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Fire Lines: June 2019

While scrambling to meet deadlines and comply with regulations, it’s easy to lose sight of why we got into this business in the first place.

May 15, 2019
By Dave Balding

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For me, it was an opportunity to help others and work in the best profession anywhere. Assuredly, it wasn’t to complete and deliver reports along with the many other administrative challenges we as managers and leaders strive to deal with.

Make no mistake, I enjoy this aspect of my fabulous career tremendously, but it can become consuming. Occasionally I find it worthwhile to pause and press the reset button, if you will.

What’s it all about? I say it’s about people. It starts with our fire ground strategies. We put our responders’ safety first. The British Columbia Emergency Management System, one of the creeds that guides how we do business here, says so. Beyond that, we consider occupants as our first priority – most importantly so. Yes, we will take some risk to make a save but that must always be a very carefully considered risk.

People matter in a huge way when we’re at the fire hall as well. I’ve come to realize the best investment in time I can make is connecting with my members.

Phil Eastwood, who recently presented on leadership in Golden, B.C., said “talk is work.” He went on to explain that connecting with your members is a valid and critical part of a leader’s day.

We’re long past the days of simply barking orders and expecting performance. I contend our leader/follower dynamic has evolved considerably. Creating that interpersonal bond feels like the right thing to do – because it is.

The fire service is unique with its integral social component. It fosters camaraderie and allows for some diffusing. I believe enjoying that environment with fellow members is another essential art of building relations.

Naturally, the most important folks are our own, but there are others. We see many tourists at our fire hall from all over the world. They are always welcome and appreciative of the opportunity to spend time with us. The immense pleasure of visiting with our international brothers and sisters also affords an opportunity to shown off Golden Fire Rescue and brag about our members.

Residents passing by our station commonly drop by and enjoy the apparatus with children or grandchildren. Once again, it’s all about people.

Returning to our own members, growing and nurturing their professional development is so essential. It’s more than calculated succession planning. If your folks are like ours they thrive on growth and ongoing training.

How many of you engage in annual performance reviews for your members? Do your department a favour and begin. Providing the opportunity for self-improvement of our firefighters may well be one of the most constructive things we can do for them.

It’s commonly known that happy, satisfied, challenged members perform better. Is there a silver bullet? In a word, no. But one of the best things we can do is provide relevant, meaningful and vibrant training to them.

A lacklustre training regime is a common death knell for morale, and eventually member retention. As leaders we must continually evolve. That entails our leadership style, continually updating on technology, strategies, tactics and more. This makes us more effective. It also creates an environment within the department that fosters learning and change – always healthy.

How do we square all this positive stuff with the day-to-day realities of a fire department?

Discipline can be a challenge. Discipline is an essential part of dealing with our people. Remember, it’s all about them. An organization comprised of well-disciplined members will run more smoothly and safely. Disallowing inappropriate or unacceptable habits sends a statement, not only to the subject, but the balance of the members that only the correct behaviours will be tolerated and encouraged.

If we want our members to bring value to the fire department, I believe we must offer them value. What do you do to create a positive environment for your firefighters?


Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. Contact Dave at david.balding@golden.ca and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB.