Fire Fighting in Canada

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StopBad: Building a great team

April 18, 2022
By Gord Schreiner

Look at any great organization and you will find a great team. While a good organization may have a great leader, it is a team of leaders that make the organization great. Solid teamwork (everyday) is essential for organizational success and survival. The fire service has always been great at developing solid teams, but don’t take this for granted. It requires a lot of hard work and constant effort to keep the team on track and moving in the right direction. Of course, any team will have stronger and weaker performers. Team leaders need to understand the awesome power of their team and figure out how to best use the individual skills within it while accomplishing goals. Team leaders must know how to lift up a member of the team while calming down another. Our customers expect that when our team arrives we will know what to do and how to do it safely and effectively. Most would agree our number one asset is the people in our fire departments, regardless of their tenure.

 I was recently chatting with a young firefighter (recruit) from another fire department who was at our training centre. His training weekend had just ended and I asked him how it went. 

He said: “Well, chief, the training was excellent but more importantly I was so amazed and inspired by how your firefighters here treated me. They treated me better than they do at my own station. I felt more welcomed in your station than I do in my own station where I have been for over a year. Nobody talked down to me and I felt respected.”

I was very intrigued by these comments (however, it is not the first time I have heard such comments) and we chatted some more. He went on to say that at his station they (recruits) get talked down to a lot. They don’t get fire department clothing and are not allowed to participate in many fire department functions. They are not made to feel like part of the team until their basic training is completed. I was sad to hear this and I noted that at our station we try to integrate our new recruits into our team as quickly as possible. We give them clothing so they look like they are on our team and we treat them with respect, like we would treat each other. We include them in everything we do, including letting them come on some runs with us as observers. We want them to be and feel a part of our fire family. Further we appoint an individual mentor to them to give them a comfortable place and person to go to ask questions and to help them grow as a firefighter. We challenge and support them right from their first day. We offer them a ton of training over and above the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1001/2) firefighter training. We have even sent groups of new recruits to conferences to see trade shows and listen to leaders in our industry. We give them many of the same rights and privileges as we do our regular firefighters. 

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We also do the same with our Work Experience Program (WEP) firefighters even though we know they will not be here for long. Proper training is very important to us, but we also want our team members to be great citizens in our community and great members of our team. We want them to develop into nothing less than awesome firefighters. In my world, an awesome firefighter is not only well trained but also well balanced with great personal values. They must have a high level of commitment and dedication, and they must be nice. We ask them to assist us with our many public education programs and events including our youth program and smoke alarm program. We make them look and feel like an important part of our team right from their first day. We encourage all of our firefighters to get involved in all that we do.

I make a point each week of checking in with all our people to see how they are doing. Are we meeting their needs? Do they have any questions? I also try to ask a question or two about their families and the other parts of their lives. Teams work much better when we care about each other.

When a new person joins the team, we have an opportunity to set them on the right path for team success and personal success. If we can develop our newest members into great team members it stands to reason that we will have a great team. Managing a fire department is all about managing people. If we get this right, the rest will fall into place. While not perfect, our team here is thriving as are the individuals. We have a high turnover amongst our paid on-call staff but embrace the challenge of recruiting and building new members. •


Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. He has delivered countless presentations in fire stations all over Canada and is available to assist your department in many areas. For more information please contact: Chief Gord Schreiner, firehall@comox.ca


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