Comment: June 2015
By Laura King
We never know how readers will respond to the stories and columns we run. We do, however, think long and hard about what goes on our pages and evaluate every story proposal and column idea thoroughly.
Sometimes readers get mad – thankfully, that happens rarely, presumably because we make solid decisions based on our mandate to provide leadership, training, news, opinion and analyses that benefit the Canadian fire service.
Often, readers email our contributors and ask for more information about the topic at hand – training plans, PTSD programs, Stopbad ideas, volunteer recruitment.
Deputy Chief Arjuna George writes for our brother publication, Canadian Firefighter. In January, George produced a column about field incident technicians, or FITs, and Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue’s use of these valuable civilians on the fire ground.
The response was overwhelming. In each instance, lieutenants, captains, chiefs and training officers wanted to know more about the FIT program. And, in each instance, there was a line in the email to George about the lack of available personnel: “Manpower is certainly the drawback,” one email said. “We are in the middle of a staff shuffle and the chief and I are looking hard at how to allow more volunteerism,” said another. “We need to expand our membership and this looks like a really good idea,” one writer noted. “We have very few young members of our department as most of them work away from the area,” said a lieutenant with a rural department.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. With a dearth of young people in many Canadian communities, and an aging demographic right across the country with remarkable knowledge, patience and, in many cases, more than a half century of local know-how and life skills under their belts, harnessing the power and prowess of these experienced men and women makes perfect sense.
The key to the success of a FIT program is buy-in from firefighters – ensuring that your crews understand that these skilled communicators are not in line for suppression positions – so there’s no misunderstanding or resentment.
As George notes, “FITs do not make tactical decisions; they are simply a resource to provide information and assist the incident commander.”
Our story on page 10 goes into more detail about the FIT program than the column we ran in January. It’s rare for us to run a second item on the same topic, but reader interest, and George’s expertise (and willingness to write to a very tight deadline!) drove our decision.
“FIT members are a second set of eyes and ears,” George says. “Firefighter safety is the bottom line and FITs provide that added layer of safety on the fire ground.”
Who wouldn’t want that?