Fire Fighting in Canada

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Change Agent: September 2013

Over the last decade the fire service has addressed the same issues over and over. Many of these issues have been around for years – health and wellness, budgeting, safety, inter-agency communication, recruiting, a creative yet realistic future vision.

September 9, 2013 
By Tom Bremner

Over the last decade the fire service has addressed the same issues over and over. Many of these issues have been around for years – health and wellness, budgeting, safety, inter-agency communication, recruiting, a creative yet realistic future vision.

It is interesting to note how the fire-service issues that have been resolved, such as the volunteer tax credit, have evolved – through government buy-in, personal gain, well-structured processes, luck, or because the fire service dug in its heels.

Still, you would think after all the years that we have been battling these familiar topics, we would have achieved more positive outcomes.

So, where do we begin to examine the reasons for the delays, non-responses, and unacceptable excuses from governments and other agencies, for the lack of action on these issues? How about looking at ourselves, and how we have done things up to this point, and what has worked and what has failed?


Look at how unions gain success: firefighter associations are experts at getting things done. Have we, as managers and fire-service leaders, tried this structured approach? We often talk about this type of organization but have we done anything to move forward? Look at the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, which lobbied for the volunteer firefighter tax credit; it took a long time to achieve the tax credit but a structured approach and a long-term plan worked in the end.

Look at the way governments work and operate their internal structures: we need to take a page out of their books. Why do we always think we have to recreate the wheel? We have been respectfully nice far too long in many cases. We keep buying the excuses and public thank-yous – praise with very little challenge. It is overwhelming how many duplicated committees exist within the Canadian fire service, all working for their own needs. Should we not be united in these appeals on a larger scale, in order to gain outcomes that work for the majority?

Being the nice guy goes only so far. We need a united effort from coast to coast to coast. No longer is it acceptable to just sit in a room discussing the same stuff over and over to achieve a few, if any, positive outcomes. When will we finally learn to battle using the proper arguments: respect for values, costs and our own safety? Are we afraid to be the tough guys in discussions where we might tick someone off? Well, ticking someone off might be the solution. Let’s stand up for our rights. Let’s hit the meetings with proof and statistics. The biggest downfall for us is ourselves – we lack teamwork and business-like presentations, and we need a well-known advocate for the fire service.

The fire service has long felt it can handle most things alone. We need to learn and understand that we need help from experts – people and groups that have been successful, understand process and ways to gain success, and can educate us in many different ways. There is no doubt that we have improved over the last few decades; however, on the timing of keeping on top of current service items, we have been in the stall far too long and the rest of the world has got far ahead of us.

So what can we do? Some suggest more regional, provincial and national collective approaches: bringing in more experienced negotiators, learning from the past and looking at how we can better communicate with everyday partners, politicians and communities. We are under the microscope in our communities while trying to figure out how we internally enhance and address our futures. This challenge alone is huge. We have the ability and the opportunity to make revisions and get things right; it will not be easy. Trying to catch up and gain the trust and respect of our own service members is a must. The days of dealing with the challenges alone are mostly gone and we need to collectively communicate, support and advance while fully recognizing the individual differences and challenges we have.  

We need to understand the various levels within our service and how each has different concerns and operational needs. We need to think about what can be enhanced in the common-to-all issues. Once we trust and reduce the infighting, we can improve. We have failed to understand the importance of being united in the areas that can make a huge difference for the majority. The truth is not always easy to accept or understand, but it does make us think and, in many cases, re-evaluate our values.

Change can be perceived strangely. We need it, we fight it and we complain about it, but what do we really do to enhance or manage it?

The wars of this world were not won by individuals; they were won by united, well-structured teams. I think we have to challenge ourselves concerning how we can make a difference; and work toward the common good. Let’s not leave the same challenges and problems for the next generation: let’s deal with them – together – and bring positive outcomes. 

Tom Bremner is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island, B.C. Contact him at

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