Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
BC Update: February 2014

Many chiefs feel caught between opposing forces: on one side are fiscal pressures, including the conflict of downward pressure on budgets versus increasing service delivery costs; on the other side is the demand for sustained or increased delivery of fire-protection services.

February 10, 2014
By Timothy Pley

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Many chiefs feel caught between opposing forces: on one side are fiscal pressures, including the conflict of downward pressure on budgets versus increasing service delivery costs; on the other side is the demand for sustained or increased delivery of fire-protection services.

These demands are causing fire-service leaders to look for innovative ways to continue to provide fire-protection services.

The Fire Chiefs’ Association of  BC  (FCABC)  responded recently to the needs of its members managing career fire departments by hosting a one-day seminar in Kelowna for career-sector fire chiefs and their chief administrative officers. The seminar, called Fire Services Leading Practices: CAOs and Fire Chiefs Take the Lead, included discussions of emerging trends, challenges and opportunities, and the introduction of best practices for consideration.

An important part of providing fire-protection services in the career sector is the influence of, and potential for partnering with, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Association (BCPFFA) co-ordinates the bargaining and actions of IAFF locals. In the interest of taking

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input from all critical stakeholders, the BCPFFA was invited to attend the seminar. BCPFFA president Michael Hurley and IAFF 6th District vice-president Lorne West attended. This provided  an opportunity for both union representatives to meet and talk with fire chiefs and CAOs, and also ensured that IAFF locals would receive a balanced review of the seminar.

One of the most positive outcomes of the seminar was the interaction between fire chiefs and their CAOs. Simon Grypma, fire chief for the City of Nelson, said, “Not only is this a great opportunity for my CAO to better understand the challenges that I face as a fire chief, but the seminar also provided an opportunity for my CAO and me to spend some team-building time together.”

Grypma’s  comments were echoed by others. Many fire chiefs appreciated the opportunity to have the undivided attention of their CAOs for an entire day, not only to strengthen their relationships, but also so that their CAOs could develop a better understanding of the issues involved in providing fire-protection services.

Among the seminar’s featured speakers were the following:

  • John Saunders of Hicks Morley, a labour lawyer, who specializes in fire. Saunders, a provocative speaker, presented a review of the collective-agreement bargaining landscape and summarized 10 emerging issues of which local governments should be aware.
  • Chief Len Garis of Surrey Fire Services, a fire-service leader in terms of mining data to identify trends. Garis introduced compelling evidence that the fire service needs to reinvent itself.
  • Dave Stuart, CAO, District of North Vancouver, and representing the Local Government Management Association of British Columbia. Stuart relayed to fire chiefs in the audience the general perspective of CAOs with regard to fire. Stuart’s advice to fire chiefs included the fact that they should be cognizant of politics, but not make operational decisions based on politics.
  • Chief John McKearney reviewed the progress made to date on a number of initiatives within Vancouver Fire Rescue to better serve citizens. McKearney demonstrated the concept of adding value to stakeholders using existing resources.

By all accounts the seminar was a success. Participants left with a fuller awareness of the current and emerging issues, a better understanding of the different perspectives of CAOs and fire chiefs, the basis of a leadership network that includes CAOs, fire chiefs and union leaders, and some ideas for innovative change. In addition, a stronger working relationship was forged between many fire chiefs and their CAOs, as well as between the FCABC and the Local Government Management Association of British Columbia. The trust between the FCABC and the BCPFFA was also strengthened.

Leading Practices demonstrated that taking the time to look at issues is important, and that critical stakeholders need to be involved. As this column was being written, the FCABC was considering hosting seminars in each of five zones across the province for CAOs and fire chiefs who work primarily with volunteer firefighters to address issues specific to that sector. The first of those regional seminars was scheduled in Creston on Jan. 24. The second is tentatively scheduled to coincide with an FCABC meeting in Prince George on March 1 and 2.


Timothy Pley is the fire chief for the City of Port Alberni, in British Columbia, and the president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia. E-mail Tim at timothy_pley@portalberni.ca and follow him on Twitter at @PleyTim


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