Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: May 2011

This past hockey season, I was particularly interested in the NHL all-star game and the picking of the two teams.

April 28, 2011  By Tom DeSorcy

This past hockey season, I was particularly interested in the NHL all-star game and the picking of the two teams. Watching these million-dollar athletes choosing sides in a glorified game of pickup hockey took me back to the days of ball hockey in the street and reminded me of our true desire: not to get paid to play hockey one day, but to belong. Hasn’t that always been our biggest goal? Everyone who participated in our street league just wanted to be accepted by someone, or something, and being part of a group or organization gave us all a sense of that. We really didn’t care which team we played on – the fact that someone chose us was validation – and when we joined an organized team, the act of belonging extended beyond the game; people soon came to know we were a part of that group.  

Today, as a career chief of a volunteer fire department, I know I belong to a special group – a family, if you will, and a fraternity that I have realized is much bigger than I first imagined. The numbers speak for themselves, and most everywhere we go in Canada, we find a fire department in one shape or form. Have you ever stopped for a moment and thought beyond the similarities that we all share, that we all belong to the same organization? As a chief fire officer, you have something in common with every fire department in Canada. 

My colleague in this space, Chief Vince MacKenzie, recently wrote about affiliation, in particular, with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC). My revelation came some 11 years ago when I joined the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. (FCABC). I soon came to realize that membership in an industry association, for lack of a better term, was more than just a feeling of belonging. It immediately tied me into a network of fire chiefs and fire departments across the province, a network of people with the same challenges, issues and concerns I had in my small community, no matter their size or call volume. It was, and still is, amazing how alike we are. 

My second revelation came last year when I joined the CAFC. Again, I felt that that what happens in Hope, B.C., is of really no relevance to Guelph, Ont., or Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. I then took the next step and attended Fire Rescue Canada in Saint John, N.B., in September. Again, what could I get out of this national gathering of fire chiefs that would benefit me in small-town British Columbia? Well, let me tell you – from the first moment at the opening ceremonies, the overwhelming sense of belonging emerged. From the people I met to the sessions I attended, I immediately realized that my department and I had a relevant reason to be involved. What I had come to understand at a provincial level soon made incredible sense at the federal level, and I felt like a long-lost cousin at a family reunion, meeting the family I never really knew for the first time.


I’m not here to pound the drum of one association over another. For many departments, association membership varies, from the volunteer firefighter associations across the country, to smaller gatherings of peers in more regionally or locally based organizations. The point of the matter is simple: being involved not only takes you outside of your little world, but gives you an entire new network of resources to draw upon, and you soon realize that you’re not alone at what you do. In fact, many a fire-service organization is carrying the torch of change on your behalf, and an organized lobby holds a bigger and brighter torch than yours would be if you were to go it alone. I would hazard a guess that many a local government has called upon its fire department to effect change at a higher level, be it the provincial or federal legislatures. When you come to understand that a recognized and respected voice is there already, you immediately have clout and credibility because you belong.  

My message is simple: you need to be connected with the rest of your fire family. How do you do that? Start small, with your neighbouring departments; search out peer associations in your area and research the provincial and national associations that are available to you. Most of all, never think for a moment that you don’t belong, because you do. Those loud voices just may become a little louder once you join the choir.

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.

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