Firelines: Embracing education in the fire service
By Dave Balding
By Dave Balding
When I became a fire chief, now-retired Fire Chief Bob Claus from Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island (a friend and colleague of mine), advised me to become engaged with chiefs associations and other organizations in the fire service.
I watched Claus and other mentors participate in these organizations and it became clear to me that these leaders were passionate about the fire service, its culture and their departments. I continue to be involved with fire service organizations at several levels and I participate to the fullest in various capacities.
While writing this column, I was in Prince Albert, Sask., attending the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs (SAFC) conference. Despite being two provinces away from my home in British Columbia, I find that the issues we face in the fire service are often consistent across the country. These conferences give chief officers the opportunity to learn about different provincial perspectives, and possibly solutions. This is invaluable. If you take nothing else away from this column, please know that operating, networking, learning and promoting on a larger scale than ever before is so vital – and will continue to become more so. A second reason for attending the SAFC conference was to get a heads up on issues that may yet affect our part of the world. New challenges will continue to present themselves, so let’s share them and their solutions.
Personal gratification aside, I believe my department reaps significant rewards from my involvement in these organizations. Information, skills and perspectives I gain serve to benefit our department and its members. There are many examples, and there will be more; our associations work incredibly hard for their members on issues such as cancer awareness, mental health, and leadership strategies, chief fire officers who attend these conferences learn, gain awareness, and make changes at home. The alternative – remaining somewhat cocooned and missing the opportunity to branch out – would be a disservice to my department.
I maintain the same is true for every one of our members; consequently I encourage them to broaden their horizons as well. It used to be good enough just to regularly attend and participate in training; I submit those days are long gone and, as leaders, we need to be varied in our efforts to educate our firefighters and officers. Instill in your members a desire to learn more. The Town of Golden is a relatively isolated place; nonetheless there are numerous opportunities at our fingertips that allow our firefighters to grow their knowledge and skillsets. Electronic media is a powerful resource. YouTube has endless material to foster further interest; our department circulates a video of the week that we believe is relevant to our training. Close call sites are yet another source for learning. Trade publications are also highly encouraged.
I try to send as many of our department members to training seminars and other events as often as possible. They invariably return with expanded knowledge and an infectious energy. I also encourage representatives from the fire service industry to visit whenever they can. Sometimes this means a drop-in during the day or an entire training night, which affords an opportunity for sharing in-depth product knowledge with the department and its members.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of we’ve-always-done-it-this-way. Too often, we get caught up in the routine machinations of running our emergency organizations, but finding the time and energy to push existing boundaries and explore new territory is worth it beyond measure. I challenge you to move beyond your comfort zone. You will be well rewarded. Further, your members will see your zest for the fire service and apply it to their service. Enthusiasm is not only noticed, it is contagious.
Continue to delve into new opportunities for you and your firefighters. This, of course, includes incorporating technology. You will find that firefighters who regularly attend trade shows and training weekends, while keeping abreast of recent developments from electronic and print media, will take you to task on this. Embrace their suggestions – they will have done some homework for you.
As leaders, it is critical to evolve and expand the way we perform both on and off the fire ground. We must be varied in our skills and educate ourselves to diversify our department’s skillset. Is there any alternative for a service that is constantly changing?
Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. Contact Dave at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB