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April 22, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. -  I want to introduce you to Travis, a young man from Prince Albert who has taught me a life lesson and inspired me to reach out to my colleagues and friends in the fire service.

April 22, 2013  By Les Karpluk

April 22, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. –  I want to introduce you to
Travis, a young man from Prince Albert who has taught me a life lesson
and inspired me to reach out to my colleagues and friends in the fire

What makes Travis unique is that he has William’s Syndrome, a very rare neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by learning disabilities and developmental delays. I will tell you more about Travis, but first I want to explain how a recent speaking engagement also inspired me.

On April 13, I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at the Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association (SVFFA) spring training session banquet in Nipawin. I have had the privilege to speak at numerous conferences across Canada and every time I attend one of these conferences I leave with a renewed sense of energy and pride. This was no exception.

The SVFAA works diligently to provide training opportunities for its members and this year more than 256 registered firefighters from across Saskatchewan attended three days of training. There was little doubt the members and instructors were full of passion and dedication, and the room was full of present and future fire-service leaders. The fire service is about serving our communities and the firefighters and instructors attending the weekend training session understand what servant leadership is all about: they are serving others before themselves and want to ensure they are a key part in making their communities safer. They get it!


Now, more about Travis. In February, I sent out an email to numerous fire chiefs across Canada describing Travis and his love for the fire service. Travis has been to our station on several occasions and he lights up when he sees a firefighter.

I run into Travis and his father at hockey games regularly; every time Travis sees a member of my department or me, he yells, “Fireman.” I have yet to see Travis without an ear-to-ear smile on his face, and it is evident that he is our No. 1 fan.

I was one of those guys who collected shoulder flashes from departments around the world. I stopped collecting more than 10 years ago and kept my collection in a box. Last summer, my wife suggested that I give my patch collection to Travis, and at that moment I thought it would be great to collect a few t-shirts for our No. 1 fan. In January, before a junior hockey game, I was finally able to give Travis my patch collection and four t-shirts from truck manufacturers. The rest, as they say, is history.

This brings me to the point at which I was able to witness something so special that I simply do not have the ability to communicate in words. When Travis saw the shoulder flashes and t-shirts, he lit up. It had such an impact on me, that I knew I had to do something more for this young man. So, a few days later I sent out the email to fire chiefs describing Travis and explaining how he is such a big fan of the fire service. I told the chiefs that if they had a hat, shoulder flash, pin, or t-shirt they would consider giving to Travis I would be honored to do that on their behalf.

The Prince Alberta Fire Department, along with fire departments, manufacturers, locals and chiefs from across Canada, made Friday a special day for Travis, the fire service's No. 1 fan.


The response was overwhelming. I simply cannot express my gratitude to the fire chiefs who contributed by sending not just shoulder flashes and t-shirts, but just about everything you can imagine. Two fire truck manufacturers even sent items, while Rocky Mountain Phoenix sent a new black Cairns 1044 traditional helmet for Travis. In addition to this, the Medicine Hat IAFF L-263 and the Prince Albert IAFF L-510 gave Travis t-shirts.

I thought, as the saying goes, that it just didn’t get any better than this. But it did. On Friday, Travis came to the fire station for what he thought was a tour. What he got was a collection of fire department paraphernalia from departments across Canada (including different shirts for 27 days out the month!), time spent eating a Prince Albert Fire Department cake with the firefighters, and a ride in our ladder truck. If I could paint the picture of how happy Travis was, I would, but I can’t, so let me leave you with the following: once again our profession demonstrated what the fire service is all about. Fire chiefs and firefighters from across Canada wanted to make a difference in one life. On Friday, it was Travis’s life; tomorrow it will be someone else’s, but rest assured the profession came together for all the right reasons. In the last week I have been fortunate to witness true servant leadership from our profession. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

For me, the smile on Travis’s face taught me that life is a gift and that we are here to serve our fellow man.

Until next time, lead from within and grow.

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