Fire Fighting in Canada

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FireLines: Constants in the fire service

November 2, 2020
By Dave Balding

I recently wrote about change and advancements in the fire service, their impacts and how we embrace them. These continue to evolve at a seemingly ever-increasing pace. Today’s missive is a reflection on some of the constants in our fire fighting lives. The catalyst here was an event far outside the operational realm of what we do. It entailed a return to my new home with a truckload of effects and a brief shout out to some of my fellow department members. That evening saw a flurry of firefighters arrive to help – and still resonates with me.

We are, as firefighters, privileged to live and serve in a world steeped in tradition and honour. The camaraderie we enjoy runs deep. We support each other operationally and after incidents as well. We frequently socialize together, this for valid reasons; after all we do things that most civilians simply do not relate to. The paramilitary nature of the fire service is, for me, a point of pride. It lends structure both in the fire house and on the fire ground. The former benefits from structure and discipline that most definitely affects fire ground operations. The command and control necessary for effective fireground operations flows out of this environment. The incident command system, now a more formalized example, exemplifies this notion and is almost universally accepted and practiced.

Ceremony and tradition are key fixtures in the fire service. Firefighter funerals are steeped in such things as the tolling of the bell and the lamenting sound of bagpipes. The history behind these is significant, and worth delving into. Much like firefighters understanding the ‘why’ before the ‘how’ on the fireground I find I treasure these observances more so after learning what’s behind them. The ubiquitous Maltese cross and the patron saint of firefighters, St. Florian, also have much history and significance behind them. They serve, along with others, to identify and brand the fire service in a very dynamic world.

Aside from concrete traditions, I believe constants exist within firefighters, within us. These are traits that are requisite in a profession that is built on the principle of service to others. We have done and will continue to rebrand ourselves as firefighters yet there are steadfast values that remain unchanged. Dedication to the job we do, whether volunteer or career, is not only necessary but evident whenever I interact with my colleagues. Call me biased, but I know of no other calling (and I fervently believe fire fighting is) that enjoys such giving and passion. At a medical call in recent times, a patient had fallen to the ground while shoveling snow from his roof. After providing medical care to the patient our members asked permission to shovel the remaining snow from the elderly couple’s roof – of course the answer was a resounding yes. Be they firefighters or officers that miniscule example of giving flourishes. Integrity too is so very essential in a business in which we help people during some of their most vulnerable and challenging times. Trust flows from integrity, whether it’s the faith the public places in us or that which exists as we support each other either in routine or trying times. Self sacrifice, a commonly expected trait, is certainly demanded of us yet must be done in a balanced way. Yes, we take risk but not with reckless abandon. The well-known and vital moniker “we will risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little and risk nothing to save what is already lost” is a clear demonstration of that notion when responding to emergencies. We must also not give too much of ourselves in day to day work life—think work-life balance. Pride manifests itself in many ways, dress and deportment, our behavior and performance, even the way we maintain our stations and apparatus. Yes, we do these things because they are expected of us, they also foster self-respect and a respect for what we do and who are.

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Does the foregoing seem a little cliché? Perhaps on the surface, yet they remain essential ingredients for each of us to truly be compassionate and effective members. Yes, the various icons and traditions of firefighting proudly identify us to the public we serve, but the various traits and characteristics just touched upon create who we truly are, both as individuals and collectively.

Chief Alan Brunacini said there are two things firefighters hate: the way things are now and change. It’s up to us to embrace change, advance our profession while preserving and understanding the meaningful traditions, icons and traits it is built on.


Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is the fire chief with the Nipawin Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Contact Dave at d.balding@nipawin.com and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB.


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