Leadership
Written by Arjuna George
For the past 20 years, I have been responding to tragic incidents and comforting those in need during their worst days. In April, my wife, Cathy, and I were literally in the eye of the storm. We were on vacation in Australia as Cyclone Debbie struck. As an emergency responder, this experience provided me with some amazing insight and confirmed some best practices that are integral to emergency management.
Written by Jason Clark
Every morning I get into my vehicle, turn the key and, due to years of engineering behind the internal combustion engine, my ride starts up and I’m on my way. I then drop in at the local coffee shop, where pleasant and observant staff start making my regular order before I reach for the change in my pocket. I never think about saying “Sue, the coffee process is running top-notch today.” Maybe I should.
Written by Jason Clark
It was probably five years into my firefighting days when I showed up to the station for a call and was one of the senior firefighters present: there were no red helmets and no whites to be found just yet, just a bunch of yellow-helmet firefighters looking to go on a call and get the job done. Someone had to ride up front with the driver. The hot seat, as it is so often referred to, was the last one to get filled. So I thought to myself, I can work a radio and I can read a map, so how hard can it be to run a truck? So I jumped in.  
Written by Jason Clark
I remember, from when I was young, the deafening sound of the fire-station siren piercing the quiet town’s ambiance. You couldn’t mistake this siren for a train; you knew the firefighters were responding to an emergency. I would watch the green lights from the vehicles from across the creek that ran behind our house; it was so quiet I could hear the car doors slam as one by one the responders would show up to the station and get on the trucks. A few moments later the diesel engines rumbled out to the ramp and I could see the flashing red lights of the trucks making their way onto the street. While watching the convoy of fire trucks I remember saying to myself as a 10-year-old boy, “I’m going to do that.”

So the ball was set in motion from a young age. Fresh from college and pretty much thinking I had the world by the tail, the department was recruiting so I thought I would throw in my application and give back a few years of community service. It was February 2007 when I started as a probationary firefighter at my hometown volunteer station. If you told me as a rookie that I was to be promoted to acting captain and then captain in seven years, I would have laughed and said “I’m not going near the front hot seat.”

My station has 25 personnel assigned to it; I think most of us seem to forget that we were all the newest members of the department at one point or another. Even if you have academy training, or come from another department or station within the municipality, you still are tasked with learning names, truck numbers and where everything is.          

I’m here to tell you when you promote up and take a new helmet colour, chances are you are the newest member again but in a whole different world. I promoted up after my wife constantly wanted to know when I was going to apply to become a captain. There were many excuses and many reasons (no good ones, just ask her!) and I talked myself out of the application process. I was comfortable riding in the back, facing backwards and being a worker bee. But deep down I was tempted to take a look at what the front seat had in store.

It was 2014 when the chief notified me that I was officially taking over a vacant posting as an acting captain that I had applied for previously. Many different feelings came over me when I saw this. I knew I was ready for the position, but it felt like stepping into the batter’s box. I needed to put some numbers on the board, so to speak. I wondered how the other firefighters would react to me switching helmets, especially the ones who had more years on the fire department than I had on this Earth (literally).  

I honestly can’t say that everyone was shaking my hand and helping me move my gear down to my new locker with the other officers, but I felt that I had earned the respect of most of the firefighters on my
department and to this day I think that’s true. I know I can sit down and shoot the breeze with our oldest member and walk away with something from the conversation. The department you work for has a buffet of knowledge to offer from your various members; try to fill your plate with as much of that as you can. I have members on my department who have been fighting fires for more than 40 years and some for just a few months, but there is a valuable perspective that can be taken from each member.  

To the newly promoted officers or even the ones who are thinking about the process of promoting in a volunteer department: your role in the fire service will change. You will probably be judged on your past experience, years of service or even age by your peers. Be prepared for more paperwork. Be prepared to read more and educate yourself on your own time. And if you get the nod to step up to a new, higher rank,
tighten up your batter’s gloves, step in the box and get ready to swing away. That front officer’s seat looked like the next step to me from the back of the truck and it wasn’t going to fill itself.


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   or twitter@jacejclark


Written by Arjuna George
Leadership is about sharing knowledge and demonstrating a clear vision; it is also about inspiring others around you. Imagine starting each shift with a clear understanding of our purpose – our why. I want to share a simple idea that can bring you and your fire department to greatness.
Written by Jay Shaw
There are a lot of firefighter leaders, writers and administrators who talk about leadership versus management, the differences between them, and how each is applied to situations, problems, or issues. As a consultant who specifically assesses, creates programming and instructs on the tenants of these topics, I find it very amusing that the predominant term used by managers in the private industry in which I consult, is in fact, fire fighting or putting out fires.

These terms are used to describe dealing with problems that pop up, or people or things that seem to become difficult. You’ve probably heard these terms in the context of business, as emergent issues that always put a wrench in your plans and seem to come out of nowhere and start fires. These fires, if left unattended, seem to grow in these organizations until they consume morale and organizational culture, much the same way a structure fire consumes oxygen.

Managers tell me how they fight the fires with aggressive policies and manage the issue from a best-case scenario point of view, sometimes even taking a chance or having to move quickly on an issue to stop it from spreading. Just imagine an organization lacking in oxygen – a slow, dying, stale business with no fresh ideas goes under, and you can almost bet cash money that someone was trying to fight a fire.

Fire fighting is extremely dangerous, has unforeseen risks and is an aggressive venture to undertake at the best of times. So why do we do it? Because there may be something to save. But when it comes to business and/or fire fighting, our strategies have evolved to the point at which even firefighters question why we would do something so aggressive.

Fighting or putting out fires are horrible terms and mindsets for managers, leaders, and supervisors in any industry,– including the fire service – when it comes to dealing with people and managing resources.

For goodness sake, the term fire fighting has the word fight in it. Why would you want to correlate any work activity to the term fight? The new fire officer, fire chief and firefighter all learn the same conceptual ideas now that we know that interpersonal skills and communication skills are paramount to the success of the department, in the halls and on the fire ground. In fact, unless something is happening that is of imminent danger to my life, there is really never a time to yell, ever. Every organizational behavior, conflict resolution, and leadership book or course confirms this.

And while we can argue until our face pieces suck in and were out of air, I can tell you I will never be convinced that managing people is the best way to create a successful department. Leaders lead people, and manage policy, directives and process. Managers manage people through a lens of policy, directives and process. The difference is that the leader is out in front with fire-prevention strategies and the manager is chasing fire with a small five-pound extinguisher. There is a notable difference in the approach, wouldn’t you agree?

When my lovely wife was promoted to a management position at the hospital and struggled with the new buddy-to-boss paradigm, I suggested she lead the team from a perspective of collaboration, taking in feedback and doing a lot of listening from all of her new stakeholders. Once a deep understanding of the issues was accomplished, she was able to use feedback and suggestions to help draft new policy, and she gave all the credit to her staff for coming up with the ideas. A manager might have first tried to assume what the problem was and direct the fix with no input for others. While in some cases this would be a normal strategy and a proper course of action, rarely does this approach work as well as leading your team to help draw the right conclusions on their own.

One solution builds value in the team and eventually prevents similar issues from popping up as stakeholders learn the value of leading forward to find the solution, while the later may solve the problem, but offers no long- term strategy for stopping the issue from happening again; hence the comparison of fire fighting rather than fire prevention. This strategy has worked for me in the boardroom, and the fire officers I trust and respect who use this method seem to have crews and followers who would bust through brick walls for them as well.

Funny how building value in people, showing them respect and guiding them to follow policies and procedures that are collaborative in nature gets better results.

An ounce of prevention or a five-pound pound pressurized can of cure? You decide.


Jay Shaw is a primary-care paramedic and firefighter with the City of Winnipeg. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @firecollege


Written by Arjuna George
It was only recently that I that I discovered the power of social media and the Internet when combined with politics.
Written by Arjuna George
The volume of information that comes our way every day can be so overwhelming
Written by Brian Lewis
Many Canadians live in larger towns and cities where core public emergency services such as fire protection are taken for granted.
Written by John Snider
The delivery of fire-service training and ongoing education hasn’t changed much in more than 20 years.
Written by Rosie Lombardi
As the City of Toronto EMS chief, Bruce Farr has led the charge in emergency responses to crises such as the SARS epidemic in 2003, the G20 riots last summer and many others.
Written by James Careless
No matter how detailed and in depth a firefighter’s education, there are many lessons that can only be learned after joining the department. Some of these lessons come from training; others are learned in the heat of battle – literally.

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