Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: August 2010

Having what you need, when you need it: whether you’re cooking dinner or running a business and, most certainly, at a fire scene, this phrase holds true.

August 9, 2010  By Tom Desorcy

Having what you need, when you need it: whether you’re cooking dinner or running a business and, most certainly, at a fire scene, this phrase holds true. But even when you think you have everything you need, are you overlooking something? Let’s see . . . hose, nozzles, axe, thermal imager – the list goes on. While we carry all the basics, we’re not identical.

I realized this a few years ago when I was part of a radio talk show on behalf of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia and the question of over response was raised – you know, when you attend that seemingly minor fire or medical call and bring an entire fleet of fire trucks. At least that’s what the public sees and, in some cases, if you’re a single-hall fire department, that can be everything you own.

“Why do you bring the big trucks out for such a non-event,” or “That’s such a waste,” are some of the comments you may have heard, maybe even from some of your own members.

Well, this was just the question that was asked during this radio program and the response given was, frankly, right on the money. Think of it this way: if you called a plumber to your home for what turned out to be a very minor issue, would you be surprised if he showed up to your door with just a wrench or would you expect him to bring the entire tool kit? In the fire service trucks are just that – our tool kits. Each truck we have carries many different tools and if we should need one then we need it now and we know it’s there. Further to that, as an emergency manager, I subscribe to the motto “too much too soon is better than too little too late,” and as most in our field would agree, sending trucks home with dry hoses is much better than waiting for them to come when it turns out they’re needed. 


Unfortunately, we’ll never get past the optics of just such a response but, truth be known, the tools we carry go beyond the equipment on the trucks and by that, I’m referring to the passengers who ride inside those trucks, something many may forget. Here lies one of the beauties of the fire service – the vast number of skills we bring to the table, in particular, in volunteer fire departments. Think about it for a moment. What other first responder agencies could show up to a call with an electrician, a plumber, a mechanic and a doctor all in the same vehicle? Have you ever considered what our customers would think if they found out that the person who assisted them in their time of need was their child’s first grade teacher? Sure, we’re used to it and we take this for granted but remember, to the general public, we’re all dressed like firefighters so that’s who we are and what we do, period. I can only imagine that most people would be surprised to learn of the skills that actually exist in the hall outside of fire fighting. To take this another step further, consider those additional tools that people don’t see – the ones we put into the firefighter’s bag beyond those skills they already offer.

That being said, and as I’m sure most can appreciate, we can’t afford to train everyone to a particular specialty but we can put a certain number of members each year into more diverse programs, thus adding those valuable tools to their bags and, in turn, tools to ours from the department’s perspective.

Another thing that few outside of our fire halls realize is that, in a volunteer department, we never know who will show up when the alarm is sounded, which makes it even more important that we, as chief officers, know what each and every one of our people brings to the table. I’m certainly not telling you something you don’t already know – just a simple reminder to look past the basic firefighter skills beyond the call at hand. 

Remember, it’s the good leaders who take those skills and use them to their advantage and, of course, the best way to know what tools our firefighters have in the bag is to help them fill it. Take stock in your department beyond its walls to your members’ lives away from the hall and tap into their individual skills. What tools do you have at your disposal? What you find may surprise you. Yes, having what you need, when you need it, is important, but sometimes all you have may be all you’ll need.

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 28 and 20, and enjoys curling and golf. He is also active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., and chairs the communications and conference committees. Contact him at

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