Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: November 2012

Conferences always seem to bring out the best in me and I’m sure that’s the case for others.

November 1, 2012
By Tom DeSorcy

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Conferences always seem to bring out the best in me and I’m sure that’s the case for others. You may recall me writing about taking part in conferences or training workshops at which I gained more than was advertised and more than I signed up for. Above all, it’s the networking that does it for me; the sharing of information and ideas with colleagues from across the country validates my attendance at these events, as does knowing that the intentions behind my actions within my department are shared by my colleagues. The successes, the failures – they’re all the same. In addition, the speakers and presenters leave me motivated to return to my community and implement strategies and techniques learned in countless sessions on leadership and team-building.

At our most recent provincial fire chiefs conference in British Columbia, I got into a lengthy discussion about negativity in the fire hall. In most departments, there seem to be one or two people who do not have a positive attitude; they are not in favour of the initiatives chief officers bring forth, or changes to training or response. I know the first question you will ask: “Why not get rid of them?” I will answer that with a reference to my column in the August issue of Fire Fighting in Canada: it’s not easy to fire a volunteer; in fact, if you send one packing, others might follow and, as I’ve said before, I don’t see them lined up at the door to get in.

Personally, I prefer to deal with this proactively – the more-flies-with-honey approach. To me, a situation like this is simply moss and grass. During a continuing discussion at the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. conference, this statement caused heads to tilt in confusion and I went on to explain my theory.

I used to be a radio broadcaster and the host of an open-line show with a very small-town feel. One of my regular guests was a gardening guru and friend named Brian Minter.

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Brian was always a willing and great guest; when he came on the show, the phones would light up and he had answers to everyone’s questions about gardening issues. One session I will never forget wasn’t as much about a problem the caller had, as it was about the answer that was given.

The issue was moss: it started in one small section of the yard and took over. The caller had tried all kinds of evasive measures, but the moss was resilient. “How do I get rid of this moss?” the caller asked. The answer was simple: “Feed the grass.” You see, the caller could attack the moss aggressively, laying out poisons and causing all kinds of environmental damage, or rake and pull the moss from the lawn, leaving ugly bare patches, only to have it grow back. With this aggressive approach, the caller would be putting all his energy into a fight when he could simply feed the grass. As I was told, nurturing the grass and encouraging it to grow eventually allows the grass to overtake the moss.

The moss will soon feel out of place and simply go away. 

Starting to sound familiar? If you consider the negative person in the fire hall to be the moss, then, left alone, that person will begin to take over the positive players on the team.

When I first began in this role as the paid chief in a volunteer department, I had a little moss hanging around and I started to fight back, only to make it worse. Taking my friend Brian’s advice, I began to leave the naysayers alone. I didn’t engage with them in arguments or discussion. Instead, I chose to feed the grass: I facilitated extra training that they requested, I solicited their advice on social events and activities and sought their input on changes within the department; I did what I could for them and they began to grow. It didn’t take long before the grass overtook the moss and the moss simply moved on. There was no longer a breeding ground for negative attitude and you either grew along with the grass or got out of its way because you just weren’t welcome.

It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

What are you doing to feed the grass in your department? Or do you spend most of your time fighting the moss?

Focus your energy and efforts on the positive thinkers and the negative attitudes will soon feel out of place; no need for discussion or severe evasive action that affects the entire environment around you. Feed the grass and the moss is overtaken. Thanks, Brian.

Who would have thought that little radio show would have leadership implications later in life?


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 and enjoys curling and golf. He is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C as communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca


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