Fire Fighting in Canada

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StopBad: March 2019

Are you a t-shirt firefighter or a real firefighter (this includes officers and chiefs)?

February 15, 2019  By Gord Schreiner

Do you take being in the fire service seriously?

Once you let people know you are a firefighter, you’d better be prepared to back it up.

Wearing a fire t-shirt or putting a firefighter plate or decal on your vehicle may indicate you are a firefighter, but it doesn’t mean you know the job.

While it might be hard to tell by looking, it is easy to tell once the tones drop or by observing your daily actions.


The way you perform as a firefighter, the way you drive, the way you talk, the way you act, will all demonstrate how good of a firefighter you are.

Real firefighters are trained, ready to respond and operate safely. Being a real firefighter is a lifelong journey. It requires a huge commitment, dedication and hard work. You must constantly prepare and train. There is no ceiling and you are never done training. When you finish one training program there is always another one to do next.

Unfortunately, there are some out there that think that once they put on the t-shirt they are good to go and know it all. Some think because they have been a firefighter for a few years they know it all. These types of firefighters are dangerous.

Real firefighters are constantly training and preparing themselves for the next incident. They are constantly studying, researching and training.

Real firefighters are fit, both physically and mentally.

Real firefighters are honest, ethical, socially responsible and nice. They do more than is expected or required of them. They pay it forward. This is not a menu. You can not pick and choose. You should have all of these traits.

I have been in the fire service for more than 40 years and am still constantly learning and improving.

I get to see a lot of new firefighters every year. Give them a t-shirt and you see them light up, excited and proud. However, I am quick to tell them they must earn that t-shirt and earn it every day for the rest of their careers (career or volunteer).

Some talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk. I am always saying to new firefighters, “Don’t tell me, show me.” Show me that you want to be here, show me that you take this commitment seriously, show me that you care.

Some can’t make the commitment that is needed, especially for a new firefighter.

I can tell very quickly by talking or watching firefighters train how serious they are about this business.

Many young firefighters dream of a fire-service career, but won’t back up that dream with ongoing, dedicated hard work. Many struggle with passing a simple test because of lack of commitment, but are quick to purchase the newest t-shirt.

If you are not excelling as a recruit in a smaller volunteer or paid, on-call fire station, chances are very high you will not get a second look for a career fire-service job.

To become good at anything, you need to make sacrifices. To become a good firefighter you must make sacrifices.

You do not need to sacrifice your family time, your regular job or your health. You do need to sacrifice your “fun” time. You may have to give up some of your social life, some of your game time and some of your sports time. You need to reconsider how you spend your free time. Do not waste your free time.

Real firefighters know their job, their equipment, their community, other real firefighters and are always ready to respond. They also represent themselves and their department well.

To become a real firefighter, hang out with other real firefighters. Don’t hang out with t-shirt firefighters.

Also, get yourself at least one good fire-service mentor and listen.

Being a t-shirt or real firefighter can be contagious in your department.

Do all you can to make sure your department is full of real firefighters.

Remember, this job can kill you.

Learn everything you can and be great at it.

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. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire.

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