Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: November 2011

Growing up in this profession (and in the public eye in general, through my previous work in media), I’ve become well aware of optics and the way people perceive things.

November 14, 2011
By Tom DeSorcy

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Growing up in this profession (and in the public eye in general, through my previous work in media), I’ve become well aware of optics and the way people perceive things. My interpretation may not be accurate, but no matter what we do, people seem to see what they want to see without much consideration for the facts. The advent of social media has meant that our actions, or perceived actions, are out there for public consumption faster than ever before. 

The world has eyes and people are watching our every move. For example, the vehicle fire your department may have attended on a major highway is posted on Facebook or YouTube long before you get back to the hall. For some, the first reaction may be that someone is out there trying to catch a member of your department doing something wrong. But what about catching us doing something right?

Part of my regimen after a call is to go online and monitor what has been said or posted about our activities. Good tools and equipment in the hands of people who know how to use them should be shown off. I’m not looking to see if we did anything wrong, but to see how we came across on the air, so to speak.

Further to that, I make a point of regularly tapping into social media. There is a valuable network of local information and situational awareness in the palm of my hand that comes in very handy. Don’t think for a minute I have a lot of time to converse with people online all day; rather I’ve turned to tools such as a social media dashboard to stay on top of what is being said or posted about us, our community, and the fire service in general. This puts me in a better position to react or respond, if required, to any external, or even internal, issues.

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A dashboard is a tool that consolidates all your social media accounts and pages so that you can monitor them all at once. It comes in handy should you use your social media in another way – to promote fire safety, make public announcements or publicize your calls as they happen. Analytical types can even track their messaging to see how effective it is.

Still, there are still those in the fire world who maintain a certain level of secrecy about their calls, and yes, there are calls that warrant secrecy. But when radio-scanning accounts are telling people what you’re up to anyway, the public may as well get the correct information from the right people. You think you’re not being monitored? It’s being done – trust me – and re-posted as it happens, with often a dose of opinion thrown in.

I can recall the time I responded to a helicopter crash, long before smart phones or social media. As I started up my truck the radio news came on and over the air was a bulletin that a helicopter had crashed in Hope. The first crews weren’t even on seen yet and it was already breaking news. Today, it’s not unheard of to be en route to calls that show up on my BlackBerry long before I arrive at the scene; all the more reason to control the message and tell the world exactly what we’re up to.

Obviously, getting word out through social media is not the first thing you do on the way to a call, but my point is that we should stop worrying about the way people look at us and start worrying that our message is not being seen or heard, not to mention accurate.

We have a choice to be reactive or proactive and I prefer the latter. Messaging is the key and the old school always taught us, it’s not what we say but the way we say it. I suggest that today it’s the opposite: in the social media world, how is not the issue, rather it’s what you say, and often in 140 characters or fewer. 

I’ve written before about marketing your fire department. In the marketing world, there is nothing bigger than a brand – a simple shape of a product container or a logo that is recognized the world over. I believe there is no bigger brand than that of the fire service; we are a marketer’s dream. If we sold soft drinks, we’d surely make millions. But we’re not in that business. We promote public safety, community pride and professionalism. It shouldn’t be that hard to sell, should it?

Remember, ladies and gentlemen, you are judged by your actions – we all are, but public-service professionals are judged even more so than people in other professions. You can go about your life in this service trying to hide from the spotlight or you can take the opportunity to step into it now and again. Will you be criticized? Sure you will. There are people in this world who make it their business to knock what we do, but until they see things through our eyes they’ll never have the true picture.


Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. DeSorcy is married with two children, aged 27 and 19, and enjoys curling and golf. He is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., and chairs the communications and conference committees. E-mail Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca


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