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Comment: September 2014

We all meet people who challenge us to think harder and see things from another perspective.

August 26, 2014
By Laura King


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We all meet people who challenge us to think harder and see things from another perspective.

For the last seven years, Flashpoint columnist Peter Sells has been that guy, the writer with whom I have argued points – won some, lost many, agreed to disagree – and who has forced me to broaden my vision but sharpen my focus.

Sells is headed east – way east – to share his fire-service wisdom with the civil defence organization in Dubai, and this month’s column is his last.

Sells was still with Toronto Fire Services when we met in 2007 and he asked about writing. I wanted his back-page column to be newsy, to tackle current issues and fire-service conundrums and stir up readers. We called the column Flashpoint for a reason! (It was his idea.)

Sells is a master of puns – which I usually edited out; almost all of his 56 columns over seven years included a clever reference to popular music (often left in), a quote from The Art of War (sometimes edited out) or a play on something Star Trek related (usually deleted, under protest – even from Sells’ final epistle on page 78).

Regardless of our writer/editor clashes, we’ve learned from each other; you can read Peter’s column to find out what he has gleaned from seven years of red marks and editor’s comments. For me, Peter answered every fire-service question – about 5,000 by my estimate – I threw at him during my early years as editor.

Peter taught me that if I wanted something changed I better have a good reason – I usually did – because he had a good reason for writing things the way he did and my reason better trump his reason (it often did!).

And he taught me to lighten up and let readers sometimes figure things out for themselves (or force them to look up a term or an obscure Sun Tsu reference), which goes against my instinct, but we’re supposed to push each other to think harder and see things from another perspective, right?

The one thing I know Peter learned is that the old period-at-the-end-of-a-sentence-followed-by-a-double-space rule taught in high-school typing does not apply to computer word processing; it’s a single space only. It took years, dozens of reminders and enough red ink (figuratively, of course) to paint a fire truck, but he finally got it.

Resistance was futile.

– – –

Speaking of columnists, Winnipeg firefighter Jay Shaw tends to write his blog or column when something riles him; he sits down, pounds out a few hundred-words and hits send.

Then we talk, sometimes tone things down a bit, and the blog is posted or the column is edited for the magazine.

Jay usually writes for Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly, but the piece he sent to me in July about younger firefighters and the need for officers to understand what motivates them was so bang-on for fire-service leaders that I opted to run it here, on page 26.

Jay’s words might help many of you see things from a different perspective.


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