Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: September 2014

There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses.

August 28, 2014
By Tom DeSorcy

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There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses. But one tool is often overlooked; it’s a tool we take for granted yet it carries firefighters into and out of danger on every call. It’s the first thing we jump into at the hall and the last thing we put away as we leave. We do care for these tools, so much so that we take time to cradle them with our turnout pants. These tools even take time away from the hall to hold a few dollars during fundraising drives. I speak, of course, of firefighters’ boots: they are rubber or leather, come in all sizes and, if they could talk, oh the stories they would tell. 

People often say we should walk a mile in their shoes, but 50 feet in a fire boot should be enough to get the picture. In my role as communications director with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC, I’m a monitor of all things media, and nothing infuriates me more than when people take public shots at emergency services and, in particular, the people who provide them. It comes down to public perception, and like the oft-cited duck-on-the-water analogy that I like to reference – the duck seems peaceful and calm but you don’t see what its feet are doing below the surface – outsiders have no idea about the work and commitment required by officers and firefighters to make a fire department run.

My dad’s volunteer fire service was so far removed from the career departments that I think the public accepted its shortcomings, and there were many, believe me. Then again, with fewer media in the day – and certainly no social media – the public’s perception could have been due to a simple lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, I think this naiveté led to the phrase, “they’re just volunteers.” Oh, how I cringe even writing that. I’m curious though – how many chiefs on the volunteer side have heard it, and how long did it take to stop it?

We’ve come a long way, but our boots still have miles to go. In other words, our work is far from over. I realize that Volunteer Vision readers understand this, but I think it’s important to recognize that there are people who simply don’t understand how a person could be at work in the morning and look like he or she hasn’t slept all night or that we’d actually be out of the house working long hours or travelling across country to attend a funeral for a person we’ve never met before our kids get up on Christmas morning.

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I’m somewhat happy with that because I believe that fire-service membership has its privileges and those privileges make all of this worthwhile. Some of those on the outside don’t understand that there is a certain feeling you get from not only working hard, but also doing the job no matter what that job may be. In the most tragic of situations there’s always sadness, but eventually a little smile for the family I’m a part of and where my boots have been today.  

On the topic of privileges, I’ve always made it a point to ensure that our firefighters have access to the little things; it could be as simple as washing your car at the fire hall or borrowing a couple of folding tables. Some may consider that a perk or just another part of being in the social club that’s the fire department. My response is: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a” darn – or something to that effect. If everyone understood what these people do for their communities, where their boots have been, they’d give them a lot more than that.

With some of the issues we deal with on an ever-increasing basis, there are times when we’d like to let our boots do the talking; but we need to do it – blow our own horns and tell people what we and our people do every day. While we don’t run in our boots often, we do run on pride and dedication, something that I don’t think was emphasized in the early days when firefighters were part of a group that gathered socially more than they attended fires. Today, we recognize not only the service we provide, but also the fact we have the necessary skills and know-how to provide it.  All the more reason to tell everyone.

Take care of your family, but don’t forget your friends – they’ve carried you far and wide and you always bring them home. Like your firefighters, give them the attention they deserve and they’ll be there when you need them, and for a long time you’ll be comfortable knowing that both your team and your boots will be along for the ride.


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 married with two children and enjoys curling, golf, cooking and wine tasting. He is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept


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