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Leadership Forum: Challenge accepted

June 13, 2024 
By Chris Harrow

Working in any profession for a long duration can become stale and monotonous. The mundane day-to-day operations and routine can make you become bored and more robotic with your job. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the individual to find new challenges or create new ways to become more efficient to get that drive back into their working life.

The fire service is steeped in tradition that at times is hard to overcome. It can make the daily operations stale fairly quickly. Traditions are not a bad thing. In fact, we need to respect them and cherish our history. But challenging ourselves to find new, more efficient methods of accomplishing our work can be very rewarding and keep you striving ahead in your career.

While listening to a sports radio station, I heard a fantastic quote: “Tradition is peer pressure from dead people.” It made me stop and think (and kind of chuckle). The quote challenges you to not get stuck in the traditions and yourself to think outside of the box and work with your team to push things forward. 

Recently, our management group has pushed the envelope and began working with a third fire department. The six-person team now oversees the departments while they each maintain their own identity. The group of us have been looking at the culture and landscape of the fire service for quite some time, and think this is a unique way of working together to enable the survival of our volunteer departments. To everyone’s credit, councils and the firefighters are participating in moving our departments forward.


It is extremely important for all fire service leaders to continue seeking further education, networking and research into new methods. The world around us is changing quickly and at times we are slow to advance in the fire service. As leaders, we need to continually challenge ourselves and, just as importantly, all of those around us to seek new ways of doing things. It is not only limited to operations or fire tactics, but management ways, new fire prevention initiatives…these can all be looked at. 

Watching those that you work with be empowered to come up with new ideas and strive to implement them is a fantastic way to build a team and make your job more fun. Your co-workers get the opportunity to grow themselves as well as the organization. Many leadership experts have stated that you should train those around you so they have the ability to take your job. Nothing is more satisfying to me than watching those around you grow and become successful. I enjoy that at times more than any successes I may have.

Challenging those around you to find new methods to accomplish tasks will lead to some failures and some missed opportunities. A true leader will show their skills in these situations and be able to pick up those around you and motivate them to try again. When challenging someone to try something different, you have to be prepared for some setbacks. Work together to identify the gaps or opportunities and then push them forward to try again.

Create an atmosphere that encourages seeking out challenges and pushing the envelope of your career, though it is difficult getting by the nay-sayers, internally and externally. The perseverance it takes to get past this negativity can be a fantastic team building exercise. 

In volunteer/paid-on-call departments, there is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a firefighter or one of your other staff get hired into a full-time department or reach similar career goals with another department. That individual was challenged to push themselves to achieve certain goals they had set and to watch them succeed can be very rewarding as an organization if you allow it to be. Celebrating these achievements can bring an organization together because it shows everyone that you won’t punish those that want to push themselves to become better. Creating an organization that challenges everyone from top to bottom will lead to a higher functioning group. It will drive everyone to work together to achieve their goals. The achievements will also result in new and exciting methods for accomplishing the organization’s goals. Finally, it will keep that spark in those leaders guiding the organization to want to push the group forward to try new things. All of this will make work fun sh and wanting to go to work each day. After the last few years, and all that we have been through, enjoying your job and being excited to adapt and change with a successful group is a challenge I think we can all accept.

Chris Harrow is the director of fire services for the Town of Minto and Township of Wellington North in Ontario. He can be reached at

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