Inside the hall
Written by Denis Pilon
May 2016 - Anyone who works in a unionized fire department has, at some time, been confronted with the one word that sets up a roadblock to any succession program: seniority.
Written by Gord Schreiner
The fire service is a business like no other; its main purpose is to serve and protect its citizens and keep its firefighters safe. Services do not need to compete with each other, but rather work together and share with each other. Together we are stronger. That means working closely together both internally (within our fire stations) and externally (within the broader fire and emergency-service community).

Internally: When all members (including leaders) of a fire department are pulling in the same direction, both the department and firefighters thrive. The result of this unison is a better place to work and better service for citizens. Firefighters who share with each other are typically better prepared for their next incident. Sharing knowledge and gently pushing each other to be better makes firefighters safer and more effective. Great firefighters are here for the team, not for themselves, and the team is here for our citizens. Together firefighters are stronger, whether that means helping each other with training, fitness, job searches or life challenges. When we play as a team everyone wins!

I visit many fire stations each year and I can tell quite a bit about a fire department after meeting some of its firefighters. I am happy to say that most fire departments get it – fire fighting is a team sport, not a place for people who put themselves before others.

Externally: When fire departments reach out and work with other fire departments (and other emergency-service agencies) the same benefits can be found. Fire departments that share and train with other fire departments increase the safety and effectiveness of their firefighters and organizations. Helping each other helps departments to enhance the services they provide to their citizens.

My department constantly trains with others departments. We are also always looking to improve and find new and better ways of doing things. I know first-hand that interaction with other departments has helped our department to improve its services, increased safety and made us better. We are always willing to share our training centre, training props, lesson plans, PowerPoints and guidelines with others as we know that most will do likewise. When I share something with another department I simply ask that if members of that department improve it, to let us know about the improvements so we can consider them. I was recently asked what I thought was the most significant change in the fire service over the past several years; my answer was the Internet. The Internet allows us to share information quickly and also to see what others are doing (right or wrong). I have good friends who are leaders in the fire service whom I have never met in person, yet we are constantly sharing and trading ideas.

I love having other firefighters and departments visit us to train because it broadens our own training as we learn from each other. Fire departments that work closely together to deliver their important services thrive, and their citizens receive better value for their taxes. Mutual-aid agreements assist departments in ensuring adequate resources are available. Automatic-aid agreements assist departments in providing timely responses. Both types of agreements work with little increased costs but provide huge benefits both for the community and the fire departments. Large or small, modern fire departments must realize that they can’t go it alone. Developing strategic partnerships is a win-win situation for us all.

Training together prepares us to work together during a mutual- or automatic-aid incident. Sharing resources with each other is common sense and fiscally responsible.

My department has also benefited from me travelling all over Canada delivering my Safe and Effective Scene Management (#stopbad) program. I visit dozens of fire departments each year and I learn from all of them. In fact, I have learned so much from visiting other departments that I often come home with some great ideas as to how to improve our services and/or training at my department. Some of the best ideas I have seen come from some of the smaller fire departments that need to be more creative due to smaller budgets (doing more with less). I freely share all that I have learned.

Those few departments that, for whatever reason, choose to go it alone, are only hurting themselves and their communities. Working closely with neighbouring fire departments is a win-win for all involved and is also expected by our citizens and politicians. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – just borrow a wheel and maybe make it spin better, then pass it on to others.

Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire

Written by Arjuna George

June 1, 2015 - Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue (SSIFR) in British Columbia has been operating a field incident technician program since 2002. Today the department’s six field incident technicians – who are referred to as FITs – are a vital part of the organization.

Written by Dave Balding
Fraser Lake Fire Rescue in British Columbia recently attended a chest-pains call. Dispatch identified the complainant over the radio and a number of us recognized the name as that of a local resident. Instead of listening and responding to the civic address given by dispatch, we headed right over to where we knew the local man lived – only to find no one home. After checking back with a very accommodating dispatcher we headed for the correct address, somewhat red faced. Thankfully the patient suffered no ill effects from our folly, and there was a valuable lesson for all of us who attended.
Written by Kevin Foster
I think everyone has seen the humorous pictures with anecdotes on social media platforms or email inboxes. Usually I glance at them and move on, but recently one stood out: a leader speaking to a group of followers asks “Who wants change?” and everyone raises their hands. In the next frame, the leader asks “Who wants to change?” Not surprisingly, there isn’t a hand in the air.

Change tends to be interpreted negatively, however, the only way to move forward is to change. In fact, failing to change often yields negative results for those who try to remain static while everything changes around them.

For the fire service, simple co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments or agencies that serve the same group of customers can be an effective way to incorporate positive change.

When fire-service managers fail to co-operate with other municipal departments, managers of those departments, and our customers – the public – tend to think we are protecting our turf. No longer is it unique for municipal managers to co-operate with other city departments or even outside agencies. To collaborate and search for effective cost saving and service-enhancement opportunities means the fire department must compromise, but not necessarily concede. Chiefs need to be prepared to communicate solutions to fire department challenges and include some ideas that may have been presented by other municipal departments. This approach also gives fire-service leaders the opportunity to present successful fire department ideas, strategies and successes to municipal colleagues and can result in respect and support from municipal leaders.

Dynamic, sustainable organizations must remain active and engaged in their realms. Organizations that resist change will become extinct. There is a choice; guide it or ride it. Our industry leaders have the opportunity to lay the foundation today for the fire service they believe is appropriate for tomorrow. A commitment to think openly and have a vision can lead to a positive future for the fire service; remaining passive will lead to extinction. Although municipal fire services are generally cherished community organizations, they will not live on forever if fire-service leaders choose to maintain the status quo because other service providers – public and private – offer more economical options.

Progress is not a continual slope upward, rather it is a series of peaks and valleys with each peak giving way to a plateau, and each valley more gentle than the one before it. Times of rest help us to adjust to the new normal and provide the opportunity to prepare the organization and its members for the next climb. Use the valleys to reflect on where your organization and you have been. Cherish accomplishments, even those that may have been short-lived; they may have shown the way to the new normal. Use these situations to analyze how or why an initiative wasn’t as successful as anticipated; look for opportunities to take further actions that may result in a more successful implementation of a new or revised program or idea. Keep an open mind about what opportunities exist.

Most departments are now long past the do-more-with-less attitude that has plagued the fire service for years; in fact, most are at the point of doing less with less. Perhaps the best-case scenario now is to find things that can be done differently so that fire departments can more efficiently maintain or improve service and safety in our communities and for firefighters. If that were the case, there would be hands in the air when the question “Who wants to change?” is asked, because change necessitates doing something differently, not just waiting on others while the fire service maintains the status quo.

Opportunities and examples of change are vast; many are spoken about at fire-service conferences, workshops and seminars. Some of the simplest and most easily implemented ideas are often right there in front of us, created and implemented by people we deal with every day, including our peers in other municipal departments. Don’t be afraid to embrace some of their ideas. Although an idea may come from outside the fire service, it may be adapted with great success.

Fire service leaders are not always required to be the change champions but there are times when it is appropriate to be the coach, cheerleader or even, perhaps, the naysayer. In each of those roles, you could inspire someone else to present a new idea. Co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments will improve efficiency and effectiveness of the fire service with the goal of ensuring a strong and sustainable fire-protection system in the community.

* Carousel photo from Flickr by Kenny Louie

Kevin Foster is the fire chief and emergency management co-ordinator in Midland, Ont. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @KFoster_FSEM

Written by Denis Pilon
Talk of succession planning in the fire service often elicits a lot of blank stares. There is considerable confusion about succession planning – what is it, how to do it, and even where to get information about it. Succession planning is often misunderstood by senior managers and entry-level employees. Fire-service tradition dictated that if you hung around long enough you would eventually be the chief. Not only does this no longer apply, but it was a bad practice and is almost entirely responsible for fire being perceived as the outsider in municipal senior-management circles.

In most municipal departments, the senior-management team is made up of people with degrees in administration, engineering, finance, recreation, municipal planning or some other discipline, and many of these are at the master’s level or higher. In the fire service, the senior leaders are often the most experienced firefighters; although this is changing, more needs to be done to prepare our future leaders.

So what is succession planning and how is it done? Let’s first address what succession planning is not: it is not supplementing the pension of senior employees during their final years because they have put in years of good service; it is not a reward for long service or good service; it is not about hand-picking your successor. Some of this confusion can be attri-
buted to the term succession planning, which often leaves chiefs thinking they should plan who will succeed them when they leave. I prefer the term succession program as it is more holistic and applies to all members of the organization, not just a select few.

I remember conducting an interview with a new hire a number of years ago and when asked what his goal in the fire service was he replied, “To sit in your chair.” I hired him. I am often asked why I would hire someone who wants my job. My answer is that I know I won’t be here forever, and someone needs to take over when I leave. A succession program needs to start at the initial interview with entry-level candidates. The sooner you identify those who aspire to higher positions, the sooner you can start to support them.

Succession programs are about creating opportunities for members of the organization to advance to senior positions. These opportunities must be applied fairly and consistently throughout the organization. This is sometimes very hard to do as we all bring certain biases to the table and we like or dislike certain members of the department based on past or current events; this cannot be allowed to cloud the program or it will not work. Everyone must be given the opportunity to progress; the selection process will allow the cream to rise to the top.

Most fire departments have good succession programs in place for the lower ranks. There are courses and standards set for promotion to the next position, everyone is given the opportunity to complete the training, and the selection process allows the higher-quality candidates to move into the next positions. This works great up to the rank of captain, and even to the battalion-chief (or platoon-chief) level, but the system seems to break down beyond that.

What’s the solution? First, it’s important to identify what the job of fire chief really includes and determine the qualifications needed to do the job properly. Then, identify the programs that will meet the needs of the position and offer these programs to the senior members of the department – this may range from Fire Officer IV to a master’s degree, depending on the size of the department. The courses required to attain the necessary level of management or leadership skills must be made available during individuals’ careers so that when the time comes to replace the chief, there are a number of trained and qualified candidates available to compete for the position.

A succession program won’t have a formal list of steps you must take to reach the top, but more of a direction pointing to the top. Regularly read the ads for chief-officer positions to see what requirements municipalities seek in their new chiefs. Get a handle on the disciplines in which municipalities want their chief officers to have degrees. Start offering courses that lead to these degrees – start at the certificate level and move to diplomas, then degrees. Make these courses available to everyone – those who don’t make chief will have more to offer the department and will be a major asset over time.

Education, though important, is not enough. Your people need time to practice their skills in real-life situations under supervision. This is the mentoring phase, which many chief officers find difficult. Too many senior managers use the excuse that “it is quicker to just do it myself.” That may be true once, but the next time and the time after that it puts a great drain on your time if you haven’t taught someone else how to do the required tasks. Chief officers need to assign the jobs, and then get out of the way. Be available to assist if needed, but don’t step in to do it. The chief’s job is to observe, guide, correct and assist as needed. It is quite possible that your expectations won’t be met the first time, but with guidance, they will be met in the future and you will have a new resource at your fingertips. It is also possible that your expectations will be exceeded.

The requirement to pay a competitive salary to management employees is probably the most challenging aspect to developing a succession program; unfortunately, in many cases, it is also out of your hands. Management salaries have become a major issue for fire departments in areas that have removed indexing of out-of-scope salaries – salaries of those not included in the bargaining unit. This has closed the gap between the salaries of the highest-level unionized employees and the low-end salaries of the non-unionized employees to the point at which it makes little economic sense for a member to leave the floor to take a management position that may be less than secure in terms of one’s career. The situation can only be solved by the fire chief negotiating a salary agreement with the municipality that will survive his or her retirement.

Part of a good successful succession program is mandatory vacation time for you – the chief. I have known numerous senior managers who have retired with five to six months of vacation saved up. I know of many situations in which municipalities have had to force their senior managers to take their vacations or have paid them out. Paying out vacation does no good for anybody. Vacation has two benefits in a succession plan; first, it provides you with the opportunity to get away from the pressures of the job – to relax and unwind. This time away is very important for any manager. The other benefit of vacations is just as important; your senior employees are forced to take control of the whole operation and make the decisions you would normally make, without your input or oversight. Your staff must take responsibility for these decisions, and you will likely be surprised by how consistent their decisions are with yours.

To ensure that your staff members make these decisions, turn off your phone, leave it in your hotel room, and, if you want to follow your emails so you know what is happening, read them, but do not reply to them; you are on vacation. Give your staff the opportunity to lead, choose, decide and take control of the department. Let it be theirs while you are away.

Finally, get your proteges involved in the associations that represent the fire service provincially, nationally and internationally. At association events, these potential successors will make contacts with whom they can share and gain knowledge, learn how issues are solved in other departments and find a shoulder to cry on when things go bad. Remember, you are not alone; numerous people have gone through the same situations in other municipalities and they are more than willing to help you. Over the years I have learned more from peers than from any book or classroom.

It is a wonderful feeling when you set people free and watch what they can accomplish. That is the true purpose of a succession program – letting people learn and improve on what you have done in the past.

One of the greatest pleasures in life is watching young people grow into the leaders of the future. The purpose of a succession program is to support that growth.

Denis Pilon is the chief of the Swift Current Fire Department in Saskatchewan and is the chair of the CAFC’s resolutions, bylaws and constitution committee. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @DMPilon

Written by Terry Gervais and Bonnie Boomhower
It was a phone call that all chiefs dread: a firefighter had collapsed while getting on a truck to respond to an emergency call, was being rushed to hospital in serious condition and may not make it.

Twenty-year-old Jessica Boomhower was at the Greater Napanee Emergency Services headquarters station on June 25 waiting to complete a classification exam with other probationary firefighters when a call came in for a car fire. While getting on the truck to respond, Jessica felt ill and had to be helped off the truck. The crew began to provide medical attention to Jessica but quickly realized that something was seriously wrong. Capt. Matt Westhead, who is a paramedic, recognized signs of a brain injury and updated the paramedics who arrived to take Jessica to Lennox & Addington Memorial Hospital, where she was assessed and immediately transferred to the Kingston General Hospital. Jessica was unconscious and not breathing on her own.

As I drove to the hospital many thoughts ran through my head. How this could happen to such a young person? How is the crew doing? Is the fire-service chaplain available? One other thing weighed heavily on my mind: how would our department handle another tragedy? On one weekend in 2010, two highway crashes killed the wife of one firefighter and seriously injured several other firefighters and their family members; we had also endured the sudden death of the two-year-old son of one of our firefighters. Several months earlier, longtime Fire Chief George Hanmore had died of cancer.   

When I got to the hospital I was met by Assistant Chief John Koeing who updated me about the status of our firefighter: Jessica had a bleed in her brain. I then met with Jessica’s parents, Bonnie and Dale, who are both firefighters with our department; they were surrounded by other family members, friends and firefighters. This situation was very serious and I will never forget the words from the surgeon who had performed emergency surgery to relieve pressure on Jessica’s brain: “She will be lucky to live through the night.” These words tore at the hearts of everyone in the room, including me; after all, Jessica is one of my firefighters, a member of my second family, a family member for whom I was supposed to be responsible, and protect.  

Over the next couple of weeks, Jessica remained unconscious and in critical condition, but during this time the remarkable started to happen: the Boomhower family and the fire-department family started receiving calls, cards, tweets and Facebook messages wishing Jessica and her family well. People in the community of Greater Napanee held fundraisers to help the family, and fire departments sent donations – from British Columbia to Newfoundland and as far away as Texas.

I have always believed in the fire-department family. For us in Greater Napanee, as we once again faced potential tragedy, it was heartwarming to witness members of the fire service come together to help out one of their own, even one they didn’t know. Words will never be enough to thank members of the Canadian fire service for what they have done for Jessica, her family and the Greater Napanee Emergency Services.  

* * *

I have been a firefighter for a little more than seven years, as has Jessica’s father, Dale. And Jessica has been a firefighter for a little more than a year. I was not surprised by the support our department has given us, or by the support from our neighboring departments: we have always felt part of one big extended family. But the outpouring of love and support from firefighters across Canada and globally has been incredible.

Jessica has received messages from across the United States and the United Kingdom, and from Australia and Spain. She has received a few very special gifts from Chicago Fire Ladder 13 Company and a care package from Texas, among others.

We couldn’t be more proud that we are from Greater Napanee; we couldn’t be more proud to serve a community than we are to serve Greater Napanee. But also we couldn’t be more proud to say we are members of the fire-service family.

This experience has taught us to believe in miracles, and the miracle stared with the medical treatment Jessica received from the firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and surgeons. They saved her life.

We are happy to report that Jessica is doing very well – she aced her classification exam, and although she has a long road ahead of her, this young, strong woman can succeed with the continued support of her family and the fire-department family.

Terry Gervais is the general manager/fire chief for the Greater Napanee Emergency Services. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Volunteer firefighter Bonnie Boomhower is Jessica’s mom.

Written by Jay Shaw
In December 2006, a defining event happened to my family that made me better understand the culture, brotherhood and camaraderie that exists in the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service. In some ways, it solidified my belief about why I chose this vocation in the first place.
Written by Steve Kraft
The scenario posed in May asked how you, as an officer, would manage the message in your department when there’s discussion about an issue that’s making the news; for example, two hatters or a controversy over stickers that express support for military troops on fire-service vehicles. These issues may not even affect your department directly, but as we all know, we all have strong opinions.
Written by Vern Elliott
Recent and past events in the world have left the public with little faith and trust in the establishment. We inherently and frequently trust institutions with our livelihood and well-being, yet there are often mistakes made that negatively affect public perception of these institutions.
Written by Vern Elliott
Firefighter lore is teeming with stories of animals and pets. From the firehall dog to a variety of animal rescues, we are often identified with animals. I have had the pleasure of meeting a great number of firefighter dogs and have realized that these animals are an important element of our lives. We can learn some valuable lessons from our canine counterparts.
Written by Vern Elliott
In today’s fire halls there is an increased volume of knowledge for firefighters, officers and chiefs to retain. With technology shifting the way that we prepare for, respond to and manage emergency incidents, coupled with the amount of information we’re expected to absorb, it is next to impossible for a fire service member to know everything (although I have met a few who were willing to state that they do!).
Written by Captains TOM SILVER and JOHN GIGGEY
The Halifax story a decade after amalgamation; a successful uniting of 38 departments both paid and volunteer in Nova Scotia’s Halifax County into a single fire service.

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