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Volunteer Vision: September 2015


September 11, 2015
By Tom DeSorcy

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My life has been built around philosophies – I try to treat people as I wish to be treated and I constantly tell myself that any problems I might have are really not as important to most others.

I guess that’s just good teaching, from my parents and my peers.

One of the biggest things I live by comes from the time I spent in drama class in high school, when our teacher first taught us the mantra of the stage: “Never forget,” he said, “always leave them wanting more.” I’ve been doing that my entire life.

I was fortunate to speak on this topic last year at the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services convention in Gander. My message was simple: never overstay your welcome in everything you do.

When you come to think of it, Shakespeare was right when he said that our world is essentially a stage and we are simply actors in one giant play. This is the point at which I refer to the example of a typical volunteer firefighter – here you have an individual who by day may be your child’s school teacher or the manager at the local auto parts store, but becomes a truly different person when the pager sounds. People you may not expect – like a radio DJ for example, who you’re used to hearing every morning when your alarm sounds – could be your fire chief. Imagine that!

The point is, when we put on that uniform or turnout gear, our customers see us as firefighters, and in small communities in particular they likely know us as someone else. It’s at this moment that we really shine, when they see us playing our parts to perfection and leaving them with a great feeling once the performance is over.

Can we equate acting with performing? Sure we can. Again, when we are “on stage” in front of the public doing what we do best, what we’ve been trained to do, we are truly different people. This is not to say we are playing a firefighter but we are acting in a different role that people may not be used to. In that role, now, more than ever, we want to perform at our best and I’m proud to say we most always do.

So as firefighters why don’t we take bows, appear for curtain calls? Simply because that’s just not us. “It’s nothing,” or, “It’s what we do,” are the refrains that echo through the fire halls across this country. Even I use those phrases, as a chief officer, when asked by the media about our members. I always do my best to remind the public that these are special people in our community, and I remind them that when they shop in the grocery store today to forgive the clerk if she looks a little tired because she’s been out at a fire scene most of the night.

Readers of this column are more than familiar with my three Rs of the fire service – recruitment, retention and retirement. It’s in the third R that my philosophy comes into play – knowing when it’s time to go. As an actor, if you’ve ever been in a show on a long run, it’s very tough to see it end. The fire department is no different; not only have you been around these people but you’ve been around them in situations like no other, you’ve seen them at their best in often the worst of situations. It’s a tough subject but one that needs to be talked about: it’s important to not only have this conversation but to talk about the next steps. Do we find a place for our retired members? Sure we do, it’s just not at the end of a hose.

I’m a person who wants it all, at least all that I’m lucky enough to get. I don’t recklessly live every day as if it’s my last but I’m aware that the show may end sooner than I’d like it to. As the song goes, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.” With that being said, I’m not a bucket-list kind of guy; I’ve got enough check lists in my day-to-day life, so I prefer to recognize significance in everything I do. Speaking in Gander, I was reminded that there was a day when I was the all-night radio guy in that city in 1992 via satellite. To me, that was significant – who knew I’d visit there more than 20 years later?

I firmly believe that everything in life happens for a reason. We certainly influence those reasons through our actions, and if my actions never have people tire of my presence then I’ve accomplished my goal. When people don’t want to see me anymore, then I’ve stayed too long. Hopefully that’s not for a while, because I’m enjoying this show and the cast of characters that make it what it is.


Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. Tom is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept


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