Fire Fighting in Canada

Leadership Forum: Leadership lessons and college applications

March 15, 2021 
By Chris Harrow

Recently, I was discussing leadership with my teenage son. He was filling out a questionnaire for his college application that asked what he had done to demonstrate leadership qualities that made him a good candidate for this program. Panic set in: How am I going to help him answer this question when he is a quiet teenager who prefers to hide in the background of social situations?

After a brief pause, and an attempt to hide my panicked facial expression, we began discussing leadership traits. I recalled many different leaders I have encountered throughout my career who lead quietly, but very effectively, for inspiration. Boisterous does not equal  good leadership. Strong leadership comes from making others around you successful. Good leaders enjoys the most success when others around them are achieving their goals.

My son, this quiet young man, has not always been the best player in sports, but he has realized a lot of team success with provincial championships in both baseball and hockey. This got me thinking about how his team success relates to his own leadership traits in a way he can talk about on his application.

In hockey, he is the goaltender and the catcher in baseball. Both positions play key roles on the team and require effective leadership and communication in order for the team to play well together. The catcher in baseball has a vantage point of seeing the entire field. The catcher not only calls the pitches, but also signals plays on the bases and positions of the other players. Many times the catcher is also the calming voice when the team starts to unravel on the field.


The goalie in hockey is similar in seeing the entire ice surface and often directing the team in their defensive end by talking to the defence and letting them know options or players coming at them. The goalie needs to have a good, respected relationship with all of the team and is an important part of any successful team.

An individual who gravitates towards playing these positions in sports has to have some leadership traits. As outlined above, you need to be a leader of some sort to play those positions effectively. 

In considering my quiet and reserved oldest child: How does he gravitate towards these positions being the personality he is? Again, reflecting back to my experience with so many quiet leaders over my career I related to, it showed me how he could be deemed a leader. Successful teams always have that quiet leader on the field or in the dressing room. There is always a person who relishes in watching others be successful and seeing the overall team winning. This is the player who does not need the spotlight but without them the team would not move forward. The player that speaks when necessary and speaks only what is necessary.

My son was not the most talented player on his teams. In fact, we used to tease him that he had a successful game when he managed to foul one pitch off. Looking back though, his steady role as a solid catcher and his ability to take teammates poking fun at him was a huge part of their success.  He is the kid that was always steady and knew how to talk to different personalities whenever the need arose.  Again, a difficult thing to put on an application, but definitely a huge attribute of being a leader.

I relate this to the fire service. Looking at the dynamics of the departments I have been involved in, we have always had that steady person in the background, the quiet leader that knows how to speak to different firefighters, young and old. The person who attends all of the training sessions, all of the social events and is just there whenever needed. The firefighter who does not seek the limelight or encourage drama when change is occurring.  They will speak up when necessary, but most of the time it is in a positive way giving feedback that is appropriate to the situation.

Volunteer fire departments run with these types of leaders. Many times, you don’t realize how much you need a leader like this until they are gone. You just hope that someone was groomed to slide right into that spot. It’s really something to see when incidents get tough or there has been a bad call — firefighters just naturally gravitate to these types of leaders. In times of adversity, it is only natural for people seek out the steady influencer of the group. It makes them feel secure and calms their fears. These qualities are what makes this type of leader in our stations so vital to their operation.

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

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