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March 23, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. - On the weekend I had the opportunity to work with some great firefighters from five volunteer departments. These firefighters gave up their weekend to attend leadership and operational training in Carrot River, Sask., and they attended so they could learn and grow as leaders and gain new information to keep firefighters safe.

The idea for a weekend training session for paid on-call fire officers was the brainchild of Carrot River Fire Chief Scott Debienne. The intent was to provide cost-effective and targeted leadership/operational training for those going into officer positions (succession planning) and for those already in the officer position in volunteer departments.

Why targeted leadership and operational training? Because the vast majority of firefighters and officers serving their communities are volunteers and they have few opportunities to take days away from their livelihoods to become better leaders and learn safe and effective fire-ground management.

With the majority of communities in Saskatchewan (and across Canada) being protected by volunteer firefighters, the rationale was to give as much information that we could deliver over a weekend and present more options for the fire-officer toolbox.

After a few phone calls to discuss the training weekend, a big step of faith was taken by Chief Debienne to host the event. I say a big step of faith because a program was being created which, to our knowledge, has never been available for volunteer fire officers in Saskatchewan. The $64,000 question was whether firefighters would attend.
The weekend had a purpose, it had an outline, and a quick call to Comox Fire Chief Gord Schreiner was made to see if he would be interested in presenting his StopBad seminar for one of the days of the weekend. If you know Chief Schreiner, you know that he is going to jump at the opportunity to get out and spread his message to keep firefighters safe.

Several months of work went into developing the weekend material and 2 1/2 days of leadership and operational training was scheduled for the first annual Boot Camp for the Paid on-call Fire Officer. The weekend was a huge success with representation from five departments. The host committee was impressed by the attendance of the deputy chief from the La Pas Fire Department in Manitoba who demonstrated that even chief officers continue on the path of self-development.

The agenda was tight, with session 1 starting Friday evening, session 2 all day Saturday, and session 3 all day Sunday. Even with this tight schedule the group finished my leadership session at 4 p.m. on Saturday and immediately donned protective gear and took part in an auto-ex training session provided by instructor Greg Churchman of Rescue Consulting Canada. Greg did an excellent job and there is no doubt that he is passionate about teaching firefighters how to safety perform auto extrication.

One of the thrills for me is networking with firefighters and officers from other departments and learning from each other. The weekend was remarkable because of the fact that volunteer firefighters/officers took time away from work and their families to attend a weekend training session.

When you get a group of passionate firefighters/officers together all working toward the same goal of self improvement you know good things are going to happen. The first annual Boot Camp for the Paid on-call Fire Officer was a huge success and a big thank-you needs to go to Chief Debienne for spearheading the weekend. I look forward to participating in the 2016 camp.

Les Karpluk is the retired 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 and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes

March 23, 2015 
By Les Karpluk

Leadership blogger Les Karpluk recently took part in the first volunteer fire officer training weekend in Carrot River

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