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Leadership Forum: Time for change

October 4, 2021
By Chris Harrow

Pandemic: I know all of us are getting sick and tired of that word and all that comes with it. For better or worse, this word has changed the way we do things and will force us to change more as we move along. True leaders will step up and recognize the need to change and adapt to the new world we are living in.

The time spent in lockdown or living through restrictions has given many the opportunity to re-evaluate their lifestyle. I have spent a great deal of time looking at my work-life balance and how much time I have spent away from my family. The pause in what was everyday life has enabled people to look at the balance between work and family, “me” time and time dedicated to others. Many people realized that taking time out to breathe and do activities for yourself is actually not that bad. 

There is also a part of the population who worked their tails off during the pandemic because of various reasons and they now need to take time to themselves to recover both physically and mentally.  Either way, both of these scenarios will change the way we need to do business in the fire service.

The fire service, specifically the non-full time fire service, are going to have to evaluate how they do business.  Volunteer and part-time firefighter’s expectations are going to change.  Their ability to dedicate a large amount of time might be difficult. Coming out of the pandemic, people’s priorities have changed and the ripple effect through the fire service could be huge.

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Leaders in the fire service will need to step back and reassess how things are done.  No longer can you expect firefighters to dedicate two or three nights a week to the department or spend a lot of their weekend time at the fire halls. Expectations from senior fire service members may need to be adjusted or schedules changed to better suit the expectations of firefighters.

An example of this is training. Many fire departments train once a week, 52 weeks a year. The pandemic obviously changed this and the fire service realized that training using other means had to become an option. Many changed to online training using various courses and learning management systems. Others started looking at their training nights and realized that by combining drills and topics, you could accomplish much more on one night allowing you to decrease the number of sessions. Many of us would train on pumper operations at a practice session. This involved many people standing around the pump panel reviewing the operations of the truck. The key was a number of people were standing around watching and not participating. By combining topics, you can have one group doing one thing and other groups tackling another skill. Eventually a session can accomplish so much more and you are not wasting anyone’s time.

Leaders in the fire service should always be keeping this in mind: how well am I using the volunteer firefighter’s time? Whether it is at a training session, a meeting, a course, how well are you using the time they are dedicating to you? Time is a valuable commodity, one even more valuable coming out of the pandemic.  The fire service needs to adapt to ensure we are able to keep our members and recruit new ones.  It will be very interesting to see in future recruitment endeavours by various departments the feedback they receive from potential recruits.  My humble prediction is there will be a lot more questions about how much of a time commitment is it and how will my time be used.

Take a look at the number and frequency of meetings you currently have in your department.  Is there a way to streamline them or maybe condense them to make the meeting more efficient so you are only asking the firefighter to give up one night instead of two?  Take a look at your methods of communications and is there a way of improving on them or bringing different technology in to improve up on it?  Can you get the same amount accomplished in less time?  A lot of questions to ask your team, but you will be surprised at their answers.

Every fire service leader should be looking at their processes and talking with their teams about how they can do things better.  All procedures should be on the table for discussion and use the pandemic as an excuse to reset some things around the station. People have been going through change now for over a year and a half, so it should be nothing new to them. Take the opportunity to talk to your people and involve them in meaningful change. It won’t be easy, as we all know, the fire service resists change. However, I am afraid anyone who is not willing to adapt to the new world we are in will get left behind. 


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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