Volunteer Vision: September 2010
By Brad Patton
It’s been two years since I began writing this column and now it’s time for me to pass the pen or keyboard on to another writer. Writing for Fire Fighting in Canada has been a humbling and wonderful experience.
By Brad Patton
It’s been two years since I began writing this column and now it’s time for me to pass the pen or keyboard on to another writer. Writing for Fire Fighting in Canada has been a humbling and wonderful experience. I have received hundreds of supportive e-mails and a few negative ones (OK, five), from strong unionists who believe there is no place in the fire service for volunteers, period. I, of course, strongly believe that volunteer/part-time firefighters are the best way to provide good fire and emergency services to small and mid-size municipalities, which happen to represent more than 70 per cent of Canada. I do realize that there are some poorly run volunteer/part-time fire departments out there. There are also some full time departments I know of that shouldn’t be too proud either, but you can’t blame the firefighters for that; the fault falls directly onto the chief, fire boards and/or councils. As I have said before, just because you’re a volunteer fire department does not give you any special right to run a fire department that is not fully qualified, properly equipped and staffed to meet the threats facing your community.
I am convinced that in 2012 we will be hit by the perfect financial storm. The feds will reduce payments to the provinces, and the provinces will, in turn, reduce payments to municipal governments. All levels of government will be dealing with high levels of debt. The economy will be slow. There is an aging population and a decline in people who have the desire or time to be volunteer/part-time firefighters. Add to all that strict labour laws and heavy enforcement of health and safety standards, and you can see the storm brewing on the horizon.
These issues and more will mean tough times for the volunteer and full-time fire departments. So, what are we to do?
We do what we have always done: Adapt and overcome any obstacles that threaten to impede us in the protection of people, property and the environment.
Here are a few suggestions that may help get us through the rough times and move our departments forward.
- Expand our resources through better networking (building relationships) or, as some may call it, lobbying. Networking opportunities are all around us. Be active in or create specialized associations. Ensure membership is active in associations that focus on training officers, fire prevention, public education, chiefs, and mutual aid, to name a few. Perhaps create a purchasing and administration working group with other departments to review budgets, joint purchasing opportunities and shared administrative activities. It’s important to encourage participation and leadership in these groups. It’s just as important to listen to the staff when they come back from these meetings and give them an opportunity to try out some new ideas. We also need to be more involved in our provincial associations; make the time to go to these meetings, take notes, share ideas, come back and make changes.
- We need to take some time and see how other provinces are delivering fire protection. Too often we seem to be more influenced by the United States than our own county. God bless our neighbours in the U.S. of A., but they don’t have the best track record in managing the fire service or fire losses. Perhaps, as well as reviewing how other provinces manage the fire service, we could also look at Europe, Asia and Australia. There are thousands of fire departments and associations you can contact and exchange ideas via the Internet, without leaving your office or home.
- One of the hardest jobs fire chiefs have communicating with elected officials and working closely with them. This is a very difficult thing to do because most of us spend the majority of our time learning the technical stuff regarding fires, rescues and how to manage a fire ground. Now our jobs require us to be politicians. We need to be constantly working with the public and elected officials — and I don’t mean just showing up when we want something. We need to develop relationships and have a greater understanding of all municipal operations. Whenever you get a chance to take a councillor out for lunch, a coffee or just have a short chat, go for it. This is a great way to get to know these community leaders and gain a better idea of what they are looking for in reports or justifications when at official meetings.
I hope these suggestions will help your department overcome the many obstacles we face trying to meet the needs of our communities.
It has been truly a pleasure and an honour to be able to discuss so many ideas and concerns of the volunteer department with you over the last couple of years. God bless the volunteer firefighters and keep them safe.
Thanks to Chief Patton for his contribution to Fire Fighting in Canada over the past two years. You can reach him at BPatton@centrewellington.ca. Chief Tom DeSorcy of Hope, B.C., writes Volunteer Vision in November and in December FFIC welcomes Chief Vince MacKenzie of Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.