By Rob Evans
Jan. 15, 2013, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - Good friend and fellow Fire Fighting in Canada writer Vince MacKenzie from Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., wrote in his Volunteer Vision column in December about relationships between volunteer chiefs and elected officials. As I sat down with my council last Wednesday I could not help but think about Vince’s words, and how our department fits into co-operative relationships.
By Rob Evans
Jan. 15, 2013, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Good friend and fellow Fire Fighting in Canada writer Vince MacKenzie from Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., wrote in his Volunteer Vision column in December
about relationships between volunteer chiefs and elected officials. As I
sat down with my council last Wednesday I could not help but think
about Vince’s words, and how our department fits into co-operative
I have written extensively about our new trucks, SCBA and equipment. We have worked hard as a team to gain the respect of our town councils over the years to get to this point and I am very proud of our accomplishments.
Vince says, “The fire chief should be able to exercise control over the department, the same as any career department head in the municipality.” I am lucky that our council treats me very much as a manager of our department. Actually, since becoming deputy chief, I made it my responsibility to bring the fire department to the council instead of councillors coming to us only when something is wrong. Before I became deputy chief, there was little interaction with council, except at budget time when we were asking for money. I initiated meetings with the town’s personnel committee, which evolved into regular attendance at council and the relationship we have today. The joke now is that when I go to council in uniform with PowerPoint in hand, then I am asking for money. What is great about the joking? Just that; we have built a relationship through which we can joke with one another.
That being said, the joking can be set aside and our department is now respected to the point at which councilors do not go running to the “professionals”, which is what used to happen. And, my involvement with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and writing for Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter, has helped me gain the respect of council.
|Capt/EMT Gary Robertson presents a
thank you plaque to the owner of the
Bragg Creek Subway for help they
gave firefighters during a fire at a local
service station in January 2012. The
Subway and local bar, Loco Lou's,
provided rehab areas, food and drink
to firefighters during the operations.
Photo by Rob Evans.
What has been the most important factor in gaining the respect of council? I have been accountable for what we have done as a department, even though our department has a great officer core and we, as a group, do a very effective job of managing Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES). In the end though, the decisions are mine and I have to be accountable to our elected officials. As I’m writing this I am also watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and a quote from Dumbledore rings true in gaining the respect from people as well. The headmaster of Hogwarts says, “It’s not our abilities that make us who we are, it’s our choices.” And a big choice should be choosing to be you. Don’t pretend. People can see through it, elected officials and your friends and neighbours to whom you serve.
For us, part of being true to who we are, is expressing the gratitude we feel for those who have supported us. We think to ourselves, “Wow, that business really goes out of its way to help our firefighters,” but we don’t always shout it from the rooftops as we should. But showing gratitude makes people and organizations happier to continue their support. So RMES makes a public spectacle of saying thanks. We present plaques, take out ads in the local papers and invite the media to help us celebrate the generosity of those who help us. This campaign of gratitude has resulted in community support at an all time high, which makes it easier for council to justify giving us the funding we need to function. We have also found that this positive image lends us credibility in the community when we need to use our authority to make unpopular decisions, such as evacuating a mall or closing a road. Focusing on building better relationships with the people we serve has made our jobs easier, and leaves our stakeholders actually happy about the money and resources they spend on us. Isn’t that the definition of a win-win situation?
Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency
Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern
Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In
1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and
making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II
certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041
level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in
Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration
and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College
of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a
firefighter/EMT with RMES, and three children.