On May 25, I celebrated one year of service with the Nipawin Fire Department, an occasion that has given me considerable pause for reflection. I began my time in the fire service with the immense good fortune of spending 26 years as a volunteer with the Malahat Fire Department on Vancouver Island, several of them as fire chief. My first career position was in Fraser Lake in B.C.’s central interior followed by Golden, B.C. I have, through the blessing of my 35 years of participation in the fire service, observed many changes. I’ve been fortunate to sit shoulder to shoulder with chief officers from fire departments of all calibers and learned a great deal from every one of them.
Sadly, I learned of the recent passing of a colleague from Maple Bay on Vancouver Island, Chief Andy Hutchins, who was a member there for nearly 50 years. That is a ton of service to give in a community. Hutchins’ passing led me to muse about the consistency of the fire service, even as I write this from two provinces east of where I began this profession that I remain passionate about. I’ve had the pleasure and honour of serving alongside some amazing mentors – far too many to mention here. They have, and continue to, impart lessons that I have carried forward with me. Every fire department I’ve had the honour, pleasure and joy of serving with has taught me lessons. Part of me is incredibly proud of the diversity blended with consistency I’ve seen through my tenure through four fire departments. I also can’t help but admire the dedication and commitment to one’s community over several decades – I too would be in the same place if not for my desire to pursue this amazing profession on a career basis.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that people, above all else, matter – a lot. Of course, we’re here to ‘put wet stuff on red stuff’, but it’s so much more than that. We’re here to help people, most often when they’re enduring the worst day of their lives. When I began in the fire service, like so many of us, it was all about tactical stuff – kicking in doors and putting out fires. Now it’s about lending a hand, making a difference. Does that sound a little sappy? I’d suggest Chief Alan Brunicini would say otherwise. Further, our own people are of utmost importance. Purchasing, maintaining equipment, managing emergency scenes and defending budgets all matter enormously to me, yet I’ve come to learn that doing my utmost to look after the welfare of the folks that get out of bed at 3:15 a.m. to help their fellow residents is paramount. Ultimately, I am responsible for the safety of each and every one of our members here. Every one of us, whether in a formal leadership role or not, must recognize that ‘formal’ leadership may exist by virtue of appointment or position, but every one of us is responsible for influencing and leading our colleagues regardless of rank. It’s also incumbent on us to learn what we can from every one of them.
I’ve also seen several of my fellow chief officers retire, something that gives me occasion to reflect on my own longevity in this wonderful profession. My zeal for the work I’m privileged to do remains undiminished and as long as I am a relevant and inspiring influence, I will continue.
Lessons learned are a gift of my incredibly valued time served in the fire service. There have been many for me – work life balance, ongoing professional improvement and healthy habits among them. I truly believe it’s incumbent on me to do what I can to pass these along to my co-workers. I reflect on the notion that the best thing I can do is teach a young firefighter to become an old firefighter. These aren’t hard tactical sign offs, they are part of caring for the folks we work with. Make no mistake, I am so very far from having any of this completely figured out. If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that I too am a work in progress. I’m fortunate to have amazing people around me, both on a personal and professional basis. Engaging with them helps me grow and become a better firefighter.
Aside from operational qualifications, my time in the fire service has taught me many things: ethics, trust, belief in people and so much more. These aren’t qualities taught in fire schools or learned from text books, they are the blessings of working alongside amazing folks, regardless of formal rank in our fire service.
I’m incredibly proud of the diversity blended with consistency I’ve experienced in my fire service career and intend on learning and sharing as long as I’m able.
Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is the fire chief with the Nipawin Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Contact Dave at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB.
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