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Leading Edge: Program strengthens relationships between chiefs and CAO

In recent years, there has been a renewed focus toward strengthening the relationship between local government and the fire service in British Columbia. In order to do this, a program was created called “Working together: effective fire service administration for fire chiefs and local government chief administrative officers.”

July 17, 2017 
By Don Jolley

The impetus for this program began in 2009 after the BC Fire Services Liaison Group (FSLG) published a report called Transforming the Fire/Rescue Service in British Columbia. The FSLG was composed of all the major fire service organizations in British Columbia alongside other allied organizations and agencies such as the BC Wildfire Service, the Union of BC Municipalities, the NFPA, Emergency Management BC, and the Local Government Management Association. The FSLG final report made 14 recommendations to address needs (some critical) of the fire service in the province Some of those recommendations called for action by local governments, others for action from the province.

The FSLG report was received by former fire commissioner Rebecca Denlinger. Denlinger issued a response report from the Office of the Fire Commissioner (OFC) in 2012 entitled Improving Fire Services: The Office of The Fire Commissioners Response to the FSLG Report.  

Denlinger adopted several recommendations in the FSLG report to develop a program that focuses on smaller fire services and municipal jurisdictions. The OFC acknowledged the recommendations for increased training, recruitment and retention assistance, and administrative and management support for volunteer departments. The OFC also supported, the establishment of local government responsibility for fire and rescue services within their jurisdiction.

Denlinger then approached the Local Government Management Association asking for their partnership to develop and lead delivery of a unique training program providing the necessary support for the recommended by the liaison group.


The Local Government Management Association team met with the Fire Chiefs Association of BC executive and built upon its existing chief officer program. Esquimalt Chief Chris Jancowski leads the program; his knowledge of challenges faced by rural chiefs, and useful solutions, was instrumental in helping to move the cause forward.

Fire Commissioner Gord Anderson continued Denlinger’s
commitment. The three organizations – the OFC, the fire chiefs association and the local government group –  came together to develop an interactive weekend-long training session for CAOs and fire chiefs. The initial pilot program was delivered in Prince George in 2014 and four more programs have been delivered since.  

Attendance comes at a nominal cost of $250 plus GST per participant, subsidized by grant funding secured by the OFC. Commissioner Anderson has attended every session – feedback from local-government attendees has indicated that Anderson’s attendance has been highly beneficial.

Each community is encouraged to send the chief and CAO together. In the early sessions, fire chiefs outnumbered administrators at almost two to one, but at the most recent session in April attendance was almost 50/50. The program itself focuses on common and significant issues of concern for both fire chiefs and CAOs. The purpose is to facilitate dialogue and co-operation among participants. While the target audience is smaller communities and fire services, jurisdictions of all sizes can and do benefit from the program.

The principle areas of focus for the program are:

  • Roles and responsibilities of the fire chief and CAO with respect to local fire services.
  • Opportunities for CAOs to learn about fire-service administration, management and operations;
  • Opportinities for fire chiefs to learn about government management and administration;
  • Developing fire-service delivery models and service levels;
  • Building a support network of fire-service leaders and local government CAOs;
  • Overview of key legislative requirements related to local fire-service delivery;
  • Promoting communication between fire chiefs and CAOs

The program is an intense couple of days with a lot of material to absorb, but each participant will return home with new information to apply to their comminities.

Don Jolley is the fire chief for the City of Pitt Meadows, and the first vice-president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia. Contact him at

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