Fire Lines: November 2018

Traditions are vital to fire departments
October 23, 2018
Written by Dave Balding
I feel a surge of pride every time I don my fire service uniform in preparation for another day working at the job I love.

I’m so very fortunate to work in this profession – and the significance of the Maltese cross bugles on the fire department collar insignia is not lost on me.

These are more than simple adornments or jewellery. Whether career, paid, on-call or volunteer, members of the fire service operate in an environment steeped in tradition.

There is, of course, that well-worn adage that the fire service is “100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress,” – a statement I vehemently disagree with and will challenge anyone on. Today’s fire service not only continues to be progressive in an operational and technical sense, it is also evolving culturally.

That is a delicate balance, as I believe our traditions that are so vital to our pride and identity must be retained.

How do we achieve this?

I believe time spent with new recruits explaining the elements of our history and traditions is a key first step. It’s incumbent on us to ensure all of our members have an appreciation and respect for the uniform, and all of its regalia and meaning.

The firefighter bell ceremony, a moving custom by which we honour fallen firefighters, is another tradition borne out of fire-service history. Red fire trucks, Dalmatians, and pushing new apparatus into the fire hall are further examples.

Educating your firefighters about the meaning of these traditions will ensure they remain relevant and meaningful.

Every one of our departments also has local traditions which serve to enrich the environment that is the fire department and how they serve their communities. Whether it’s Santa runs, polar bear swims, Thanksgiving dinners, or a yearly barbecue at the fire chief’s house, these events are a win for our members, departments and residents alike.  

Some traditions get left behind, perhaps rightly so. The notion of achieving a tactical goal at all costs, the philosophy of accepting death and injury as a given in our profession is thankfully fading. It is rightfully being replaced with a culture of health and safety.

As leaders, we set the tone for our departments in myriad ways. Instilling pride is a critical one that has many facets. Dress and deportment are important. I issue station wear, replete with rank insignia to my firefighters. Tunics and dress pants come a little later. While this is a significant endeavour for a small department, I believe we reap rewards when our members wear their uniforms with pride.

This extends to the department. Even our t-shirts are worn with pride. Our members are conscientious of how and where they wear them. They’re worn often – a sign they are proud of their department. What do they have to be proud of? We boast a vibrant training regime which results in highly competent firefighters. We have quality, well-maintained equipment that looks great as the rigs are kept shining.

Firefighting is a proud and noble profession, one that contributes in no small way to the immense sense of pride we all feel.  

Pride needs to be continually fostered and grown, so encourage your firefighters to show their pride in their department and the entire fire service.

Discipline is the third part of this trifecta. It takes on many forms and is an absolute must for successful firefighters, meaningful training, effective emergency responses and the well-being of the department as a whole.

It starts with individual firefighters. Each one of us must continually exercise discipline in our personal and firefighting lives.

Health and wellness, punctuality and commitment to the organization are some components of personal discipline. This personal discipline manifests itself in driven, committed members that perform to their fullest for your department.

The fire service is, by necessity, a quasi-military organization. That is evident in its rank structure, uniforms and day-to-day operations. This discipline is not only part of our culture, but an absolute requirement for meaningful meetings, safe and effective training and successful incident responses.

I believe we owe it to those who came before us and to those who succeed us to safeguard the traditions and rich history of the fire service as we create new customs.

I’m incredibly proud of my engagement with the fire service, Golden Fire Rescue and the two departments I was privileged to be a part of before that. Why? It’s largely due to mentors that explained why we do what we do, instilling pride in me and my department, along with strong leaders who ensured the right kind of discipline was in place.


Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. Contact Dave at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB.

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