Fire Fighting in Canada

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Leadership Forum: Honour. Remember. Support.

November 1, 2022  By Matt Pegg


I sat down to author this article on the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 11, having just participated in the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation Annual Memorial Service in Ottawa.

This year’s memorial service was especially poignant for many, and certainly was for me. This year’s ceremony fell directly on Sept. 11, which marks the 21st anniversary of the World Trade Centre attacks where 343 FDNY firefighters lost their lives fighting to save others.

I remember vividly where I was and what I was doing when the first hijacked airplane struck the north tower of the World Trade Centre. I was a newly promoted deputy fire chief in the town of Georgina, and was driving from Georgina Fire Station 1-6 to Fire Station 1-4 when my good friend Andre Maetzener, who was one of the volunteer firefighters, called me. Andre is a professional airline pilot and was stunned by images of the jetliner flying into the north tower. We spoke about what could possibly have gone wrong to result in such a tragic accident. He and I, alongside the on-duty crew, were watching the news feed on TV from the training room in the fire station when the second plane struck the south tower. I will never forget the deafening quiet that came over that room as all of us realized that this was not an accident.

Three hundred and forty-three of our fire service colleagues lost their lives when the towers fell, saving countless numbers of lives as they fought their way into those towers for rescue and fire control.

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On this Sept. 11, some 21 years later, we gathered to honour and remember each of the fallen Canadian firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty, and to support their families in their time of loss.

If you have never been to the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Ottawa, I hope that you will be able to visit soon. The names of more than 1,750 firefighters are engraved on the walls of our national memorial, each of whom gave their life in the line of duty.

The names of people I miss every day are forever remembered on the walls of the memorial. And while reading their names always brings a smile to my face, there is also a sharp pain that follows, realizing how much I still miss their advice, guidance and friendship.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation a reality. Today, the foundation serves with one overarching mandate: Honour. Remember. Support.

As leaders, we have a duty to honour those who have come before us, and to never allow their sacrifices to be forgotten. Those who have made the supreme sacrifice deserve nothing less than our intentional effort, as leaders, to honour their memory, service and sacrifice. I often remind recruits that each of us who serve today stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and that we share a duty to continue the work they began, all in the name of public safety.

It is also important that, as leaders, we take the time to remember. Admittedly, it can be difficult to think about those who have been taken from us, and to work through the pain of admitting to ourselves how much we miss them. But it is also comforting when we begin to smile thinking about all that they meant to us and how much we appreciated having them in our lives. These memories are very grounding for me, and serve as a constant reminder as to why we do the work that we do. We exist to serve others.

Finally, leaders must also be there to support others when they need it. I am a firm believer that the leader’s place is at the back of the line when things go well, and at the front of the line when times are tough. Granted, just because we are leaders, doesn’t mean that we are able to fix all the problems that arise, nor does it mean that we can protect people from having to go through tough times. But, being in a leadership position gives us the opportunity and responsibility to actually be there to support our teammates if and when they need it.

In creating the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation mandate, its founders have provided leaders with an effective and important roadmap to follow: Honour. Remember. Support.  

May we, as leaders, commit to always meeting that challenge.


Matthew Pegg is the chief with Toronto Fire Services, having previously served in Georgina, Ajax and Brampton, Ont. Contact Matthew at matthew.pegg@toronto.ca and follow him on Twitter at @ChiefPeggTFS. 


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