Volunteer Vision: The year that was, the year that will be
By Tom DeSorcy
By Tom DeSorcy
Wow, there was so much to look forward to. The year 2020 was to be the year of a clear vision; the year of clarity with our sights set on the horizon ahead. At least that was among the themes discussed at our last conference committee meeting. So much for that. This was the year that the virtual conference came into play and gave us a bit of an opportunity to connect and learn but honestly, it just wasn’t the same.
Coming out of the year that was, I fear for those in the fire service that may have lost that connection. The one thing that an image on a screen can never replace is complete human contact. That relationship among your peers gives everyone the opportunity to learn, ask questions and collectively come up with ideas that work for your department.
Back in the day, remember when the future was video calling? Offering a unique chance to connect with one another from your desk, living room, wrist or palm of your hand? This is now the norm and while it was put to the test in the past year, it only proved to me the value of face to face interaction.
As each month went by and the Facebook memories kept popping up reminding us all of the events we should be at, you couldn’t help but sigh knowing they would have to wait for another year and hope we would soon get to some sense of normal, some sign of regular.
To me, regular is those things that never change in the fire service world and frankly I’m happy about that. In particular, I was made to realize the other day that I’m happy when someone is sad. Wait, does that sound wrong to you? Does it make sense that I’m happy when people aren’t? Let me explain. If you’re a chief officer such as myself, then you will agree that the happiness of the members is paramount and should be one of our highest priorities. Understand however, that the volunteer fire service sees members come and go. We spend countless hours training, nurturing and supporting our members only to have them leave us as the bigger priorities in their lives change. It’s what we expect, it’s part of who we are.
So when a member comes to me and says they are leaving and that they are extremely saddened by it, then that makes me happy and it should be the same for all of us. If we’ve done our job in creating a safe and welcoming environment, then being sad to leave it is a compliment.
Volunteer fire departments used to have longevity. Probably because it was older, established people in the community joined. There was a “social club” atmosphere. They were settled in the community and were always a part of the fire department. Today the fire service is clearly more demanding and as training improved so did the opportunities for those that needed a stepping stone to a career. The result may be a younger demographic that comes our way that is also one that changes often.
I can hear my colleagues now saying that “sure the fire service is getting younger, only because you’re getting older”. But am I wrong in saying the days of the 40-plus years of service awards may be dwindling?
In the past year many have longed to see their friends and loved ones and the fire hall is no different. I’ve spoken with colleagues and friends across this country and each has the same message. Look no farther than in spring when we cut out training nights. There was definite disconnect and longing to interact with each other as calls in the beginning were few and far between. When they did happen there was a sense of reunion — the gang got to play together.
Back to the person that had to leave and my feelings: Really, it’s pride.We’ve all seen the hashtag #ProudChief used by many of us and it’s true. To see our group of professional volunteers interact not only as a team but as friends away from the firehall is comforting. This past year made it tough on everyone both outside and inside the fire department but as our society grows stronger, so too will our departments.
Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. Tom is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia as communications director and conference committee chair. Contact Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept.