Fire Fighting in Canada

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Cornerstone: June 2013

Books can help shape who we are, prompt us to re-evaluate what we stand for, and make us consider how we can become better at what we do.

June 4, 2013  By Lyle Quan

Books can help shape who we are, prompt us to re-evaluate what we stand for, and make us consider how we can become better at what we do. I have found that recommending books in my columns and presentations not only helps me to think about what each book offers readers, but it also helps me to suggest opportunities to my fire-service colleagues for self-improvement.

The first book that I recommend will get you to think outside of the box. The second book provides some great tips on how to become a better coach. By applying the lessons taught in these two books, you will be able to break down the imaginary walls that some of us erect, which will help you to better guide, support and mentor others.

In the first book, I Moved Your Cheese, author Deepak Malhotra tells how three mice discover that, instead of just accepting things as they appear to be, they have the ability to escape the maze in which they are confined and configure their environments to their own liking. Sometimes we feel as if we are being confined by our jobs or are somehow stuck in a maze with no exit. Is the challenge to get out of that maze, or to reinvent the world around us?

As the author notes, sometimes the burning question is not if the mouse is in the maze, but if the maze is within the mouse.


I Moved Your Cheese picks up where the popular motivational book, Who Moved My Cheese?, by Dr. Spencer Johnson, left off, and challenges the reader to take things to greater heights. In Who Moved My Cheese?, Johnson points out that change is inevitable and that we must accept this and find ways to embrace change. In I Moved Your Cheese, the reader is challenged to think beyond the belief that change is inevitable, and that we, therefore, need to accept change and move on. Malhotra’s book discusses how to become more resourceful by creating your own environment. 

For example, I Moved Your Cheese says that if someone asks, who moved the cheese, leaders should explain that it doesn’t matter who moved it; it matters only that the cheese is gone.

Those of you who have read Who Moved My Cheese? may find this theory to be a somewhat challenging concept, but it is one that should be embraced if you want to move toward resolving the issues that are troubling you. There is one simple equation presented in Malhotra’s book: You want the cheese – but the cheese is no longer there; so, your only option is to go elsewhere to find the cheese. Learn how to break down those walls and embrace the concept of change, and you can create your own environment.

In the second book, Igniting the Third Factor, the author, Dr. Peter Jensen, encapsulates his life’s work into five core practices that leaders can use to ignite what he calls the third factor in themselves and in others. Jensen has participated in six Olympic Games, helping athletes and their coaches win Olympic medals. He has taken these teachings and coaching concepts to the business world and broken them down into five basic characteristics. I’m sure you will find Jensen’s theories of value as you pursue your goal of becoming a better coach and also helping your organization develop a true succession planning program.

The third factor that Jenson writes about is choice. This factor explains that the individual is allowed the opportunity to make a conscious choice to change and become a higher-level person.

The five characteristics that are discussed in great detail in the book are:

  • Self awareness;
  • The ability to build trust;
  • The ability to use imagery;
  • The ability to identify blocks when they occur; and
  • Recognizing the importance of adversity.

As Jensen notes in his book, “If you learn to ask good questions, be an effective listener, give really good feedback and know how to confront your performers when things are not going well, you can do most anything.”

The author also suggests four good questions to help you get started: the first two questions focus on “I,” while the second two focus on “we.”

  • What do you need more of?
  • What do you need less of?
  • What are we doing well?
  • What needs work?

Those of us in the fire service will appreciate two terms that Jensen uses: extinguisher and igniter. Be an igniter by being there for your team, not an extinguisher who rarely seeks to support and embrace the team concept.

Although these books were written by different authors at different times, they complement each other by breaking down biases that we have and helping to ignite the abilities within ourselves. 

Lyle Quan is the fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He has a business degree in emergency services and a degree in adult education. Lyle is an instructor for two Canadian universities and has worked with many departments in the areas of leadership, safety and risk management. Email Lyle at and follow Lyle on Twitter at @LyleQuan

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