Fire Fighting in Canada

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Leadership Forum: How leaders emerge

November 18, 2021
By Chris Harrow

The hockey season in Ontario is back after nearly a year and a half off. It is a welcome part of many of our lives and a sign of things returning to a new normal, thankfully, for our kids. They are so grateful to get back to a sport that allows them to hang out with their friends and work together as a team again after so long in isolation.

This year, I volunteered to help coach my son’s team. It’s a great opportunity to be with my son and see him and his teammates grow throughout the year. Some of the best time as parents is the one-on-one time you get with your child in a car driving to a hockey game. It has led to some great conversations over the years, time I would not trade for anything.

A recent conversation him and I had was about naming the captains and assistant captains for the team. He asked first why we hadn’t done it yet (we were two games into the year) and what did he have to do to get one of the letters? It was a great opportunity for us to talk about leadership, what it is and how he can improve his own leadership skills. My son was really interested in a leadership role on the team and what it would mean to him to be seen as a leader amongst his peers.

The first thing we talked about was that a leader does not have to have a letter on his jersey and having a letter does not automatically elevate you to leader status. Leader status is given to those who demonstrate leadership and have earned the respect of all teammates. It is someone who has earned the trust of the team and is a positive influence on everyone even when the team is losing. The team will dictate who their leaders are, not a group of coaches.

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This year is unique to our team. We have a large team of 18 players, which is unusual for a minor hockey team. There are a wide variety of personalities and skill sets. The leaders on our team need to lead the way to making every player feel included. 

My son spoke about some of the things he could do to make lesser skilled players feel included, simple thinks like going out of his way to have a conversation with them and find out what their thoughts are about the team. All great suggestions and definitely a proud Dad moment. We also talked about the extra duties he could do around the team to show the others and the coaching staff he has leadership skills. He picked up on the ideas quickly and went out of his way to find tasks. As a result, other players started doing extra tasks around the team following the lead of my son. Leading by example was happening right before our eyes.

All of this led me to think of how this related to the fire service. We are very big on titles and making sure everyone has titles. Firefighters strive to make certain titles for a variety of reasons.  But sometimes we don’t realize that respect and leadership do not automatically come with a new title or “letter on our jersey”.  We get wrapped up in titles and structure, but don’t realize that leadership is earned and many of our leaders emerge on their own, not through being awarded promotions. I don’t want anyone to think that rank and titles do not have their place in the fire service. There is definitely a time and place for this structure. But we sometimes lose the concept that leadership and respect is not automatic with a title.

I am sure we can all look at our personnel and see where leaders are emerging. They don’t necessarily have titles or extra responsibilities; you can just tell they have the respect of the people they are with and others just naturally will follow them. They are always looking for the extra tasks to do. You notice the others follow their lead, just naturally following and respecting them.  They don’t ask for recognition or a title, they just do it because it is the right thing to do.   

I could go on and on about the parallels between our hockey team and our fire fighting team, such as working together to ensure we are successful. If the team isn’t functioning, there are going to be issues. Natural leaders are a key to any team’s successes. If we identify who they are and quietly foster their development, they will assist greatly in the team moving forward successfully.  

It is a blast seeing my son and others on his team grow up and taking an interest in leadership. It gives me as much pride as fostering our fire fighting team. Two teams, both emerging leaders from its ranks. Who knows, the leaders from our hockey team may someday be future leaders in the fire service. 


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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