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Leadership Forum: CFFF a fine example of leadership at its best


December 13, 2007
By E. David Hodgins

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I was invited by the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation to be the keynote speaker for its fourth annual memorial service on Sept. 9 in Ottawa. The memorial was held on Parliament Hill, directly in front of the Centre Block and it was a resounding success.

edavidhodginsI was invited by the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation to be the keynote speaker for its fourth annual memorial service on Sept. 9 in Ottawa. The memorial was held on Parliament Hill, directly in front of the Centre Block and it was a resounding success. I use the word “success” here with apprehension. It was successful in that the fallen firefighters were remembered with great dignity and families and friends, as well as the several hundred firefighters attending from across Canada, were warmly welcomed and treated hospitably in our nation’s capital. Yet the very fact that there is a need for an annual memorial event represents an intolerable failure. 

I firmly believe that the life safety and well-being of our firefighters is directly related to responsible leadership. One of the most effective ways to reduce fire deaths and injuries to civilians and firefighters is through capable and competent leadership. I have chosen to describe the memorial and the work of the foundation to provide an example of the effects of strong leadership and to impress upon readers that this is the type of leadership needed to reduce fire fatalities. 

In four short years, the CFFF, under the leadership of the talented Will Brooks, (now immediate past president), the board of directors and members of the foundation have accomplished what some thought was impossible. These dedicated men and women have taken the CFFF from vision to reality while establishing financial stability. This demonstrates committed and competent leadership at its best. The objectives of the CFFF are most commendable:

  • To receive and maintain a fund or funds for the establishment and maintenance of the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial and other related purposes described herein;
  • To plan, direct, and manage the Canadian Fallen Firefighters memorial service and related activities in co-ordination with the federal government, fire service organizations and survivors of fallen firefighters;
  • To provide financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters for transportation to and lodging during the annual memorial service;
  • To assist federal, provincial and local efforts to recognize firefighters who die in the line of duty;
  • To provide scholarships and other financial assistance for educational purposes and job training for the spouses and children of fallen firefighters;
  • To promote national, provincial and local initiatives to increase public fire and life-safety awareness;
  • To do any such further acts or things, or execute such deeds, assurances or undertakings as will effectually assist in the furtherance of the objectives of the corporation, and in particular, subject to applicable law.

In the spirit of capable leadership, the activities and passion of the CFFF reaches beyond event planning. In March 2004, when the U.S. National Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosted the first firefighter life-safety summit in Tampa, Fla., the CFFF was there. The summit produced 16 major initiatives to give fire-service managers and supervisors a blueprint for change. The initiatives centred on what must be done to reduce fatalities, including a change in culture, introducing personal and organizational accountability, risk-management practices, training, fitness, standards and the use of modern equipment and technology. As a result of its involvement at the grassroots level, the CFFF is now a major sponsor of the “Everyone goes home” firefighter life-safety initiative. To learn more about this program go to www.everyonegoeshome.com and for additional information about the CFFF go to www.cfff.ca.

The CFFF is working diligently to secure funding for a firefighter memorial monument to be erected near the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. With the support of Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and representatives from Heritage Canada, the federal government has provided property for the monument and is considering providing financial support. I encourage you to contact the CFFF and donate to this very worthwhile cause. 

As I refer to leadership in this forum, think about it in the context of influencing systems and initiatives beyond what’s needed in your fire station. Think about leadership in terms of appropriately and aggressively influencing building and fire codes, health and safety regulations, operational guidelines and technology as well as product standards. Most importantly, think about leadership and the absolute need to influence attitudes and behaviours.

As I prepared for a recent speaking engagement – a presentation to delegates attending a national health and safety professionals’ conference – I reviewed data associated with firefighter fatalities in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada. As I distilled the copious amount of information, it became abundantly clear that attitudes and behaviours are the major contributing factors related to firefighter fatalities. In my opinion, attitudes and behaviours towards standards and practices appear to be superior in the  U.K. and, therefore, there are fewer firefighter deaths.

In keeping with the theme of preventing fire and related deaths (yet veering off topic just a bit), I was in Ottawa again on Oct. 4 as president of Fire Prevention Canada for the national launch of Fire Prevention Week. My presentation focused on the need for public and first-responder life-safety education. This event was held at the Canadian War Museum – what an amazing facility it is. Certainly, it was a most appropriate location for a fire-services event, considering several hundred firefighters from Canada were in England during the Second World War. Canadian firefighters were not there to fight the Nazis in direct combat but rather to fight the conflagrations in the city of London resulting from Hitler’s bombing raids. This fact is not widely remembered today; however, it is something that firefighters need to know about. For more information about the history of firefighters from Canada and their involvement in the Second World War check the website firehouse651.com/posten/index.html.  

David Hodgins is the managing director, Alberta Emergency Management Agency. He is a former assistant deputy minister and fire commissioner for British Columbia. A 30-year veteran of the fire service, he is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s public administration program and a certified emergency and disaster manager. E-mail: David.Hodgins@gov.ab.ca


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