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April 21, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. – It sure was great seeing many of my former colleagues at the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs conference held this past weekend in Swift Current.

The Swift Current Fire Department put on a great show and had an excellent speaker lineup. Several months ago, I was delighted to find out that I would be presenting at the conference along with my good friends author Rich Gasaway and Comox Fire Chief Gord Schreiner.

Gasaway gave three presentations that grabbed the audience’s attention with examples of the need for situational awareness and paying attention to your surroundings through your senses.

I’m going to put a twist on Gasaway’s situational-awareness message by applying it to leadership. Gasaway stated that the sixth sense is called intuition – the voice inside your head that says something isn’t right – and we should all listen to it. As a fire service leader, it’s important to get in tune with your intuition, especially when it comes to dealing with personnel issues.

Gasaway emphasized that if we can’t change the outcome of an event, then the best thing to do is stay out of the way, otherwise you can become a victim. The same idea can be applied to leadership. As a fire service leader, it’s important to realize that some things can’t change and the best thing to do is to stay out of the way of the predicable outcome.

In his #Stopbad presentation, Fire Chief Gord Schreiner spoke about preventing bad things from happening on the fire ground. He identified a simple and effective way to track personnel during emergencies and gave examples on why this was critical to keep firefighters safe.

Day 2 of the conference began with a bear-pit session with a panel (including Fire Commissioner Duane McKay) on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and critical-incident stress debriefing (CISD). Throughout the discussion it was evident that there is a real need to have PTSD and CISD training available to fire departments across Saskatchewan. Many fire chiefs from volunteer departments identified how their limited budgets make it difficult to access this type of training, yet they are expected to respond to emergencies that can cause some mental-health issues with firefighters.

If the fire service isn’t dealing with CISD and PTSD at the local and provincial level, then I say shame on us. Maybe that is harsh, but we are losing too many good people by suicide because they didn’t have the tools to deal with their demons. The fire service is a great profession, whether career or volunteer, but there is a price to pay for being in this profession. PTSD & CISD training for every firefighter is a great way to start preventing, or at the very least minimizing, PTSD in firefighters. I’m not an expert, but I have known two firefighters who have committed suicide, and I can certainly attest to the fact that training is needed for mental health as much as it is for learning how to properly attack a structure fire.

My presentation was on my 10 rules for situational leadership. I appreciated the feedback and comments from the audience after my presentation.

I have never had the opportunity to listen to the life story of Calgary Assistant Chief Tyler Pelke and if you ever have a chance to hear his story, you must make it a priority and get to his presentation. Pelke spoke about leadership in life is by understanding the choice between being a victim, surviving and thriving. Pelke’s story is truly inspiring and I see him as a courageous leader that is making a difference in people's lives.

I commend the host committee for the great job they did hosting the conference in Swift Current. It was great exchanging ideas with Gasaway and Chief Schreiner and more importantly, it was great to make new friends at the conference.

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

April 21, 2015 
By Les Karpluk

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