Fire Fighting in Canada

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Networking for better preparedness

Ideas for building relationships with outside agencies to benefit large scale emergencies

July 21, 2023 
By John Liadis

A “battle of the badges” sporting event like a hockey game can be a great way to bring agencies, the public and council together. PHOTO: GORODENKOFF/ADOBE STOCK

Fire departments are usually operating on one of three spectrums. There is the modern FD with industry best practices and operating on a level that sets the standard. Then there is the in-between that’s moving away from practices of olden days and working to migrate its operations into the standards of today’s modern fire service. On the third spectrum we find the departments who struggle to get support from councils and or lack the proper leadership to take the department into the future. Although most of us face certain limitations on how we can modernize our service level and ensure we are doing our due diligence within a leadership position, I have been fortunate to work on all three levels of the spectrum. These experiences have helped me form insights and new perspectives on leveraging relationships with outside agencies to benefit the community, as well as fellow firefighters.

Working with outside agencies is a relationship building opportunity that can create a political strength when it’s viewed from the perception of public and members. Having the ability to incorporate business and fun is key. The facts and data show that being proactive is always better than being reactive, and building those relationships early is key. One of the things that can be done that has no cost associated is to create a fundraising opportunity with an outside agency while including council and the public. Some of the best examples are picking a local charity and doing a battle of the badges type of sporting event such as a hockey game, baseball game, tug of war, family day event or any of the many more options out there. Invite council and build the relationships beyond police and fire create that a positive fun environment. Police, Fire, EMS, conservation officers, wildfire, fish and wildlife, CPOs, public works, and agriculture and forestry are some of the industries, just to name a few, that are good to include while planning an event. The more groups involved, typically the bigger the crowd. Who said a little friendly competition doesn’t bring out the best in people? When council and members of the public attend, it creates an opportunity for relationship building that can help and benefit all.

Once the door has been opened and communications between agencies are on a first name basis, it can make it easier to work on planning tabletop and mock scenario exercises. These are key in emergency preparedness. Hosting a tabletop exercise allows for growth and support for all involved. This can also be done with industrial partners if your department has a large industry presence in such areas as oil and gas, mining, pulp and paper, steel etc. Having an open line of communication between outside agencies not only builds resiliency but also growth, and preparedness levels are elevated. These events can create great learning opportunities and highlight areas where additional support or help is required, therefore opening the door to creating a proposal for council or possible donations from industry partners that can enhance the emergency preparedness program.

During an emergency, if relationships are already built and the preparedness aspect is ready, it creates a near flawless execution during those critical times. Having the ability to deploy an emergency operations centre that can be established effectively allows for ease of organization and communications to support the crews on the incident grounds. When the key players within the organizations can operate within a unified command structure efficiently it will typically minimize the challenges. When you have practiced before an incident, it allows for the ability to understand everyone’s expectations and fix any corrective actions highlighted during a tabletop or mock scenario. The adrenaline, anxiety and stress levels can be very high when you put together a team of high functioning people, especially when they have never worked together before and are in the middle of an emergency. Taking the steps to remove that element of stress will enhance the functionality of the operation. Strong pre-built relationships are fundamental basics that can enhance the effectiveness of any team. Put in the extra work and it will pay dividends on your successful execution of multi-agency emergencies.

No matter what spectrum your department and team are operating in, there’s no excuse for leaders to not try and make an impactful difference within their own organization. The ability to network with outside agencies builds relationships and the benefits for all can be the most rewarding. Spend the time building your agency’s culture in a positive way and remember why we are all here. Be the one that can make a difference within your community and pay it forward to the service — that’s why most of us were put in a leadership role. 

With almost 20 years in emergency services, Chief John Liadis and his team currently lead a progressive composite department in Central Alberta.

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