Fire Fighting in Canada

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Leadership Forum: Dealing with hate

June 7, 2021
By Chris Harrow

Remember the old adage your parents taught you: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” Most people have heard this saying, but don’t really abide by it. Throw in the fact that we are in a prolonged pandemic event, and a large majority are not holding back on what they say or who it’s directed to. Anyone in a highly influential position dealing with the pandemic knows exactly what I am talking about and has felt the wrath of the words being directed towards them. After a while, it starts to wear on an individual and can drastically affect their mental health.

I was so disappointed recently when I was attending a meeting involving public health officials. Many of them started to share tales of unbelievably nasty voicemails left for them and brutal emails sent. All for just trying to do their job. It really made me wonder, why would anyone ever want to pursue a career in any of those professions in the future with the vitriol of the public always hanging over their head? How are these people handling the awful environment they are working in?

There is no doubt that everyone is getting frustrated and tired of the pandemic and its restrictions. This is causing people to take their frustrations out on those who are looking out for the safety of all Canadians, including some fire service personnel.

As leaders, we need to learn how to deal with the negativity from the people we serve. For the most part, we deal with negative comments frequently around budgets, staffing, salaries…pretty much anything to do with money. However, the pandemic negativity is a whole new level. No one in the fire department or public health was probably prepared to face this level of hate. 

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Fire fighting, for the most part, is a well-loved profession. However, with more senior fire officials taking roles in the vaccine roll-outs and the pandemic in general, we are not immune to backlash from the public. Senior fire service personnel and our allies at public health need to ensure they have good coping mechanisms to help deal with the constant flow of negative comments being received. The group needs to find time to use their coping mechanisms and help themselves, but there are those who are so dedicated to the public they serve to the extent that vacation time and time off are not being used. 

A huge part of leadership is recognizing not only the dedication of your staff, but the “over-dedication.” The ability to force people to take time off and step away to repair their mind is hard to do. However, it is absolutely necessary. It doesn’t matter what your status or profile is within this pandemic, you can’t function at a high level for a such a long time. 

As leaders, we also need to ensure a positive environment is created within our organizations to try and combat the constant negativity.  The number one thing I have found helpful in staying positive during the pandemic is staying off of social media content that you know is going to be hurtful and negative. There is nothing good that will come out of reading much of the negative content that is there. Don’t be drawn into taking a quick look to see what the public is saying, deep down hoping there will be a good word in there. People are getting tired and are drawn to the content on social media that backs their frame of mind where they want all of this to be over.

Staying off of sites created by citizen groups or other influential groups in your community is not a bad thing. If there happens to be a legitimate complaint on the site about your organization, it will get to you eventually through the proper means. Many peers I have talked to have been infuriated with content they read online. When I ask why they even read it, they say it is their job to know what people are saying about their organization. While I agree it is part of a leader’s job to know this, it is also your job to get it from reliable sources. Do not subject yourself to unnecessary stress you can’t control.

Now is the time in this crisis to ensure we are looking out for one another, including all of our partners. Everyone on the front lines needs to bond together and support one another. Sending one kind message to a group you are working with can go a long way because it is something we don’t see much of these days. Go out of your way and show leadership by spreading kindness and positivity. You will be surprised how well it will work. It will not only make the person receiving the message feel good, but it will make you feel okay too.


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


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