Flashpoint blog – Oct 22
By Peter Sells
Blogger Peter Sells has a lot to say about a lot of firefighting topics. Today, he remembers colleague and role model Capt. Ron Wilson as a sometimes cantankerous but always respected fire service leader.
By Peter Sells
Oct. 22, 2008
At the risk of turning
this blog into a series of eulogies, I would like to share some lessons in
leadership that I learned from Capt. Ron Seymour. Ron passed away this month at
the age of 72. All of us who worked with him, either fighting fires or in his
later roles, will miss him dearly.
I met Ron in 1986. He was
the captain on the pump; I was the rookie on the aerial. Although I did not
report to him directly, I had many opportunities to relieve on his crew. And,
of course, we shared life in the fire hall with the other guys on the B2 shift.
At this point in his life, Ron was still getting over the death of his first
wife. He was also in the process of recovery from some pretty serious substance
abuse problems. I make no effort to disguise his name here, because, as you
will see as I go on, Ron was not shy about any of this. Part of his recovery
process was openness and frank discussion. I got the impression, however, that
he had never had a problem with expressing exactly what was on his mind. So,
part of the gruff, cantankerous exterior that I was witness to was innately Ron;
part of it was what he was going through.
None of that mattered.
After a very short time in his presence, especially at a fire scene, you could
feel yourself following his lead. When
it came to the fire ground, he’d been there and done that. He’d been caught in
a backdraft, fallen through a roof and probably done a few other fun things
that I never heard about. And boy, did he have the scars to prove it. Did that
make him a leader? No, but it did give him the perspective and the presence
that made others stand and take notice. I remember a kitchen-table chat one
night after a fire, when he actually complained to a couple of us that he
didn’t understand why people were always looking to him for direction or
approval. I stayed quiet, figuring there was no sense in telling a reluctant
role model that he was, well, a role model. He was not yet over his demons.
But when he did finally
conquer those demons and gain control over his life, what a leader emerged! Ron
was instrumental in the formation of Toronto Fire’s employee assistance program.
Even at the beginning, the nature of the program was unique and went against
some of the conventional EAP wisdom out there in the corporate world. Ron
understood that in order to gain acceptance from the people who needed it most,
the committee had to be completely independent of both the city and the association
while having the support of both.
Without this independence and Ron’s tenacity, I don’t think the program
would have succeeded as it did. Once again, he was a role model, as other fire
and emergency services developed their programs, often with Ron in an advisory
After Ron retired in 1995,
he remained active in EAP and critical incident stress circles. He stepped in
after the Toronto amalgamation to ensure that the good work of his
original committee would not get lost in a large corporate shuffle. When our
comrades in New
needed, more than anything else, a shoulder to cry on, Ron was front and centre
in leading Toronto’s EAP/CIS response to Ground Zero. He never
stopped working for his fellow firefighters, never stopped giving of himself.
And he was the same gruff, foul-mouthed curmudgeon at 72 that he was when I met
him more than 20 years ago. I looked up to him then and I always will.