Fire Fighting in Canada

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Planning strategically

In September 2016, delegates to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) annual general meeting in Newfoundland approved a new strategic plan that sets a new direction and vision for the association.

February 22, 2017 
By John McKearney

“Uniting Canada’s fire-service leaders” and “connecting Canada’s provincial, territorial and allied associations and external stakeholders for the advancement of public and firefighter safety” echoes the commitment from the CAFC board of directors to be the voice of Canada’s fire service through inclusive partnerships and strategic leadership at a national level, including as a trusted advisor to the federal government.

The strategic plan identifies four themes or pillars that guide the board of directors and the associations in business and leadership decisions: governance; leader engagement and development; partner/stakeholder relations; and advocacy.

Through governance, the roles and responsibilities of the board of directors, the national advisory council and the executive director and staff are stated and appropriately executed, the CAFC’s committees are supported and focused on key areas, and there is a succession process in place for the president and board positions. Key policies, processes and procedures are in place to guide effective decision making, planning and implementation of programs.

Through leader engagement and development, the CAFC will execute on a broader vision by connecting stakeholders and working closely with the national advisory council to ensure members are served by and feel connected to both the CAFC and the respective provincial and territorial associations. Membership servicing is defined as those issues that meet the national needs of the membership.


Through partner/stakeholder relationships, the CAFC will continue to be the go-to subject-matter expert for public safety for industry and government on issues of national relevance. Through the national advisory council, the CAFC is a conduit to the fire-service subject-matter experts, and we will facilitate inter-regional communications on fire-service issues.

Through advocacy, the CAFC and national advisory council will speak for the Canadian fire service on matters that promote and improve public and firefighter safety. As a trusted advisor to the federal government, the CAFC will advocate for issues to be on the platforms of Canada’s political parties, and through sustainable research capacity and clear performance measures, the CAFC will develop a long-term advocacy plan.

What will be different with the new strategic plan? The CAFC is better aligned with the provinces through the national advisory council on member services and programs, reducing overlap and duplication. The CAFC will stop trying to be everything for everyone and will focus on addressing strategic national issues such as the national fire incident database, the Answer the Call recruitment and retention program, a national mental-wellness initiative, and the executive chief fire officer program. The role of the national advisory council is clearer and focuses on raising issues of national scope or multiple regions, and on providing advice to the CAFC board.

The CAFC will provide leadership in determining what is needed nationally to unite fire-service leaders in the goal of public safety. Through research, advocacy and partnerships, the CAFC will influence national regulations and standards, and focus on engaging and developing leaders of tomorrow.

The CAFC has begun the search for an executive director. The membership has identified the member-services priorities for 2017, which include implementing the executive chief fire officer designation, which blends experience, education and accomplishments into a recognized designation.

Answer the Call is a fire-service program designed to recruit and train quality individuals who desire to provide leadership and commitment in their communities. The program is easily tailored to fit the culture of community fire services and honours the incredible contributions provided by volunteer and paid on-call fire-service professionals across our country.

The national fire incident database will give confidence in the research and data used to make fire-service decisions. This level of data consistency and robustness will enable and ensure that Canadian fire services are learning and using tested assumptions to support public-safety investment decisions.

The CAFC’s mental-health national strategy initiative will provide much-needed focus on firefighter/first responder well-being, dealing with the impacts of occupational stressors. Through the implementation of a sound national mental-health strategy, fire-service professionals will learn self-care and how to support and address the citizens they serve who may be dealing with mental-health issues. Most important, firefighters will have tools and knowledge to recognize the impacts of occupational stress on themselves and their co-workers.

This strategic plan will position the CAFC’s executive, its board, the national advisory council, and its members to think nationally, inspire regionally and be effective locally.

John McKearney is the fire chief in Vancouver. Contact him at

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