Fire Fighting in Canada

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Final thoughts from two leadership gurus

After five years of writing our joint leadership column, it’s time for us to pass the torch to present and upcoming leaders. We have considered ourselves extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to write together and to pass along our philosophies on leadership in the hopes of encouraging and motivating firefighters (at all levels) across Canada.

April 20, 2015
By Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan

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After five years of writing their joint leadership column

During our time writing these columns, we have received feedback from firefighters and it not only encouraged us to write more, but also made us want to do more in other areas such as consulting and speaking at conferences about leadership and team building. To be honest, there were times when we knew we would be touching a nerve with our thoughts. But, rather than play it safe, we expressed our opinions, hoping that they opened some minds in the areas of leading others and creating successful climates for promoting talent from within departments.

We know there will be good days, great days and bad days for everyone. It’s how chief officers deal with both the good and the challenging days that demonstrates just how resilient they are as leaders.

We have had numerous opportunities to coach and mentor those preparing for leadership positions and through this process we have not only encouraged them to step outside of their comfort zones, we have also communicated the reality of being a leader in the fire service; it’s hard work, but worth the journey. There is nothing more rewarding than leading a fire department, whether volunteer or career. The opportunity to be part of a team that is known for its courage, compassion and brother/sisterhood is something that many only wish they could experience.

Since this is our last joint column, here are some of our final thoughts.

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Firstly, it has been an honour for us to serve our fellow men and women, and it has been an honour to write for Fire Fighting in Canada. It seems like just yesterday we started writing, yet five years have come and gone. But feeling as if time has flown by is a testament to how much we have enjoyed our time writing for the magazine.

Secondly, we have both been privileged to work with great leaders in our profession and because of them we have spread our wings and experienced our own personal growth as leaders. How others have helped us grow is reflected in our personal leadership philosophies. We are truly grateful for the seeds planted years ago by those leaders in our careers.

Thirdly, it is a privilege for us to serve as firefighters. Some people do not understand this privilege and their negative behaviours impact their teams and how they function. To be brutally honest, it is discouraging when we hear of firefighters being upset about the size of the letters on the backs of their departments’ T-shirts when we know that there are volunteer departments out there that have to fundraise so they can have department T-shirts. We have seen many situations in which firefighters viewed stumbling blocks as stepping stones to better things, and we have witnessed the exact opposite when a small issue is blown out of proportion because of negative attitudes. You need to look at the big picture; don’t sweat the small stuff, focus on why you are in this profession and get back to what really matters – serving the community and being the best you can be.

The fire service is a great and honourable profession but it is not perfect because it is made up of imperfect people who will make mistakes as they grow. That’s also how we learn – by trying.

We are not disappearing from the fire service. We are both helping and actively participating in the future of the fire service in other capacities, as consultants and instructors for fire-officer programs.

Never take for granted the privilege of your involvement in the fire service. Before you know it, the time will come when you will be leaving the fire service and will be passing the torch to others whom you (hopefully) have prepared to take over your role. Working and contributing to this great profession has been and continues to be our life-long journey.

Each of us has a legacy to leave. Will your departure, or the path you have created be what is cherished for years to come? May you succeed in your endeavours.


Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Both are graduates of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Service Leadership and Administration program. Contact Les at Genesis2020solutions@sasktel.net and Lyle at lpqsolutions@bell.net. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes and Lyle at @LyleQuan


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