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May 30, 2013, Penticton, B.C. – Being invited to speak at the Fire Chiefs Association of British Columbia (FCABC) annual conference was an offer I couldn’t refuse. After reviewing the list of speakers, I selfishly wanted to be a part of this conference so I could learn from each of them. Upon confirming my attendance, I quickly booked vacation so I could attend.

May 30, 2013
By Les Karpluk

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May 30, 2013, Penticton, B.C. – Being invited to speak at the Fire Chiefs Association of British Columbia (FCABC) annual conference was an offer I couldn’t refuse. After reviewing the list of speakers, I selfishly wanted to be a part of this conference so I could learn from each of them. Upon confirming my attendance, I quickly booked vacation so I could attend.

It was going to be great to see my friends and fellow presenters Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie (Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.), Fire Chief Gord Schreiner (Comox, B.C.), Fire Chief Steve Kraft (Richmond Hill, Ont.), retired fire chief Rich Gasaway, and retired fire chief Rick Lasky. I eagerly embraced leaving my house at 3 a.m. on Sunday to get to the airport for my flight to Penticton.

When I arrived at the Kelowna airport I was impressed (a slight understatement!) to be picked up by Schreiner and Comox Capt. Corey Brooks in the Comox Fire Prevention 2013 Dodge Challenger. Yes you read that correctly . . . a 2013 Dodge Challenger is the vehicle of choice for fire-prevention activities for the Comox Fire Department. Needless to say, I was intrigued with the partnership that Chief Schreiner has with Comox Valley Dodge, which make this Challenger available to the department for minimal cost. The word jealously kept bouncing around my mind during the trip from the Kelowna airport to the convention center in Penticton.

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From left: Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie, of Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., retired fire chief Rich Gasaway, and Fire Chief Les Karpluk pose with the Comox Fire Department's new fire prevention vehicle: a 2013 Dodge Challenger. Photo by Les Karpluk.

On Monday morning, Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie educated and entertained a packed room on reputation management for the fire department. There were several things that caught my attention and Chief MacKenzie’s reputation management tetrahedron was innovative and very applicable to the fire service. (Editor’s note: You can read MacKenzie’s March 2011 column on reputation management here, and we’re hoping he’ll write about the reputation management tetrahedron!)

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Next up was Fire Chief Steve Kraft and his Leading with Purpose presentation. Even though Chief Kraft had a three-hour slot to fill (a challenge for any presenter), he provided his insight on leadership from the company-officer level all the way up to the fire chief. Among the numerous points that Chief Kraft made, and what caught my attention, was his focus on leadership branding.

What I took from Chief Kraft’s leadership branding message is that if we are professional, polite, empathetic and confident in abilities, then the net result is a positive leadership brand among our staff. Likewise, if we are self-centered, exhibit poor listening skills, and engage in the rumour mill, we create the wrong brand among our staff and those we serve. As Chief Kraft expounded on what we allow today becomes the norm tomorrow, it certainly drove home the point that poor leadership traits can become the norm in the department, and that we need to continually strive to become better leaders.

On Tuesday, situational awareness guru Dr. Rich Gasaway (author of Situational Awareness for Emergency Response) engaged a packed room with his when-brain-science-meets-public-safety presentation. Not only did he break down a complex subject that could easily lose an audience, he guided the group through five exercises to demonstrate how simple it is to overlook details of a situation and miss critical information. I do not want to spoil his presentation, but I was shocked when I missed a black gorilla during one of the exercises. Yes, you read it right . . . a black gorilla. Needless to say, Dr. Gasaway could give us only a sip of the situational awareness Kool-Aid, with the hope that we pay attention to what situational awareness is really all about. You need to get his book in order to understand the critical importance of situational awareness. There is little doubt that I will make every attempt to bring Dr. Gasaway to Saskatchewan in 2014, because his message will save lives and it’s time we take this seriously. (Editor’s note: You can read Gasaway’s cover story on Situational Awareness in the May issue of Fire Fighting in Canada here.)

On Wednesday, retired Chief Rick Lasky (author of Five Alarm Leadership) presented It’s Still the Best Job in the World. This was the first time I had been able to listen to Lasky, and how he tied in To be a Fireman, written by FDNY Fire Chief Edward Croker (1899-1911) was not only inspiring, but a work of art. When Rick was talking about attitude and how some individuals drag the dark cloud around with them everywhere they go, he stressed the importance of attitude in our profession. You need to get Lasky’s book and learn more of his leadership philosophy.

I want to thank the FCABC and the Penticton Fire Department for the fellowship and hospitality provided to me while I was in British Columbia. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the positive comments from the fire chiefs regarding the Leadership Forum columns that Chief Lyle Quan and I write for Fire Fighting in Canada. The only regret I have is not finding a way to steal the car keys from Capt. Brooks so I could take that Comox Challenger for a spin.

Until next time, lead from 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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