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Leadership Forum: Demonstrating leadership in the community

We usually talk about leadership in terms of how we perform on the job. It’s time we had a serious discussion about focusing on off-the-job community involvement. As I have said before, all of us involved in emergency management and emergency services – firefighters, police, paramedics and emergency management professionals – regardless of our official position, are leaders.

February 28, 2008
By E. David Hodgins

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We usually talk about leadership in terms of how we perform on the job. It’s time we had a serious discussion about focusing on off-the-job community involvement. As I have said before, all of us involved in emergency management and emergency services – firefighters, police, paramedics and emergency management professionals – regardless of our official position, are leaders. We are fortunate to hold a very special place in the minds and hearts of those we seek to serve. The public takes pride in the men and women who are willing to protect them in their hour of need. We cannot afford to discard this respect and trust when we are off duty. The public has an expectation of us and their belief in us is not restricted to our job-related activities. 

Off-duty leadership means being actively involved in your community. You get involved to help make your community the best place on Earth to live, work and play. You become a positive role model when you demonstrate that involvement that creates a positive and constructive community and society. You aggressively seek opportunities to give back to your community. It has been my experience that caring men and women in emergency management and emergency services have a real passion for serving their communities, especially the young.

I know many Canadian police and fire departments that have established formal cadet programs, which have proven beneficial in helping young people find the “right road.” Prevention programs are key. I find it interesting that federal elected officials are talking about getting tough on crime. This is a lofty, and most would agree, necessary goal. However, all the existing jails are well beyond capacity to the point of the justice system being compared to the “catch-and-release” sport-fishing program. So, what’s the point spending billions more on reactive crime-control measures?

What about us being role models to help prevent crime? Where’s the leadership and the money to assist social workers, counsellors and others to get ahead of the problem? Sure, it’s easy to point fingers but I see a parallel: folks in the emergency services. Just look at the huge amount we spend on emergency response compared to the pittance we spend on prevention programs. Typically five per cent or less of a department’s budget is devoted to public education and prevention programs. We need to demonstrate the leadership to reverse this trend. 

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Just as there is a dire need to do more in the area of education and prevention, there is an opportunity to make a difference off the job. The opportunity exists in more than 100 communities in Canada. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada is one example. The dedicated and professional efforts of the many full-time and volunteer staff the club has are making a huge difference. Because of their good work, the club is making a positive difference in the lives of thousands of children and youth. They need our help. The national vision of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada is: “Lead the way to a bright future for Canada’s children and youth.”

The goal of their national vision is to: “Strengthen the Boys and Girls Clubs network to make a positive difference for more young people and their communities across Canada.” More than 100 clubs play an important role in helping communities meet the needs of children and families. They lead the way by working in partnership with others to build healthier communities. There are many children and youth across Canada who would benefit from the expansion of Boys and Girls Clubs’ programs and the development of new club locations.  These clubs have been making a significant difference for young people and their families for over 100 years. They need our direct help on the front lines and indirectly by helping to shape public policies that will benefit children, families and ultimately our communities. If your community does not have a club, start one. If your community does have a club, be there to help them. For additional information about the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada go to www.bgccan.com .

Sir Winston Churchill got it right when he said “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” So what are you doing in your community to make your life?  Always remember, you serve at the pleasure of your community.  Never take your position of prominence or your future for granted. Some believe they are indispensable because the community looks up to them and the media sings their praises. Be careful. Yes, you can make a vital
difference. But it’s not all about you. It’s what you’re doing for your community that counts. When you lead by example you encourage others to follow.  That is what off-the-job leadership is all about.

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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