Fire Fighting in Canada

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StopBad: Hockey and fire teams

November 18, 2021
By Gord Schreiner

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Like many kids who grew up in Canada, hockey was a big part of my life. I started playing at five years old and played for almost 50 years. When I joined the fire service I started to compare the many similarities between a hockey team and a fire service team. There is so much in common, from team work, pride, hard work, and fun, to the desire to become a better team. Hockey Night in Canada is part of our culture and so is fire practice night in many small to mid-size towns. 

A few years ago, I had the honour and pleasure of coaching my two sons. Once I got into coaching, the similarities between a hockey team and a fire department team became even more apparent, especially when I started to develop and plan hockey practices. Each hockey practice had to be very carefully planned well in advance to ensure the best use of the limited ice time. The practices needed to include individual as well as team development time. I have often used the same format to develop fire practices. If I showed up at the rink without a written practice plan, the practice session would not be very productive and the team would not develop or be ready for their next game. I would spend hours researching and planning my hockey practices. I would think about past games to see where we needed to improve on. I would go watch successful teams practice to see what they were doing. We need to do the same in the fire service. Check in with other fire departments to see what they are doing and steal their best ideas. Train with them! 

I would show up at the rink well before the scheduled start time of practice to ensure I was ready to deliver my planned practice and that I had the necessary resources to run my practice. We need to do the same in the fire service. Show up early!

Before a typical hockey practice started, I would meet with the other coaches to discuss the plan and assign tasks. We would then have a team meeting to discuss the goals and objectives of the hockey practice with an emphasis on training hard but safe. The best fire practices start the same way and include a tail board safety talk. Next, we would do some individual skills like skating and shooting. The same could be done for fire practice, only these drills might be donning and doffing, knot tying, etc. Then, we would work on some specialty teams drilla – in the fire service, these drills might be vent, enter, search, auto ex. etc. With the assistance of additional coaches, we might work on more individual skills. In the fire service these individual skills might be driver/pump operator or coaching a new incident commander. 

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After the practice, I would make adjustments to my practice plan and put it away to be used later, maybe even next year. You can do the same for a fire practice. Design a solid practice plan and save it for future use. 

Next time you are tasked with putting together a great fire practice, think about it terms of a hockey practice. Just like a fire, do not show up to deliver a fire practice or training session without a well-prepared plan. It will not go well and your department will suffer. You could even get replaced by the team manager. The best departments train hard using well structured and meaningful practice plans. 

One big difference between hockey and the fire service is that in the hockey world, we would know our schedule and opponent well in advance, whereas in the fire world, we do not know when our next event will be and who we will be playing (nature of the event). Furthermore, in the fire world, if we do not play well, we are exposed to great personal risk including death. 

Our hockey and fire teams are constantly changing. Sometimes a stronger player moves up to a bigger team, get injured or retires. Sometimes we need to release weaker players and replace them with new players who have the potential to become stonger players. This never ends. We are constantly adjusting our team to try to become the best team we can and win more games, akin to responding safely to emergencies and having a quick and effective solution. 

Remember a hockey coach is a lot like a fire service leader. Poor coaching (leadership) equals a poor team. Often replacing the coach (or coaches) can greatly improve our team. Our team manager is our local government and our fans are our citizens. We are in a very competitive business and need to work hard each and every day to ensure we can compete successfully and safely. 

Keep improving your team and get ready for your next big game!


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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