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Change Agent: February 2014

Many of us have been around for decades and have experienced the best and worst of times in Canada’s fire services.

February 10, 2014 
By Tom Bremner

Many of us have been around for decades and have experienced the best and worst of times in Canada’s fire services. Things happen for a reason, in cycles, and opportunity comes around every so often. Hence the positive and growing vision, actions and opportunities that have been happening for a decade or so since the almost fatal collapse of our Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC). Thank goodness for the leaders who battled, created a vision, took on the naysayers and challenged the association’s huge debt. Those of you who helped to achieve this know who you are, and we who now carry the responsibility and honour are very fortunate you did this for us.

There is no hiding the fact that we do not all play well together at times. However, in the last several years, I have seen more enthusiasm and energy in this organization than in the past, which, I believe is partly a result of the numerous new partnerships the CAFC has forged with provincial associations and other industry stakeholders. We all know it is easy to make excuses and point blame at others; we are a large country with an enormous number of fire services, all with talented members and endless challenges in these changing times. The value of and need for a positive national leadership organization is critical.

To miss an opportunity to be involved in a creative and positive process with such strong and growing credibility would be tragic. For those who have not taken the time to connect with the CAFC, take a moment to visit the website ( and / or connect with a CAFC member to discuss both the changes occurring in the fire service and the role of the association in these transitions and the many new opportunities and visions that the CAFC supports. This service, our leaders, our firefighters and even our communities need to value our communication network and the fact that through our national association, we talk and work honestly and collectively. There is no doubt that we all have differences – which in many cases is a good thing – but our differences help us understand each other and support the need for colleagues and partners.

To be a leader today is totally different than it was a decade ago. Media, contacts, partners, respect and trust (to name just a few components) are important to each one of us and to our service outcomes. To think you can be a positive leader from your own point of view with no contact with other leaders might not bring you the success that you, your firefighters and your community deserve. You have many options and the CAFC understands this and is working very hard to provide and lead by example for each chief officer in Canada. The old idea that the CAFC deals only with the bigger issues and larger community items is false. The CAFC has become far more aware and focused on national items of concern that affect all of us. Those smaller and local items are for you to deal with at your local level. The ability to communicate and connect across this great nation is so much easier than ever before. Moving your service into the modern age is a huge feat, as it is for most of us due to years of lagging behind. The CAFC provides opportunities, communication, vision and leadership to help you improve and turn things around.


Doing things by and for yourself must stop, and in many cases, already has. Our young firefighters – who will be our future leaders – need support, encouragement, learning tools and positive examples of leadership from us on how and where they can gain wisdom, courage, strength and enhanced leadership abilities. Not many of us are born leaders; those who are, are very fortunate. I know only a few of those folks and even many of them realize they need help and partners. 

Inexperienced officers who might not immediately realize the role that politics plays both externally and internally within our fire services will wake up quickly to this reality. The CAFC is the organization to speak for us, represent us and work on our behalf at the national level.  Missing that opportunity and the dialogue that comes with belonging to this group of fire-service leaders would truly be a shame. For those naysayers who will never see the value of such a changed, positive growing organization, so be it. But for those who want to strengthen their skills, understanding and leadership, your opportunity is within reach. Those who do little or say little should not complain when things do not work out as they wanted; if you become involved and have your say via participation, we all benefit greatly through listening and then having more options from which to choose. 

Thank you to the CAFC for hanging in there and now showing us the value and strength the organization brings to us and for Canadian fire services. New members are always welcome.

(Please see the CAFC section)

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

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