Leadership
Written by Laura Aiken and Jayson Koblun
Fire chiefs in Ontario and B.C. gathered in May and June for annual association trade show and conferences — and of course much networking and socializing to boot. Fire Fighting in Canada touched down in Toronto and Victoria to round-up some of the key highlights and product buzz.
Written by Denis Pilon
I was sitting at my desk on a Friday morning in January eight years ago, just turning on my computer and getting ready for the day’s work, when the fire chief walked into his office, in civilian clothes, threw his keys on his desk and said “I’m retired”.
Written by Chris Harrow
We have all felt the overwhelming crush of email abundance that comes each and every day. We have all felt the sense of defeat when trying to organize and answer all of the correspondence coming through your inbox. Emails have become a daily grind for many leaders, but at present time, a necessity of the workday.
Written by Kirk Hughes
As a fire department develops, the natural evolution is to include a uniform component of dress regulations to further enhance firefighter professionalism, improve public perception and possibly aid in recruitment.
Written by Lyle Quan
Perhaps the title of this column should be “A Time for Change.” I say this because after more than 10 years of writing for Fire Fighting in Canada, I feel it’s time for me to put my pen away. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I feel I don’t have more leadership lessons to share, it’s just time to focus on other challenges and more travel in the RV.
Written by Chris Harrow
I wanted to start off by saying how honoured I am to have the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on leadership in the fire service. For my first stab at a leadership column, I thought I might jump right into the blue shirt versus white shirt for fire chiefs debate.
Written by Matt Pegg
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is when I have the chance to speak with people just starting out in a fire service career. There is an amazing and infectious energy that fills a room when new fire service professionals are present. The excitement is palpable.
Written by Bill Boyes
If you are reading this article and are interested in fire-service leadership, regardless of your rank, age, or department’s size, you know our profession has changed significantly in a short time period. The common fire service mantra of “200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress” does not apply to fire-service leadership.

I often contemplate what might have concerned my grandfather as a fire chief many decades ago. Surely there were operational and financial challenges. To say it was easier would be both ignorant and unfair, but undoubtedly today’s concerns are different and more complex. I have no doubt that every chief officer in today’s fire service would probably trade an email-free day for the pressures from yesteryear.

Expectations placed on the senior leadership are continuously evolving, and chief officers are forced to adapt to rapid and unrelenting change. Expectations, job demands and time pressures come from numerous internal and external stakeholders. Meeting the needs of our stakeholders is a major and growing responsibility.

Many aspiring chief officers may not consider an easily over looked responsibility that is a critical expectation that fire chiefs must meet. Can you guess what that expectation is?

Hint: the name at the top of your pay stub, your employer . . . that being your municipality. Chief officers are called on to contribute to the strategic and operational success of the municipality.

Incumbent fire chiefs will quickly tell you that the senior leadership of a corporation has to deliver a wide range of high quality public services within many financial constraints. This can be a significant and time-consuming part of a fire chief’s job. These responsibilities can come in the form of committee contributions, senior leadership meetings, project leadership, or any other administrative task focused on municipal service delivery. Shifting societal and employee expectations of workplace leadership, financial pressures, public-sector accountability, an expanding scope of services provided and increasing non-emergency responsibilities have contributed to the new challenges we face. From a legislative perspective, in Ontario under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, a fire chief is the person who is ultimately responsible to a municipal council that appointed him or her to deliver fire protection services. Given this ultimate responsibility, most fire chiefs will report to the chief administrative officer (CAO), deputy CAO or commissioner/ general manager. Regardless of the reporting relationship, the role of the fire chief has a significant public and corporate profile, which comes with high expectations.

Many municipal managers are required to strategically lead large public-sector departments with multi-million dollar budgets, which comes with its own legal responsibilities and human-resource challenges, all conducted in politically sensitive environments. For the chief officers of a fire department, effectively contributing within the municipal management team can be an arduous task. Many of our peers at the management level of a corporation possess a solid combination of education and increasing administrative responsibilities. In addition, our corporate leadership peers typically have greater exposure to the corporate world than many of our fire service members would have. The reasons for this can range from a close geographic proximity to city hall or administrative experience, including writing reports, attending meetings, and liaising with other city departments.

Typically, many of our chief officers only get the opportunity to practice these skills after a career of operating in a frontline emergency response line or staff capacity. This reinforces the need for increasing administrative exposure throughout career progression. Aspiring officers should receive a tailored formal education and have an understanding of what the role of fire chief entails.

Perhaps these factors contribute to the perception of fire chief as a terminal position, limited by an invisible glass ceiling that inhibits many from assuming chief or deputy chief officer roles. Perhaps the role of CAO is not of interest to many of our fire service colleagues. Perhaps there are other contributing factors that are dependent on the individuals and municipality involved. Whatever the case may be, it is important that fire service leadership development focuses on external departmental issues, relationships and challenges. Essentially, it requires you to wear two hats: the fire helmet and corporate hat. With this increased understanding of fire service administration, we can ultimately serve the community and our department better.


Bill Boyes is the fire chief for Brampton Fire & Emergency Services in Ontario. He is working on a PhD at the University of Toronto, which supplements his master’s degree in public policy and administration and bachelor’s degree in public management. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Written by Gord Schreiner
Great firefighters spend very little time lying around doing nothing. Great firefighters are constantly trying to improve themselves. They keep up with the latest trends. They are constantly maintaining and enhancing their training. The one thing good firefighters all have in common is their desire to continue to improve themselves.
Written by Don Jolley
Volunteer and composite fire services respond to a very high percentage of fire alarms that are unwarranted or false. Responding to these incidents can negatively impact a department by creating increased call volume, higher enforcement costs, increased cost of paid on-call wages, inconvenience to volunteer firefighters, among other issues.
Written by Dave Balding
I was recently asked by some of my firefighters why I chose to ride in the rear seat of our rescue truck during a motor vehicle incident (MVI) response in early September rather than taking my usual command vehicle. Sure, I could have jumped in the front seat, but I left that role open to an up-and-coming member. Once on-scene, the incident was straightforward and command clearly had the situation under control, so why wouldn’t I make myself available on the tools?
Written by Matt Pegg
Whether we like it or not, one of the main responsibilities of every leader, especially for chief officers, is to deal with problems. In fact, I spend the majority of each day dealing with problems, issues and challenges as they arise.
Written by Len Garis
Fire-service professionals must often make difficult decisions on the job. But how many of these decisions can stand up to scrutiny?
Written by Bill Boyes
In past columns, the discussion has focused the importance of career development and the changing role of a chief officer. When considering such a broad topic, it is important to recognize the diversity of Canada’s fire services in the context of developing continuing education and leadership programs that are affordable and accessible.
Written by Dave Balding
Are some of us of doing a disservice to one of our greatest resources – young firefighters? I’m fortunate to connect with many leaders at conferences, while presenting or attending training. Despite the uniqueness of every department, common themes often arise.
Written by Matt Pegg
I am a firm believer that leadership is a combination of skills, competencies and abilities that can be learned, shared, developed and honed. Over the course of my career, I have witnessed many outstanding examples of exceptional leadership. I am blessed to have a few amazing mentors who are forever helping me become a better leader.
Written by Don Jolley
In recent years, there has been a renewed focus toward strengthening the relationship between local government and the fire service in British Columbia. In order to do this, a program was created called “Working together: effective fire service administration for fire chiefs and local government chief administrative officers.”
Written by Dave Balding
When I became a fire chief, now-retired Fire Chief Bob Claus from Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island (a friend and colleague of mine), advised me to become engaged with chiefs associations and other organizations in the fire service.
Written by Bill Boyes
As chief officers retire, a void in fire leadership is expected to materialize within the next few years. However, this is entirely avoidable if we prepare the next generation to take over our positions.
Written by Denis Pilon
"I would like to retire, but there is no one to take my place.” Have you heard this comment? It is likely you have said something similar or have overheard it in your department. Whether you work in a volunteer or a career department, statements like this are common.
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