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January 23, 2014
By Rob Evans

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Jan. 23, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – A couple of weeks ago, my middle offspring, Nick, was talking about the animal he was studying in school when he said that he had corrected the teacher about the name of a moose: he told her they were actually called swamp donkeys.

Jan. 23, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – A couple of weeks ago, my middle offspring, Nick, was talking about the animal he was studying in school when he said that he had corrected the teacher about the name of a moose: he told her they were actually called swamp donkeys.

Now, a couple of years ago when I went to Fire-Rescue Canada in St. John’s to receive my chief fire officer designation, my wife and I decided to make a family trip of it because my mother-in-law’s family was from The Rock. Before the trek, we explained to the kids that there were almost as many moose on the island as there were people and during that conversation I let the swamp-donkey comment slip. Nick was just turning nine and, true to form, he soaked up everything we said like a sponge.

Fast forward to today. While picking up the kids from school, my wife pointed out three of the massive beasts across the highway. Jennifer immediately sent me a text so I could head that way to take pictures of the animals. I chuckled at the thought of Nick’s new name for the moose but I also got to thinking about how we need to be careful about what we say and how we say it, not just around our kids, but around everyone with whom we come into contact in the course of our roles in emergency services.

Frankly, I have been guilty of speaking before thinking just as much as anyone. It is often hard not to get sucked into that vortex but it’s important to remember that the only things we can control are our own actions.

I was recently in Toronto to meet with Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) past executive director Barry Malmsten, current executive director Richard Boyes, and others who make up the group that delivers the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs/OAFC Beyond Hoses and Helmets program. I am proudly the newest member of this group and in just a couple of days, I learned a lot from the others around the table – not the least of which was new material on leadership. A big part of being a leader is recognizing that people are following you. It seems simple but in our smaller departments, which sometimes still have an old boys’ club feel to them, it can be easy for our discussions to spiral downward.

The rose tinting on my glasses has faded a little bit and I know that negativity will creep through at times, but I have challenged myself to be a better person and a better leader by reigning in my bad habits. I challenge you to recognize when you may be going down a negative path and to look inward. What can you do about the situation? How can you improve things next time? And if you were not directly involved in whatever has brought about the negativity, then why are you talking about it at all – unless you are trying to learn from the experience, something for which we should strive.

In their Leadership Forum column in the December issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, Les Karpluk and Lyle Quan wrote, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn from others’ mistakes? However, we often think that we can do it better, until we make that same mistake. . . Never underestimate the value of listening to what others have to share about the bumps and bruises they suffered while climbing the ladder of success.”

Sometimes I think gossip or negativity among officers is that elephant in the room that younger or newer firefighters want to raise but are reluctant to do so. I would caution against speculation and talking without having all the facts. Communication is good; it helps us to grow, learn, mentor and lead properly, but let’s be careful that we, as chief officers, keep the elephants, or the swamp donkeys, safely at bay.

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 captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof


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