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
and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire
Stopbad: September 2015
Find strength in working together
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