Fire Fighting in Canada

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Generational change in the fire service

May 30, 2023 
By John Liadis

Fire Chief John Liadis

Today’s fire service looks a little different than from when most of us started, specifically around the ages of officers within the service. Observations of many emergency services, from fire to police and EMS, suggest that the supervisors, captains and chiefs are younger than those who typically assumed those roles in the past.

Leadership can come in all different types of packages in today’s modern service. If we take a moment and look at the topic from a 30,000-foot approach, we can see that leadership starts from the bottom up and top down. This holds true if we are doing our jobs correctly, no matter what colour your helmet is or how many bars are on your epaulets. We are seeing a wide range of membership who have entered the fire service across the country, with individuals ranging from their late twenties to forties and more, sometimes. So, if you’re a baby boomer, generation X or generation Y/millennial, you may work alongside one of the others in this category that may be a leader in your department.

The times of seniority being one of the main qualifications, or only qualifications, required to fulfill a position of leadership or a chief officer role has changed in today’s service model. If we look at Alberta’s Occupational Health & Safety Act, the definition of a competent person is “competent” in relation to being adequately qualified, suitably trained and with sufficient experience to safely perform work without supervision or with only a minimal degree of supervision (Chapter O-2.2, s. 1). This may vary from province to province, but human resource teams and recruiting agencies have factored that into the application process and each department has their own specific needs and wants when it comes to hiring chief officer staff. This is where we start to see a younger demographic come into many new leadership positions because of specific background in the service and life experience.

Without a doubt, experience is still key, but it needs to be supported by education, training, and credentials for the individual to be deemed competent. This goes the same way for us all when we get onto the job as rookie recruits. Training proves basic skills, but competency is proven with years of experience and a reputation that has been earned. This is a firm belief of mine.  With that being said, what makes a strong leader? 


After many conversations with other firefighters and officers across the country, one of the most common themes is having a chief officer who has the best interest of the firefighters at heart. A person the team trusts to go to bat for them and represent what’s right for the department and community. Understanding that as a major focus point, it is evident the best leaders are those who have built strong relationships within the service and outside of it. Networking, personal growth and professional growth are all attributes these leaders must posses, and it is an ever-learning journey. Just because your classified as a leader doesn’t always mean you’re a leader. You must always ask yourself the question: “Would I want to work for me?” Becoming proficient in having a positive leadership style in where you’re always learning and truly listening to your firefighters in your service and acting accordingly on best practice and industry standards is important. 

Technology and training today have changed and progressed leaps and bounds from years past. This has allowed for so much growth in the fire service in a very positive way. Social media is a huge contributor to that. Being able to jump on Facebook or Instagram and see the latest trends and techniques for operations driven tactics is one area of rapid growth. There are also so many leadership and professional development style courses and programs out there that are allowing the younger officers to be able to grow and add to their mental toolbox. Being able to be brought up “old school” and taught “new school” is almost the best of both worlds if you can harness both perspectives. 

Today’s generation of officers are a being built quickly as times are changing. With retirement being a major factor, the baby boomers and even some of the generation before are reaching an age in where retirement has happened or about to happen. This is a factor in both the paid-on call and career fire services across the country. For a modern fire service to operate today, it takes a team of people that have a diverse skill set and a chief who has a mix of skills, experience, and education to lead that department into the future. With times changing, the fire service needs to catch up and we are doing a good job at setting the bar. Lastly, we need to maintain that standard and change, to always keep that open mindset of learning daily, building relationships, focusing on the job, and paying it forward.

With almost 20 years in emergency services, Chief John Liadis and his team currently lead a progressive composite department in Central Alberta.

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