Fire Fighting in Canada

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Leadership Forum: Covid concerns and positive solutions

November 2, 2020
By Chris Harrow

It seems like every article written lately starts the same way: “We are living in unprecedented times.” There is no disputing we are and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon. That being said, optimistic leaders are looking at the old way of doing things and seeing this as a great opportunity to think outside-the-box.

There are so many changes occurring in the fire service at this time. Covid protocols are in place and evolving every week. Firefighters are constantly being trained and re-trained on new methods for dealing with the virus. Change is happening and many are being forced to adapt to new ideals, whether they like it or not.

Speaking with many friends and peers in the fire service, I’m hearing leaders who are stepping forward and using this as an opportunity to better their departments. They are coming up with new solutions that are beneficial to their department and community. In this ongoing struggle to deal with the pandemic, it is a refreshingly positive way of looking at making worthwhile changes.

Many departments have revamped their training programs and come up with solutions to keep training moving forward. Our department, like so many others, switched to smaller groups training on more nights instead of one big group on a single night. The positivity that has arose from the new training ideal totally caught me off guard. I asked as many firefighters as I could what their thoughts were and, for the most part, it was all good. Many love the extra hands-on time they are getting. A younger firefighter said she really liked the small group because she was less intimidated to ask questions. That one really hit home.

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The challenge that has been given to the training committee for next year is to come up with new ideas and concepts for training. Some months will contain smaller groups, other months will be larger groups with tasks divided up. They are going to mix in some online training, but not too much to keep the focus hands-on. Many different ideas that would not have come forward any other time, can now.

As chief officers, we already know next year is going to have its budget challenges. We are going to have step up and be leaders who come up with creative solutions to overcome budget shortfalls.

Now, more than ever, fire leaders are going to have to work together to come up with solutions. Surrounding yourself with positive thinking peers can be a tremendous help in coming up with new ideas. It is far less frustrating than dealing with people constantly telling you the concepts won’t work. Take the time upfront to find a good group of peers who are similarly positive in their outlook and make a point to frequently discuss ideas.

Departments may need to look at their neighbours and start discussions on how they can work more closely together to absorb some of the losses that seem to be inevitably coming our way, such as through more automatic aid agreements and more sharing of equipment or people. A great discussion that can take place is looking for how your respective capital budget plans for the future have synergies. Is there a way to realize cost savings by going in together on certain purchases? Many departments already do this, but can your circle be expanded? Is there the possibility of deferring a purchase because you are able to use a piece of equipment together?

The conversations should not be limited to equipment purchases. The ability to share personnel resources are just as important. If there is a neighbouring department who has skill sets you need, why not discuss the possibility of sharing? The fire department has become so much more than emergency response. Maybe they have an expert in public education or finance that you can lean on to help you cover that gap in your department. There is no limit once you start having those conversations and are open and honest in where your needs are at.

It is amazing how invigorated you can feel by surrounding yourself with positive people who are always looking for a change possibility. This is especially true in these isolated times. Make a point to seek out those resources and use them to the best of your ability. We all know things are not getting better any time soon. Turn every challenge into a positive opportunity to change things for the better. It sounds clichéd, but it really works.


Chris Harrow is the director of fire services for the Town of Minto and Township of Wellington North in Ontario. He is a graduate from fire programs at Lakeland College and Dalhousie University and holds a graduate certificate in Advanced Care Paramedics from Conestoga College. He can be reached at c.harrow@mintofiredept.on.ca.