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February 26, 2013
By Les Karpluk

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Feb 26, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? I’m glad our 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel didn’t get the memo. It took me only 15 minutes to teach her to leave the room when she begs for food; by simply raising my arm and pointing my finger in a stern way, she gets the message that she is to leave the room. She’s not happy about it, but she obeys. I really do not care if she sits and stares at me while I eat, but the begging thing just gets under my skin.

Feb 26, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? I’m glad our 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel didn’t get the memo. It took me only 15 minutes to teach her to leave the room when she begs for food; by simply raising my arm and pointing my finger in a stern way, she gets the message that she is to leave the room. She’s not happy about it, but she obeys. I really do not care if she sits and stares at me while I eat, but the begging thing just gets under my skin.

Old dogs, new tricks, and the fire service? What’s up with that?

In my mind, there seems to be a misguided belief that the boomers are the old dogs and they can’t be taught anything new because they are just putting in their time. According to Statistics Canada, boomers were born between 1946 and 1965; further web surfing brought me to the Service Canada website, where it was noted that boomers make up 25.9 per cent of our profession. There is no doubt that the boomers have had to adjust mindsets and embrace new technology in the profession, and at times this can be a struggle, but the iPhones, iPads, and endless software programs are not forcing boomers to run scared.

With boomers comprising such a big chunk of the fire service, I think it is time to give credit to the boomers and recognize their contribution to the profession. Many of us have some battle scars and recurring back pain, but I strongly suggest that most boomers in our profession are running the fire service. Unfortunately, there are likely some boomers who are just putting in time until retirement, but I think that is the exception rather than the norm. Case in point: I recently received an email from a captain in a metro fire department who is taking his masters degree. What an incredible challenge to take on – and this boomer is not only up for the challenge, but he is nearing completion of his degree.

It’s generally accepted by researchers that, for boomers, work and worth ethic are synonymous. The long hours put in by boomers are part of our sense of duty; for boomers this is a big part of the contribution to the profession. For many boomers, their self-esteem and sense of worth comes from the profession, and who can blame them? If boomers in all the fire departments across Canada gain some self-esteem from serving their community, well, I say more power to us.

Boomers possess a high level of dedication to their profession and there is no doubt that the fire service is the beneficiary of this commitment. These folks are the individuals who can see the forest for the trees and their work experience contributes to the positive changes that the fire service is experiencing. Trust me, I am not minimizing the Gen-X or Gen-Y contributions to our profession; what I am stating here is that from my perspective, boomers are the shakers and movers in our profession and I do not see them slowing down.

The social activities during fire chiefs’ or firefighters’ association conferences are great opportunities to pick the brains of boomers. I challenge any Gen-X or Gen-Y to bring up the topic of leadership; you may be pleasantly surprised that boomers get the picture. Their insight into problem solving and team building is worth its weight in gold, and often I find myself buying the beer just to listen and learn from my peers. Hey, I’m OK with that because I get to participate in an exchange of ideas on leadership and enjoy a nutritious beverage. This brings me to a quote from a boomer for whom I have tremendous respect: “There is no such thing as a bad beer, some are just better than others.” Ah, words of wisdom.

For me, the best part of talking and exchanging ideas with other boomers is learning from their self-awareness. These folks know who and what they are about. There is generally no fluff, no fake image to portray to the masses; they are who they are and if you don’t like it, they are OK with that too. I think that is what makes boomers such a valuable resource to the fire service and I believe this is what makes the boomers the shakers and movers of our profession.

Until next time, lead within and grow.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes.


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