Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Leadership Forum: December 2010

This final instalment of our three-part series on department relationships is a no-holds-barred column, which we hope will challenge fire officers to do the right thing. We know that attitudes make a difference in a fire department, and can either build the department’s strength or destroy its morale and reputations.

November 25, 2010
By Les Karpluk Lyle Quan

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This final instalment of our three-part series on department relationships is a no-holds-barred column, which we hope will challenge fire officers to do the right thing. We know that attitudes make a difference in a fire department, and can either build the department’s strength or destroy its morale and reputations. With more than 60 years of fire service experience between us, and having communicated with fire chiefs across Canada, we have been exposed to countless situations. It is very clear to us that the fire service faces myriad problems.

Being baby boomers, we understand the challenges of working with younger generations and the different expectations of today’s firefighters. Unfortunately, many in the fire service use the generation gap to justify behaviours within the station. Claiming that generation Y firefighters are too young to meet the expectations of their fire-service peers and officers, or that some young firefighters are the products of their generation and therefore can’t be held to reasonable standards, is easy and convenient, but doing so is merely a Band-Aid on a wound that requires surgical intervention. Not dealing with this sense of entitlement that seems to prevail among younger generations will lead to tragic results for employees and for departments. Everyone has something to lose.

Expectations
We all have expectations that change as our careers evolve. This is human nature and is to be expected from every firefighter. The problem arises when the expectations are unrealistic and cause strife in the department. Expectations of employees have changed significantly since we started in the fire service. We’re not going to rant about why firefighters should be happy to have jobs as firefighters and be grateful to be part of a profession that is well respected. We know times have changed since we were hired. Rather, our point is that these kinds of negative behaviours can no longer be accepted in the fire service. It’s time to say enough is enough.

Don’t get us wrong – change is good, and the progression of the fire service over the last 10 years has been welcome. The advances in technology – PPE, PASS devices and thermal imaging cameras – have obviously made our profession safer. This means firefighters today are able to provide better service than their colleagues did 10 years ago, which is great. Unfortunately, a dark cloud came along with this growth in the fire service. We’ll call this dark cloud the entitlement principle, and unfortunately, it exists in our own departments.

The entitlement principle

Our definition of the entitlement principle is an individual or group that possesses a sense of entitlement with impracticable expectations. This means that some, and we emphasize only some, members of our profession expect that they can do or act any way they choose and the department will meet their needs. In a sense, these individuals have twisted concepts of responsibility and live by what we call the Nemo clause.

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Remember the Disney movie Finding Nemo, in which the hungry seagulls constantly chanted mine, mine, mine? They’re kind of like firefighters who witness the strengths and good things in other departments and want to reap those same benefits without working for them. Understanding human nature, it is likely that this misguided sense of entitlement will get others in the department worked up, and in a short time span, many members will be chanting mine, mine, mine. We find that members who believe in the Nemo clause feel as if the department owes them something (or everything).

A true professional understands that everyone must earn their reputation and the entitlements that go along with the job. Many of the concepts that we have discussed in our past articles emphasize things like building trust, supporting the team and placing the safety of the community before individual needs. Young and old, we need to lead by example and know when to say enough is enough.

Ask yourself why you chose this profession. Hopefully your reasons include the challenging aspects of the job, the drive to do good for your community and the desire to make a difference in the lives of those you serve.
Fire fighting is one of the most respected and highly sought after professions in the world. We consider ourselves fortunate to be part of a small but talented group that makes up the firefighting brother/sisterhood. As a profession, we have excelled at being part of our communities, but it is the community of the fire station that seems to be feeling the pressure of this entitlement belief, which has somehow muddied the waters.

If you want to destroy the profession from the inside out, then just sit back, put your feet up and accept the behaviours of those adhering to the Nemo clause. By the time you realize that your department is in a pressure cooker, it may be too late. This misguided sense of entitlement can kill even the best departments in the country. What are the fire-service leaders of today going to do about it?


Les Karpluk is the fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the fire chief of the Waterloo Fire Department in Ontario. Both are graduates of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program.


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