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Leadership Forum: November 2013

Although Les and I have known each other for only about 10 years, we have the same passion and drive to make things better; this became clear during our university studies and joint speaking engagements, and is evident today in our leadership columns.

November 12, 2013 
By Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan

Although Les and I have known each other for only about 10 years, we have the same passion and drive to make things better; this became clear during our university studies and joint speaking engagements, and is evident today in our leadership columns. Our goal has been and will always be to share freely of our experiences and understanding of what leadership is and should be in our profession.

The words in these columns flow naturally for us; we seem to be hardwired to each other’s ways of thinking, and neither of us can turn our backs when we know we need to do the right thing – even if it means enduring the wrath and anger of the few naysayers among us. If these naysayers become vocal, we ask why? Have we missed the mark; have we presented an idea about change that is pushes them too far out of their comfort zones?

Recently, I shared a story with Les about a father and daughter I met at a conference. At this conference, I spoke about building highly efficient teams. During a break, I went out to look at some of the displays when I saw a father with his little girl. The girl was four or five years old and was wearing a firefighter’s costume – a plastic firefighter helmet, rubber boots and turnout coat – and held a little stuffed bear in her hand. This bear was pretty beat up but the girl had a strong grip on it and wasn’t about to let it go anytime soon.

I introduced myself and asked the girl if she wanted to be a firefighter. She immediately responded, “Yes, I want to be a fire girl; they saved my house.” I was at a loss for words and asked her father if this was true. He said yes, and told me the story.


The family had a small fire in the kitchen; everyone got out and the fire department was called. Thanks to the quick response and efficient knockdown of the fire, damage was minimal. But as the family stood outside, the little girl – Chrissy – started crying and saying, “He’s still in there.” The incident commander heard Chrissy and wanted to know who was in the home. She said, “Stanley is in there.” The father quickly told the officer that Stanley is Chrissy’s stuffed bear and her best friend. Since the fire was out and the crews were in the overhaul stage, the officer got two firefighters to go in and find the bear.

The firefighters – one man and one woman – came out and gave Stanley to Chrissy. At that second, Chrissy decided she wanted to be a fire girl.

Les thought we needed to share this story because it highlights the reason most of us became firefighters – to help others – and it demonstrates how simple it can be to do the right thing and make someone’s bad day a bit better.

There is no magic potion when it comes to being a good leader. We see true leaders at all ranks in our departments. The essence of leadership is based on some simple truisms:

  • Doing the right thing is always the right thing.
  • When you help others, the return is self-satisfaction and personal growth. You should look for nothing else in return.
  • Leadership does not equate to leading a group into battle; it’s about creating such a high level of support that when you go into battle, the team is there to support you.
  • Leadership is about sharing your dreams, hopes and, yes, even your doubts. To be human is sometimes about failure, and it is how you and your team bounce back that will strengthen you and better prepare you for the next challenge.
  • Leadership is about knowing who and what you are, and what you stand for.

Les and I have talked endlessly over the phone, via Skype and, whenever possible, in person about our vision of the fire service; we have wondered who will step up to be there as leaders. The good news is that we see a wealth of talent and desire out there, and this pleases us to no end. If we were scouts, we would both be drooling to pick from the myriad talented players in our profession right now. It’s encouraging and exciting, but we do have some simple advice for this upcoming talent.

To excel in the game of leadership, you must be willing to test yourself regularly. You must decide beforehand that you are willing to pay the price in your leadership quest – and there will be a price.

Keep the faith, don’t back down from the fight, and do the right thing just as the firefighters did for little Chrissy. As a leader, ask yourself when you leave the room if is everyone clapping because you are leaving, or because of what you did while you were there? Take the road less travelled and, every so often, look behind you to see if there is someone following in support. If there is, then you are becoming the leader we keep talking about and know that it is well worth the effort.


Les Karpluk is the fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan.

Lyle Quan is the fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Both are
graduates of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency
Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Service Leadership and
Administration program. Contact Les at and follow
him on twitter at @GenesisLes. Contact Lyle at and
follow him on twitter at @LyleQuan.

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