Written by Denis Pilon
Most of us who wear stripes understand that mentoring is a critical component in the development of firefighters and newly promoted officers.
Written by Dave Balding
As a chief officer, I expect my firefighters to maintain a level of fitness and competence to enable them to safely and effectively perform their duties. In return, I must keep myself fit in order to be at my best for the people I guide, inspire and serve. Are you a fit leader?
Written by Denis Pilon
May 2016 - Anyone who works in a unionized fire department has, at some time, been confronted with the one word that sets up a roadblock to any succession program: seniority.
Written by Lyle Quan
During the interview process to find my replacement as fire chief for the City of Waterloo, Ont., I was struck by a comment made by one of the candidates. In response to a question about leading outside of the box, the candidate said, “Before you can think outside of the box, you need to know what’s inside of the box.”
Written by Lyle Quan
After retiring as fire chief for the City of Waterloo, Ont., I developed Fire Officer III and IV programs for the Ontario Fire College, and have the pleasure of teaching the programs at the college and to Lakeland Emergency Training Centre, in Vermilion, Alta. I am also finalizing plans to teach in Nova Scotia.
Written by Gord Schreiner
Look at any great and successful organization and you will find behind it a great team. The fire service has always been good at developing solid teams (brotherhood) but we shouldn’t take this for granted.
Written by Dave Balding
The demands on volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters just seem to keep ratcheting upwards. The results are better-trained, highly competent firefighters who are able to respond to myriad types of emergencies. If there is a downside to this change, it’s the increased demand on members’ time and the consequent effect on recruitment and retention.
Written by Bill Boyes
In my past few columns I have focused on career development and the importance of post-secondary education for aspiring and current senior officers.
Written by Doug Tennant
A leader knows that it’s the people – the firefighters in all branches of a department – who make a fire service creative, adaptable and responsive in saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing property damage. Three lines of defence – public education, prevention and emergency response – against the ravages of fire are the raison d’etre for any fire service.
Written by Bill Boyes
Defining the steps necessary to get a chief’s position is more of an art than an exact science and depends greatly on your background, fire-service tenure and ultimate career goals.
Written by Lyle Quan
While instructing a fire officer program at the Ontario Fire College, I noticed a shift occurring in the field of leadership.
Written by Doug Tennant
There is a struggle these days at the top level of fire-service management. The struggle is internal; chiefs must decide whether to concentrate on public safety or support the political/fiscal war on spending.

I hear rumblings that the cost of emergency services is increasing too fast. We need to cut costs; taxpayers can not afford to continue to pay high prices for fire protection.

I also hear the concerns from the public when a toddler dies in a house fire. Such was the case in January 2014 when a two-year-old died in a house fire in Langley, B.C., Shortly after a fire in May of 2015, Fire Chief Rick Ennis, chair of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition, asked on social media, “Why are we not giving the [recent] fire death of a two year old in a new home the attention it deserves?”

I personally and professionally know the pressures and stresses of addressing the affordability of establishing and maintaining a fire service. I also know the importance of public fire safety and the stress of dealing with a fire death – especially one that could have been prevented. Why is it then that we in the fire service toggle so easily between concerns about public safety and those about affordability? Why do we not give potentially preventable fire deaths and injuries the attention they deserve, yet quickly turn to fiscal concerns, attempting to cut costs by reducing services to the public that funds us in the first place to protect them? Why is there a leadership gap or disconnect between affordability and public safety? Are we fire-service/public-safety leaders or are we fire-service treasurers?

I’m all for keeping taxation as low as possible; however, I also believe that you get only what you pay for. I must temper that sentiment with the fact that my first priority as a fire-service leader is public safety. How can we give potentially preventable fire deaths the attention they deserve and attempt to cut costs? Can we bridge the gap?

Fire Chief Cynthia Ross Tustin of the Township of Essa Fire Department in suburban Ontario has the taken up the challenge on this issue. She is leading the charge on the installation of home fire sprinklers and is adamant that having more homes outfitted with sprinklers is the way forward. She is steadfast in stating that residential sprinklers would not only help prevent fire deaths and injuries, but would also reduce firefighter cancer rates and health risks to homeowners.

Saving lives, preventing injuries and lowering property loss through the installation of residential sprinklers may be the way to bridge the gap between enhancing public safety and reducing costs to municipalities. Just as a combination of education and legislation on the topics of seatbelts, smoking and drinking and driving has saved lives, the same could be true for home fire sprinklers.

We need to implement massive home-sprinkler campaigns, coupled with strong municipal/provincial legislation mandating the installation of sprinklers in newly constructed homes.

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs also supports mandated sprinklers. According to the OAFC, 220 jurisdictions across North America already have requirements in place for residential sprinkler systems.

Firefighters, officers and especially chief officers need to tackle the concerns about affordability of fire services by emphasising public safety through the installation of home fire sprinklers. We can’t keep trying to cut costs by reducing service levels through successive budget cuts. We can’t keep going to the store with $10 expecting to buy $20 worth of groceries, and then expect to eat healthy.

Not only will home fire sprinklers save lives and prevent injuries to homeowners and firefighters, they will save money for home owners through lower insurance premiums when combined with public fire safety education and working smoke alarms. This will address affordability.

As fire service leaders we have a mandate to be the leaders on public fire and life safety all the while being mindful of fiscal concerns. We need to eliminate the leadership gap between affordability and public safety through a pan-Canadian home sprinkler campaign.

We need to get off our duffs, take encouragement from Chief Ross Tustin and be local champions in our communities on this issue. We need to foster stronger partnerships with our colleagues in the sprinkler, construction and insurance industries to save lives, prevent injuries, reduce property loss and be affordable at the same time. Just as most of us have embraced smart phones, eco/green technology in our fire trucks, and the use of tablets in our pumpers, it is time to install fire sprinklers in our homes; we can’t afford not to.

You lead as you are.

Doug Tennant is the fire chief in Deep River, Ont. Contact Doug at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Written by Dave Balding
A few months ago I accepted the position of fire chief in the Town of Golden, B.C. As I learn and grow into my new role, I am reminded of important facets of leading a diverse group of people who make up a fire department.

Over time I’m becoming more familiar with the community, the department and some prominent local issues; but getting to know the members of the department – those who make the organization tick – is of paramount importance. Of course I’m interested in the hard information such as strengths, weaknesses, qualifications and the like, but I also want to know members’ aspirations, their histories, what troubles them and much more. I want to know them like, well, family.

One of our members lost his father to a medical emergency a few weeks after I started. I had not met the father, but I, along with a number of our members, attended the service. Why? So we could support our colleague when he likely needed it most.

As I work with our officers, I gradually learn their leadership styles, their insights about the department, its way of operating, its challenges and its strengths. My relationships with the officers are much more than operational; they’re personal too. I enjoy hearing anecdotes about previous calls and meeting the partners who support our members; these are vital ways to become part of the fire family.

A rapport is also developed with my supervisor as we get to know each other’s work styles and priorities. Elected officials have significant impacts on many aspects of a fire department, from budget considerations to capital projects, levels of service and much more. Those relationships are works in progress and may need to start anew after an election season. A cardinal rule with CAOs and councils is that they don’t like surprises; approach them with solutions rather than problems.

Building relationships also extends beyond the municipality to leaders of other emergency organizations, industry representatives and other governmental and regulatory folks. It will take some time to acquaint myself with everyone, but it will be time well-invested.

Getting to know the community here is not only a treat, it’s essential too. There is a ton to learn about historical and current issues as they relate to the fire department. I need to gauge whether we’re delivering the right services at the appropriate levels. Are there risks that are not being addressed? Is there public appetite for other changes in our organization? The fire department should, in my view, be part of the social fabric of the community, which means it is critical for the fire chief to be immersed in the community outside of the provision of emergency services.

We are a small enough community and fire department that I may occasionally have to operate our trucks or other equipment. I must be familiar with the department’s engines, quint, rescue truck and all other equipment. Because it is a small department, I would not expect my members to perform any task that I couldn’t.

Another bonus of being in a smaller centre is engaging with citizens while promoting fire prevention; that might mean presenting to a class in one of our schools or conducting fire- and life-safety inspections in our businesses and other public buildings. Relationships are built in the community, too, as we educate building owners as to why compliance is so vital in order to reduce harm to occupants and minimize property loss.

It was bittersweet leaving the community and department in which I had become an integral member, but it is an absolute thrill to create new connections and take on the challenge of leading and managing a new department. I will spend a lot of time observing and learning over the next little while.

I will also be an agent of change in some respects. There will be procedures, equipment and philosophies that remain, and others that will change. Change for change’s sake is unwise; so is holding on to current practices simply because we’ve always done it that way.

A move to a new department brings into focus many of the strengths and qualities that are needed for day-to-day and long-term leadership of a fire department. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the importance of leadership. Effective leaders, whether a day or a decade into their positions, continually build and strengthen relationships, are fully engaged in their organizations and their communities and are constantly striving to improve themselves.

Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. Contact Dave at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB

Written by Bill Boyes
When I was approached to write this column, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss my journey to a deputy-chief position, the challenges I faced in attaining the position and those I have experienced in my new role. I hope my columns provide some insight into how a chief officer experiences the transition from a front-line responder to an administrative role.
Written by Doug Tennant
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.
Written by Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan
After five years of writing our joint leadership column, it’s time for us to pass the torch to present and upcoming leaders. We have considered ourselves extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to write together and to pass along our philosophies on leadership in the hopes of encouraging and motivating firefighters (at all levels) across Canada.
Written by Tom Bremner
You’re the chief. How did you get to your position?

In days gone by, if you stayed in the service long enough, you became chief. Or perhaps you won a popularity contest.

To be a chief today requires you to be all things to all people – a public relations pro; a human resources manager; a budgeting and finance expert; a fund raiser; a social worker; a labour negotiations expert; a mentor; a leader; a succession planner. You report to a body, whether municipal/city or provincial, that may offer you little to no support. And don’t forget the taxpayer – who is sure he knows that all a firefighter does is drive a truck and aim a hose.

You may be misunderstood and are certainly criticized. How do we, and our departments, get a handle on this? As chief, you are the leader of your department and it is incumbent on you to ensure that you provide the atmosphere and venue in which your men and women can have the complete and complex training required to protect themselves and their communities.

Start with yourself. Sit down with a paper and pencil; draw a line down the centre of the paper and head one column “strong” and the other “less strong.” Be brutally honest. Think about how you might organize your time more effectively. In some of the areas where you are strong, can you mentor one of your team members to learn about and take on some tasks? Strong leaders are not afraid to share knowledge and responsibility.

For decades, chiefs were groomed to be fixers and in-house managers of everything. Are you one of these leaders? If so, are you exhausted and running out of internal options? Why not look for other solutions within your own community or nearby? Budget managing is always the No. 1 leadership challenge and has worn down many good leaders. In many cases, locating and chatting with outside (and inside) resources brings the light at the end of the tunnel. Trying to handle everything, every day, in house, with limited or no expertise is dangerous.

Do you dread writing reports? Think about drafting what you want to convey in point form, and then let someone edit your thoughts into a coherent report. Maybe you can find these people outside your department. You still own the budget or the report, but accepting expert help is not weakness; it is the mark of a strong leader.

This same process can be applied to your department. In areas in which your department and its members are strong, acknowledgement and praise go a long way to maintaining those strengths. Where you are less strong, involve trusted senior members in the initial steps of planning how to make things better. Do not be afraid to involve your whole department. Sometimes a really good idea will come from a new, fresh set of eyes. Let someone else talk about why you do certain things the way you do. What a great teaching and leadership opportunity. Consider having a professional lead a brainstorming session with only two rules: all ideas are welcome, and there is no evaluation or criticism allowed. It takes courage to do this, but it can pay real dividends. Members are more likely to buy into a new plan if they feel involved in the process.

Two cautions: first, don’t try to do everything at once. Have a three-year plan. Then ask yourself, “To accomplish this plan, what do I need to do in one year? In six months? In three months? This month?” Secondly, you are still the boss. Ask for and listen to input from members, accept help in drafting your plans, but in the end the buck stops at your desk.

I have left the most important point to the last. Look to your fellow chiefs for support. Attend all of the conventions and courses that you can. Get to know colleagues. There are some very talented, supportive chiefs in Canada who have done the legwork, and they are always willing to chat. Chiefs often hold back on asking for help because of a fear of appearing weak. Being open and vulnerable in the right setting and with trusted colleagues is a good skill to have.

Hence the column title “How much can our service handle?” This is not only about the level of service we provide members and communities, but also about us as humans beings and leaders. No community or service should let its leaders drown in an overwhelming workload. If you are caught up in a stream of endless challenges without support, it might be time to make some calls to trusted colleagues.

Be wise enough to understand and value yourself and your service before you take on a tough challenge. Education, communication and having trusted mentors will assist you tremendously if you choose to use them. And please feel free to connect with me.

Tom Bremner is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island, B.C. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Written by Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan
We are going to identify four basic principles that will help current and future leaders grow and achieve excellence.

The principle of change surmises that change is a part of life and achieving excellence as a leader means that you become comfortable with change and accept the fact that without change there can be no progress. This is an important principle because, for the most part, people are not comfortable with change, but when leadership excellence is being pursued (and it should be), leaders must venture into the unknown with faith, and believe they will figure out things along the way and succeed.

The principle of belief may seem to have religious undertones, but that is not what we mean here. The principle of belief is based on the belief in oneself; leaders must believe in their abilities and skills. Leaders must believe they can make a positive difference in their departments. Without belief, an individual is simply going through the motions, and when tough times come (and we guarantee they will) the leadership foundation will already be weak and the leader will not survive the turbulent times.

Leaders will face challenges and there may be times when they make poor decisions. Poor decisions can impact leadership ability; if a leader believes that he or she failed by making a poor decision, a powerful message of self-failure tends to rattle around in that leader’s brain. The principle of belief simply redirects a leader’s thinking to focus on abilities and skills and to learn from a mistake and move on. Belief is a key factor in whether a leader succeeds, so we highly recommend that everyone understand the simplicity of this principle.

The principle of growth means that the path to leadership success is directly connected to commitment and growth. Today’s fire service requires firefighters who are not afraid to learn about the profession and the expectations placed upon fire-service leaders.

We all know that complacency can lead to tragic events; the same applies to leadership complacency. Let’s be perfectly clear – complacency does not occur overnight, it happens over time because of poor habits.

Growth comes from reading magazine articles, blogs and at least one leadership book a month. Leaders need to expand their minds so they can excel in their craft. The principle of growth must be understood so leaders can be successful in today’s dynamic fire service.

The principle of exceeding expectations is based on the belief that life favours those who do just that – exceed expectations. Give more than you expect to receive and you shall be the benefactor. Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

Never forget that actions have consequences. Strive to always exceed expectations because the more good work you do for others and your community, the more success you will achieve.

Author John Maxwell said, “If you want to be a big-picture thinker, you will have to go against the flow of the world. Society wants to keep people in boxes. Most people are married mentally to the status quo. They want what was, not what can be. They seek safety and simple answers. To think big-picture, you need to give yourself permission to go a different way, to break new ground, to find new worlds to conquer. And when your world does get bigger, you need to celebrate. Never forget there is more out there in the world than what you’ve experienced.”

Leaders must give themselves permission to exceed expectations and understand that leadership is more than leading within the station walls.

We have recommended in past columns the importance of having a mentor. Identify the characteristics, skills and vision of the mentor you seek and go find the right person. Mentorrship is an opportunity to learn from those you respect and want to model yourself after. It’s also a future opportunity for you to take the skills you’ve learned and become a mentor for others. There is no greater satisfaction than to be able to share (your knowledge and experience) with others to watch them grow.

The principles identified here have been borne out of our experiences as fire-service leaders. As you grow as leaders, you will find that your experiences will bring forth principles that will help you in your journey. More importantly, these principles must be shared so others can learn and grow.

Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes and Lyle at @LyleQuan

Written by Denis Pilon
Talk of succession planning in the fire service often elicits a lot of blank stares. There is considerable confusion about succession planning – what is it, how to do it, and even where to get information about it. Succession planning is often misunderstood by senior managers and entry-level employees. Fire-service tradition dictated that if you hung around long enough you would eventually be the chief. Not only does this no longer apply, but it was a bad practice and is almost entirely responsible for fire being perceived as the outsider in municipal senior-management circles.

In most municipal departments, the senior-management team is made up of people with degrees in administration, engineering, finance, recreation, municipal planning or some other discipline, and many of these are at the master’s level or higher. In the fire service, the senior leaders are often the most experienced firefighters; although this is changing, more needs to be done to prepare our future leaders.

So what is succession planning and how is it done? Let’s first address what succession planning is not: it is not supplementing the pension of senior employees during their final years because they have put in years of good service; it is not a reward for long service or good service; it is not about hand-picking your successor. Some of this confusion can be attri-
buted to the term succession planning, which often leaves chiefs thinking they should plan who will succeed them when they leave. I prefer the term succession program as it is more holistic and applies to all members of the organization, not just a select few.

I remember conducting an interview with a new hire a number of years ago and when asked what his goal in the fire service was he replied, “To sit in your chair.” I hired him. I am often asked why I would hire someone who wants my job. My answer is that I know I won’t be here forever, and someone needs to take over when I leave. A succession program needs to start at the initial interview with entry-level candidates. The sooner you identify those who aspire to higher positions, the sooner you can start to support them.

Succession programs are about creating opportunities for members of the organization to advance to senior positions. These opportunities must be applied fairly and consistently throughout the organization. This is sometimes very hard to do as we all bring certain biases to the table and we like or dislike certain members of the department based on past or current events; this cannot be allowed to cloud the program or it will not work. Everyone must be given the opportunity to progress; the selection process will allow the cream to rise to the top.

Most fire departments have good succession programs in place for the lower ranks. There are courses and standards set for promotion to the next position, everyone is given the opportunity to complete the training, and the selection process allows the higher-quality candidates to move into the next positions. This works great up to the rank of captain, and even to the battalion-chief (or platoon-chief) level, but the system seems to break down beyond that.

What’s the solution? First, it’s important to identify what the job of fire chief really includes and determine the qualifications needed to do the job properly. Then, identify the programs that will meet the needs of the position and offer these programs to the senior members of the department – this may range from Fire Officer IV to a master’s degree, depending on the size of the department. The courses required to attain the necessary level of management or leadership skills must be made available during individuals’ careers so that when the time comes to replace the chief, there are a number of trained and qualified candidates available to compete for the position.

A succession program won’t have a formal list of steps you must take to reach the top, but more of a direction pointing to the top. Regularly read the ads for chief-officer positions to see what requirements municipalities seek in their new chiefs. Get a handle on the disciplines in which municipalities want their chief officers to have degrees. Start offering courses that lead to these degrees – start at the certificate level and move to diplomas, then degrees. Make these courses available to everyone – those who don’t make chief will have more to offer the department and will be a major asset over time.

Education, though important, is not enough. Your people need time to practice their skills in real-life situations under supervision. This is the mentoring phase, which many chief officers find difficult. Too many senior managers use the excuse that “it is quicker to just do it myself.” That may be true once, but the next time and the time after that it puts a great drain on your time if you haven’t taught someone else how to do the required tasks. Chief officers need to assign the jobs, and then get out of the way. Be available to assist if needed, but don’t step in to do it. The chief’s job is to observe, guide, correct and assist as needed. It is quite possible that your expectations won’t be met the first time, but with guidance, they will be met in the future and you will have a new resource at your fingertips. It is also possible that your expectations will be exceeded.

The requirement to pay a competitive salary to management employees is probably the most challenging aspect to developing a succession program; unfortunately, in many cases, it is also out of your hands. Management salaries have become a major issue for fire departments in areas that have removed indexing of out-of-scope salaries – salaries of those not included in the bargaining unit. This has closed the gap between the salaries of the highest-level unionized employees and the low-end salaries of the non-unionized employees to the point at which it makes little economic sense for a member to leave the floor to take a management position that may be less than secure in terms of one’s career. The situation can only be solved by the fire chief negotiating a salary agreement with the municipality that will survive his or her retirement.

Part of a good successful succession program is mandatory vacation time for you – the chief. I have known numerous senior managers who have retired with five to six months of vacation saved up. I know of many situations in which municipalities have had to force their senior managers to take their vacations or have paid them out. Paying out vacation does no good for anybody. Vacation has two benefits in a succession plan; first, it provides you with the opportunity to get away from the pressures of the job – to relax and unwind. This time away is very important for any manager. The other benefit of vacations is just as important; your senior employees are forced to take control of the whole operation and make the decisions you would normally make, without your input or oversight. Your staff must take responsibility for these decisions, and you will likely be surprised by how consistent their decisions are with yours.

To ensure that your staff members make these decisions, turn off your phone, leave it in your hotel room, and, if you want to follow your emails so you know what is happening, read them, but do not reply to them; you are on vacation. Give your staff the opportunity to lead, choose, decide and take control of the department. Let it be theirs while you are away.

Finally, get your proteges involved in the associations that represent the fire service provincially, nationally and internationally. At association events, these potential successors will make contacts with whom they can share and gain knowledge, learn how issues are solved in other departments and find a shoulder to cry on when things go bad. Remember, you are not alone; numerous people have gone through the same situations in other municipalities and they are more than willing to help you. Over the years I have learned more from peers than from any book or classroom.

It is a wonderful feeling when you set people free and watch what they can accomplish. That is the true purpose of a succession program – letting people learn and improve on what you have done in the past.

One of the greatest pleasures in life is watching young people grow into the leaders of the future. The purpose of a succession program is to support that growth.

Denis Pilon is the chief of the Swift Current Fire Department in Saskatchewan and is the chair of the CAFC’s resolutions, bylaws and constitution committee. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @DMPilon

Written by Doug Tennant
I did it twice the other day and I liked it. It was easy, somewhat fun and I did it in private, but I did not follow through; I hit the delete button and went back to work. I couldn’t follow through because one of my father’s adages – he served in the fire service for 40 years – screamed in my head while I composed the tweet: if you can’t say anything positive about someone then don’t say anything at all. So I hit the delete button. There’s a similar saying when it comes to snail mail; write the nasty letter, then put it in your desk drawer for a day and see if you still want to send it the next morning.

Social media is a powerful, instant and non-retrievable tool in our work and personal spheres. It is relatively easy and usually gratifying to tweet and post our thoughts, pictures and comments to the world. We know who sees our messages when they like them or retweet them, but perhaps just as importantly, we don’t know who is monitoring and seeing our messages. Indeed, we all have to realize that our on-duty and off-duty posts are subject to review, and can be tracked, searched and viewed by anyone, anywhere.

Social media is not a new forum. Facebook posts were being liked more than 10 years ago. Tweets were being retweeted eight years ago. There are now firefighters in the service who have never mailed a stamped envelope with a letter inside. In this digital age, it is easy to say or upload something we probably would not say or show to our grandmothers or our children. I’m not the ethics police or a behavioural consultant, but it seems to me that there should be more awareness of the proper use of social media among those in the fire hall. That awareness starts at the top and goes all the way down to the newest recruit.

The foremost aspect of your social media awareness starts with knowing whether your local government or fire service has a policy on the use of social media. Ensure you understand what the policy means to you and how it applies to you as a firefighter. Does it apply to you off duty? Are you sure? How does your provincial freedom-of-information law apply to what you post as an on-duty member of the fire department? You may think your conversation is private, however, it may become a part of the public record and your comments may actually be the property of the city/town. Be careful not to use social media to post information about an emergency to which you are responding and/or investigating.

Social media is a powerful tool for the fire service to use to disseminate timely messages to the public about fire safety, or important information during an emergency. Fire-service leaders can also use social media as a tool to get their messages out to duty crews. (This reminds me of the monthly VHS department-update videos some chiefs used to send out just a few short years ago, but I digress.)

Alternatively, social media can be harmful to a firefighter or a fire chief when it’s used inappropriately either on or off duty. Joseph Cohen-Lyons wrote in a November 2011 article published by the Public Sector Digest, that an inappropriate use of social media by employees is when the message “impacts the legitimate interests of their employer and affects their ability to perform their functions as public sector employees.”

Yes, you have freedom of expression, but if you think that what you say on social media is private and no one else’s business, you may want to think again. In November, an arbitrator upheld the dismissal of a Toronto firefighter because his off-duty Twitter comments were determined to be a serious misconduct. In this case, the firefighter was identifiable as a member of the Toronto fire service.

Using social media can be a fun and easy way to get an official fire-service message or personal thought out to the rest of the world, but with such power comes much responsibility related to its use.

According to the Toronto labour law firm Hicks Morley (www.hicksmorley.com), firefighters (full time or volunteer), need to be aware that:
  • it is the responsibility of firefighters of all ranks who use social media to understand the risks of usage, regardless of whether they think the comments are private;
  • that firefighters, as civil servants, may be held to a higher standard than other workers; and
  • that the employer may/should have a social media policy that governs firefighters’ social-media behaviour.

Share this information with your team, and remember, around the fire hall, at the fire department fish fry or while on social media – you lead as you are.

Doug Tennant is the fire chief in Deep River, Ont. Contact Doug at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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