Volunteer Vision: Advocacy is for everyone
April 28, 2023 By Vince Mackenzie
For most of my fire fighting life, I have been involved in fire service advocacy in one way or another. Starting off as a volunteer firefighter in my hometown, it seems I have always been trying to work with others to further a cause. Now, decades later, I realize that has created a culmination of experiences that has taken me down a path I never dreamed of. You may feel the same.
I have met outstanding individuals and mentors along the way. Those who truly give back do so ever so humbly, without posturing for accolades and awards, and are trusted, making you comfortable at whatever level you work at. We all know when you just get a good sense feeling from good people. I have been truly blessed to be rubbing shoulders and learning from some great people in Canada’s fire service.
I was a young school age boy when I first started reading Fire Fighting in Canada. My father was a volunteer firefighter and had a subscription in the late 1970s. The issues of this magazine could be found around the house and I really enjoyed reading about the fire service’s news and innovations. Some of the early columnists influenced how I thought about the fire department outside of my little town. This was all in an era before social media and the information sharing we now enjoy today. Decades later, I find myself honoured to write a column in the very same publication that helped form my culture in emergency service.
Firefighters by their very nature are individuals who step up in a community to help and take it to a whole new level. Not only do they live the danger and disruptiveness that fire fighting demands, but firefighters start their careers as community advocates that join up in most cases just to help. Whether they know it or not, firefighters become advocacy leaders for many causes.
Shortly after I joined the fire department, I found myself helping the community and spent time spreading fire safety messaging for fire prevention. This is an early form of advocacy that most firefighters slide into easily. “Working towards a safer tomorrow” was a tag line that buzzed in my head during my Learn Not to Burn experiences educating in local schools. That attitude stuck with me.
Later, when I ran for a board position with our provincial association, it seemed like a natural fit and I thought it would be cool to be involved and learn on a wider scale. After getting elected the first time, I spent many years learning advocacy and the political side of life. I soon learned that there are politics in everything, and the fire service was no exception. I also got to meet incredible people outside my normal circle of work. That truly made me a better firefighter every day and consequently, looking back, I think I’m a better fire chief because of it.
Working on a provincial fire service board and advocacy soon morphed into supporting national issues and improvements to fire service culture. I feel privileged to learn all that I have. The experience of moving governments and organizations forward was interesting even in times when the challenges presented dire outlooks for our fire service. It was through the collective work of associations and good people advocating that moved our fire departments to where they are now.
I share this because I believe you are reading this column because you care about and are interested in the fire service. I want to impress upon you that it is people like you that will advocate and make the next changes. No matter how small-town or big-city you are, we all have an important role to share together.
Canada’s fire service needs strong advocacy by those who are in the trenches. Volunteer firefighters have a very important role to play in the future. Our sector is dealing with many challenging times and makes up a significant percentage of the fire service. Advocacy has to come from the grassroots to be effective. It also must come from the collaboration with all the fire services large and small. It’s when we truly understand each other’s side of the shop that associations become most effective at get things moving in the right direction.
Do you have what it takes to step up? I encourage you to try, and like me, you will suddenly look back, smile, and know we have all made a difference together.
I would like to pass on to you and especially our younger readers, that you never know where your fire service path, career or volunteer, may take you. Never underestimate the vast knowledge and experience you share and gain. Even the mistakes we make provide so much to learn from. It all helps to shape our future for the good.
Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the current president of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association. Email Vince at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince.
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