance and direction to the participating members. The co-ordinator also maintains all communication with the fire chief and relevant parties. This person should be proficient in all elements of communication, including social media.

An assistant co-ordinator, who supports the co-ordinator in all duties and responsibilities and acts as acting co-ordinator in the co-ordinator’s absence.

A drill commander, who leads marching drills with a powerful voice and has knowledge of marching commands. The Canadian Forces Drill Manual outlines movements that can be altered to suit individual situations.) 

Pipes and drums; any members with these musical skills can play for your department or join in with other departments at appropriate opportunities.

The colour party generally consists of flags, but axes, pike poles and other firefighting tools can also be used if available.

The marching unit comprises members who will march in parades or other special events; it is generally made up of two or more members. 

All these components come together to create a formal and complete honour-guard division, however, not all of these components are necessary to begin building your team. With just the class-A dress uniform, some strong leadership and commitment, any department can start an honour-guard unit. The Brampton Fire & Emergency Services honour guard began in 1974, wearing simple shirts and ties; don’t be intimidated – you have to start somewhere.

Choosing members
The type of person who will best represent what the honour-guard division is all about is one who carries himself or herself respectfully and demonstrates an appreciation for appearance, etiquette, values and professionalism. These members should go through a probationary period to make sure that they are worthy of the honour of being part of the honour guard. Members of the honour guard should be cognizant of the fact that they represent not only their departments, but also their chiefs, their cities and their country while on duty in their uniforms. These recommendations are guidelines drawn from personal experience; in the end, whether a member becomes part of the honour guard is at the discretion of the co-ordinator.

Drills and equipment
Drills, or marching practices, are necessary to maintain precision, unison and cohesiveness in the marching unit. Once a location has been finalized, drills should occur a minimum of once a month. The co-ordinator may determine that more practices are prudent, especially during the building phases of a department’s honour guard. It should be noted that even veteran honour-guard teams meet once a month to maintain their skills. 

While a gymnasium works perfectly as a practice venue, the apparatus floor can always be used as a parade square. While attendance at practices should not be mandatory, members should be encouraged to attend to achieve consistency and so everyone is well prepared if called to duty. Dividing drills into workshops works well when teaching isolated skills such as  funeral details, visitation and casket details, carrying flags, carrying axes and pike poles,  marching rhythms, patterns and commands, and details pertaining to other special events.

It’s important to have certain props on hand so that the honour guard is ready when called upon; these include flags, flag stands, flag holsters, axes, pike poles, white gloves, pipes and drums, and, hopefully, at some point, a special honour-guard uniform separate from the fire-department uniform. The honour-guard co-ordinator should establish a routine for maintenance and safe and accessible storage of these items. There are numerous Canadian websites that sell honour-guard equipment.

Events and finances
An established and active honour guard will attend events other than funerals, such as: 
  • City parades
  • Retirement parties
  • Firefighter last-day-at-work march-out
  • Weddings
  • Recruit graduations
  • Local sporting events
  • Mayoral inaugurations
  • Award banquets
  • Charity events
  • Fire-station openings
  • Canada Day celebrations
Participating in community events will epitomize your department as an active, contributing and relevant part of your municipality. An honour guard can also participate in funerals outside its own city, province and country. Protocols for attendance at such events need to be established  upon development of an honour-guard team in order to be prepared when a situation arises. These protocols should be created by the co-ordinator and the fire chief.

The co-ordinator and the fire chief should also discuss financial support for the honour-guard division and determine the level of funding available from the department. There are, of course, other funding options, including the firefighters association and the municipality. Monies can be used to purchase and maintain equipment, for travel and accommodation at events, and to buy uniforms. However, it should be noted that members might have to pay for room and board when attending events out of town. While this is not ideal, this might be the norm at the building stages of your honour-guard unit.

An honour guard can be started without financial support from outside units, simply by wearing a dress uniform and making a commitment to attend local events and firefighter funerals; doing so will promote that idea that the honour guard is an active division in the fire department and within the community, and this visibility may lead to future financial support.

In addition to the honour-guard co-ordinators, it is a good idea to have a responsible and trustworthy member act as treasurer.



Uniforms and rules
A standard class-A tunic provided to firefighters at graduation can be worn as an honour-guard uniform. The addition of white gloves, a rope lanyard placed on the left shoulder, and perhaps a polished boot or tuxedo shoe will enhance the look and distinguish honour-guard members from other firefighters. Purchasing a custom uniform comes with time and money. 

Rules, while in uniform, are different then when not in uniform. Once the uniform is on, members should not chew gum or monitor cell phone use; hat protocols should be practiced (indoors and outdoors). In addition, members should maintain a clean, tidy appearance, and carry themselves professionally as representatives of their professions, cities and departments.

For more information and direction about establishing an honour-guard division, look to a neighbouring department that has an active honour guard. There is also an opportunity to gather information at the third annual Canadian honour-guard convention in Niagara Falls this spring (http://www.hgconvention.com).

The traditions of the fire service are maintained through an honour guard. The Latin phrase Semper paratus means always ready. The responsibility of an honour guard to its department is to continue to practise and maintain fire-service traditions and to represent the department with honour, integrity, pride and professionalism at all events and opportunities.  Being ready when duty calls, and being able to adapt quickly, are key characteristics of a polished honour guard. When you have an active and present honour guard, all who come in contact with its members will appreciate the dignified and professional presence.

Charlie Martin, who founded Brampton’s honour guard, said, “Never let our honour guard die.” I am doing my best to fulfill his request and inspire others to do the same.

Components   of an honour-guard division
  1. Co-ordinator – overseees all facets of the divison; provides guidance and direction to members .
  2. Assistant co-ordinator – supports the co-ordinator in all duties and responsibiities; becomes acting co-ordinator when necessary.
  3. Pipes and drums – any member with these musical skills can play for your department
  4. Colour party – consists of flags, axes, pike pokes and other fire fighting tools
  5. Marching unit – all interested department members can participate through this unit


Jordan Paris has been a full-time firefighter for 18 years a proud member of the Brampton Fire & Emergency Services ceremonial honour guard for 12 years, serving the last two as co-ordinator and commander. He can be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Written by Arjuna George
The best thing fire-service members can do once they have solid foundations of fire fighting is to pass on their skills; we owe it to those who taught us, and to our future firefighters. Our job as senior firefighters is to move from the student to teacher.

When I first joined the fire service, I didn’t consider at the time that I would one day be teaching recruits and other firefighters, or that it would be so rewarding. The ultimate gift we can give back to the fire service is to share our knowledge and mould our future firefighters.

Fire services provide some training on instructing, but for the volume of teaching we actually do, the training is pretty basic. Some firefighters might have taken a fire-service instructor course, some may have post-secondary training, but most learn to teach by doing. 

When it comes to teaching methods, some firefighters are better in classrooms, some are better on the training ground, but both are needed and vastly important. Just as you can lead from the middle, you can also instruct from the middle. All forms of instruction are needed, including lead instructors, company officers and fellow firefighter mentors. All are important and required for a fire service’s future.

Recruitment and retention are continuing problems for many volunteer departments, and that means teachers are even more valuable. With more and more junior members in our departments and fewer seasoned veterans, passing on our knowledge is paramount. 

So how do we get these skills needed to teach without going to university for four years? To me, teaching comes down to passion, drive and commitment. If you dedicate the time to learn the skill and have the passion to share it, you will be a great teacher. 

Being a teacher makes you a better firefighter; the more you teach, the better you become. A firefighter preparing to teach something is forced to learn everything he or she can about the subject. Teaching requires time spent digging deeper to find all the information, which results in the teacher becoming more knowledgeable. It’s a win-win – your department gains a teacher and you become a valued mentor to your brothers and sisters, while at the same time enhancing your personal development.

Being a teacher takes certain skills, but they can be learned. Consider the following ideas that might help you hone your teaching skills.

Teachers should commit to learning continually, staying current with techniques and trends, and dedicating the time to know the material inside and out. Don’t just put in time learning, put in quality, deliberate time in order to excel to expert level.

As teachers and mentors of our craft we must be patient, allowing the adult learners to absorb the information. 

It is crucial to find a balance of encouragement and toughness. Adult learners like to be treated with respect, but also need to be pushed to get the most out of them. No one wants it too easy, or too hard that they fail over and over again. We must help learners feel successful and that they are progressing.

Make the learning environment fun, interesting, challenging and worth their time. 

Instructors should be respectful of their students’ time by managing their drills. Time management is a skill that takes lots of practice to master. Stay on track, follow your lesson plan and keep the drill focused and on topic. 

Share what you have. Share your presentations, your videos, your stories, your pictures, and most of all share your knowledge. It is our job!

Always be flexible and willing to adjust your plans. I can guarantee that sometimes your well-planned drill will go awry and you will need to think fast, and switch things up. Have a Plan B and even C. 

Be open. Fire services are evolving businesses and our jobs, tactics and methods, are continually changing thanks to new science, testing, technology and practices. An excellent instructor needs to be able to be open to and adapt to new methods, new techniques and new equipment. 

Know thy stuff. Teachers should know their equipment, environment, people, props, and their own skills. Don’t pretend you know things you don’t – it should be OK to say I don’t know. In the book Turn your ship around!, author David Marquet writes: “All learning starts with the assumption of I don’t know. If the leader/instructor says I don’t know, it makes it safe for the whole team to say I don’t know.”

Share your knowledge in a number of ways. Mix things up with classroom sessions and hands on.

Become a student of teaching and you will find it to be the most rewarding job. Thank you to all my instructors, teachers, and mentors who have helped me love the fire service and to be the best firefighter and instructor I can be. 


Arjuna George is the acting fire chief of operations on Salt Spring Island, B.C., and has served on the department since 1997.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it    @AJGeorgefire
Written by Maria Church
On Feb. 4, 2007, Winnipeg firefighter Lionel Crowther experienced what no firefighter ever wants to experience – he was badly burned.
Written by Arjuna George
Every once in a while a good spring cleaning is needed to tidy up and declutter our environments. For fire departments, spring cleaning is more than just sweeping and dusting; while it’s important to clean off the shelves, the real purpose of spring cleaning is much more valuable.
Written by Jennifer Grigg
When I looked in the mirror on the morning of my 44th birthday, I had a profound thought: it wasn’t the wrinkles I noticed, although I knew they were there; it was much deeper than that.
Written by Jennifer Grigg
Growth is a part of life, and growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone.
Written by Laura King
October 2015 - For Miles Boulter, the PEI Firefighters Association school is a field of dreams.
Written by Jennifer Grigg
It’s the second Monday of the month, and for members of the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario, that means it is a training night. I have missed the last couple of training sessions and I am about to miss another one. Does that mean that I have lost interest? That I am not as dedicated as I once was? Or is it simply a reflection of the myriad things going on in my life and my efforts to somehow maintain a sense of balance?
Written by Arjuna George
Due to the numerous positive advancements in the fire service – better detection, public education and stricter building codes – departments respond to fewer structure fires. The reduction in fires is positive for our communities but negative for firefighter development and safety. Less exposure to fires means that it is more important than ever to be creative with your training.
Written by Jennifer Grigg
Your mother is upset with us,” my husband told my older daughter as he drove her to school one Monday morning after I had experienced a bit of a meltdown.
Written by Jennifer Grigg
Writer’s block, as you know, affects writers from time to time, and I seemed to be afflicted with it right about the time that this column was due. I started it and restarted it a couple of times, getting no further than a word or two.
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