Fire Fighting in Canada

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Leadership Forum: Know your municipality

March 11, 2022
By Chris Harrow

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Like other fire service leaders, my career has taken many different paths. My experiences are not drastically different than others leading their services, but some of the lessons I’ve learned are unique. Having the ability to experience other job areas and understand their responsibilities can be a huge part of a leader’s development. A leader who takes the time to learn the responsibilities of other areas of the municipality can improve their leadership abilities in their own department.  

Are you a leader who has made the effort to know their peers in various areas of the municipality they work in? Fire departments can still have a tendency to operate in their own silos, oblivious to what is occurring in other areas. We push forward not knowing the direction the municipality wants to go in or the strategic pathways they are undertaking. It takes time to understand; time we don’t always have in our day. However, achieving that level of understanding and cooperation can make the advancement of the department you work for much easier in the end.

I was able to spend over a year working as a fire chief and as the CAO for our small municipality. To say the experience taught me a lot is a huge understatement. The ability to understand how other municipal departments work and the mandates they operate under helped make me a better leader for the FD. The ability to work more closely with other departments only benefited us in the end and made the municipality stronger.

The years moving forward are going to be difficult for a variety of reasons. It is looking like budget dollars will be harder to come by in the next few years. The cost of the pandemic and the increasing costs of operations will contribute to departments having to do more with less. Cooperation with all departments will increase in importance as we progress.  Leaders will need to step up and create new methods to continue with efficient operations.

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Municipal leaders have some difficult decisions to make moving forward. A new fire truck over a new road, more staff for fire departments versus more staff to keep the water operating systems operating. Municipalities are struggling to keep up with the demands on infrastructure and growth-related programs within their areas. We, as fire department leaders, are facing difficult decisions moving forward in order to maintain the status quo we are used to. Leaders are thinking outside of the box more than ever to survive in the new landscape.

Cooperating with other fire departments and forming various partnerships to continue to move departments closer together is very important for the future of the fire service. Equally important is creating partnerships with other departments within your own municipality. Many departments sit on development team meetings or emergency measures meetings with other municipal departments. The next step is to take it further and expand conversations to other areas of mutual benefits for each department. Finding common ground you can work on together will greatly help your department in the end.

It is becoming more common that fire service leaders are finding spots at senior management meetings in municipalities, and with that recognition comes many responsibilities.

One of the big responsibilities is acting like part of the team, from the fire chief to the probationary firefighter. All members of the department need to work with other departments in the municipality to show that we are team players.  By having the entire department work on building those relationships with the other departments in the municipality, it will make the fire chief’s job at the senior management table easier. It will also pay off when something is needed at a scene from public works, or the roads crews are needed to assist closing a road. It makes for a better work environment all around.

The opportunities that present themselves by working with the other senior managers are numerous. The time we are entering in municipal finance is probably going to be tougher than the past decade. This will require sharing of resources, creative purchasing and adjusting long term purchasing plans. Leaders are going to have to step up and find new ways of doing business.

We will need to continue raising our level of professionalism and cooperation with allied departments. With increased respect comes greater responsibility. Let’s all work together to keep and exceed the this respect.


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.