Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Leaderboard: May 2015

Social media is rampant with adages and short, insightful sayings about leadership and management. Put the magazine down or minimize the Fire Fighting in Canada website and go to LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to browse through them for a few minutes. I like most of the adages; they have the tendency to stick in my mind as I reflect upon what the day brings to me – especially as I interact with colleagues and the public. A recent one that stuck with me is: Managers light a fire under people – leaders light a fire within them. I am not sure who coined this phrase, but for me it summarises what managers and leaders should be doing.

April 20, 2015
By Doug Tennant


Many of these popular and meaningful social media sayings deal with refreshing or building effective relationships with others in your workplace. These insights are powerful, rich in imagery and enable you to visualise ways to refocus your interactions with others. It is one thing to light a fire in someone else, but what about you, the leader? How are you lighting and stoking the fire within yourself? What is your internal driver? What is in your personal strategic plan?

Do you have a personal vision and mission statement? Is it something short and simple but powerful that you can retrieve to keep you focused?

Many organizations have vision and mission statements and post them on their websites or business cards. Some are too long and convoluted to remember and recount, let alone apply to your work life. Others are simply brilliant. My favourite is from Peterborough Fire Services in Ontario: To be there – whatever the need, prompt and professional. As a firefighter, officer or fire chief, the statement speaks to what the department is all about.

So what is your internal vision or mission statement? I know, you may think it is all warm and fuzzy silliness, and a crock, but think about it: what enables you to know when and how to adjust your sails when the wind changes direction? Society encourages us to be busy and do something – anything – continually. With all that we are exposed to and given our personal, work and other family pressures, it is no wonder that mediocrity and the whatever syndrome has become so seemingly prevalent in the fire hall. If, as Kevin Foster points out in his March Straight Talk column, having “a vision can lead to a positive future for the fire service,” think of what having a personal vision can do for your career – whether you are the greenest recruit or the most seasoned veteran officer in your department.


My personal vision and mission statements are “To do the best I can at whatever I’m working on,” and “Be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving.” They are pretty simple and seemingly straightforward, but for me they are not easy. Try being kind, tender-hearted and forgiving for just a day, an afternoon or even an hour at work – both inwardly and outwardly. The effort of fulfilling these personal statements reminds me of the duck Tom DeSorcy describes in his March Volunteer Vision column – outwardly calm and docile, but madly paddling internally.

So, are personal vision and mission statements really a good thing or even necessary? Most of us in the fire service have career paths laid out. Whether you are striving to be a captain in your volunteer department or the fire chief in Canada’s smallest full-time fire service, it is wise to chart a course for yourself. The plan should include personal strategic priorities to accomplish. The result is a strong set of values to exemplify in the community and around the fire hall.

As Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan point out in their March Leadership Forum column, it is crucial to “understand that leadership is more than leading within the station walls.” You may have to lead yourself as well from time to time to ensure you are able to pursue leadership excellence. I suggest you take stock of your personal strategic plan, be it centred on family, career or personal growth. Ponder how to connect the dots in order to successfully follow your career path.

Engage your personal mentor to help you reflect on how change, external and internal, can be an opportunity for you. Evaluate your actions and behaviours in and around the fire hall and the community. As Gord Schreiner points out in his March Stopbad column, make yourself vulnerable and ask your confidants about the ethics of your leadership behaviour.

The alternative to creating personal vision and mission statements is the status quo and going with the flow – however, I have heard that only dead fish go with the flow.

Remember – you lead as you are.

Doug Tennant is the fire chief in Deep River, Ont. Contact Doug at

*Carousel photo from Flickr by Kévin Couette

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