Volunteer Vision: February 2016
We all volunteered to become firefighters for a multitude of reasons, and we all have stories about why we chose to help our fire departments. We accept the fact that the role of a volunteer firefighter has changed and includes fighting fires and answering emergency calls for everything from medical calls to hazmat incidents.
By Vince Mackenzie
But there is another role that is often overlooked – that of the advocate.
As we learn and shape our skills, it seems, we start advocating within our respective departments. We quite often witness firefighters advocating for new equipment, better training, and improvements to facilities, or fundraising for a cause. In turn, fire-department leaders are usually tasked to advocate to council for better services or equipment on behalf of the firefighters.
Sometimes advocacy takes a negative turn. Many of us have firefighters in our departments who like to advocate for their own personal agendas; that kind of advocacy can be disruptive or even destroy morale within the department. Fortunately, those folks typically don’t last long or the rest of organization steers them in the right direction through their virtuous advocacy efforts.
But firefighters are also motivated by their own experiences to advocate passionately for improved fire safety and public education and, to this end, often promote and participate in public community events. Fire-service advocacy comes in many forms. Firefighters may not even realize that they are advocating when they are talking to people in the community about fire prevention, for example.
Passionate firefighters do not stop there; we commonly see them take up community causes in other organizations as well. How many times have you noticed that the same people seem to be involved in a lot of different community projects and service organizations?
Then there is the next level, at which many outstanding individuals emerge as advocacy leaders in local fire-service associations, groups and unions and then move on to provincial and national groups. Whether career or volunteer, chiefs, training officers, or mutual-aid associations, all these folks have started somewhere in a fire station and evolved into champions of their fire-service causes.
I have had the great fortune to be affiliated with several fire-service associations and groups for more than a quarter of a century. I have been honoured to have been exposed to and have learned from some great fire-service advocates. Through the network of fire-service associations, I have met and had the great pleasure to work with the most wonderful mentors, movers and shakers, and passionate firefighters in the country. I am grateful to have learned their styles and systems. It is my opinion that the need for fire-service associations is greater now than ever as the challenges continue to mount and fewer folks are willing to step onto the advocacy stage.
In working with various groups, I have been driven to encourage collaboration and unity among associations. Certainly there is competition for members and the membership fees that all organizations need to operate and advocate effectively, as well as grant and sponsorship funding.
Canada’s fire-service associations have built today’s fire services through the collective influence of all stakeholders. These associations are only as strong as their leadership and membership. I think that collectively, fire-service associations can be even stronger if we strive to build partnerships among the sibling associations. I am proud and encouraged when I see the caliber and dedication of all who participate in Canada’s fire-service associations.
My advice to firefighters of all ranks is to advocate for your causes. Even though your time is a valuable commodity, use some of your volunteer time to help to move our fire services to higher levels. I encourage the next generation to consider advocacy as an important role; find a cause and add your voice.
Only when we all pull on the same oars do governments and the public truly understand that what we advocate for is important to the safety of all Canadians. That is how we got here in the first place – because of what was built by those who preceded us. I call on you now to add your time, experience and, most importantly, your voice to pay it forward in collaborative advocacy.
Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince