Fire Fighting in Canada

Volunteer Vision: Communicating your message

May 24, 2022  By Tom DeSorcy

Can you easily tell when a person is confident? Can you detect by their actions or demeanor that they have everything under control? How about your confidence? Does it show? Speaking before a crowd, it’s easy to see when someone is controlled and confident in their delivery. I find that when you know what you’re talking about or are passionate about the topic, it’s easier to give your message.  

As a young broadcaster in my early days of radio, I was taught about presenting. Being on the air isn’t just about reading what’s in front of you. It was invoking the ‘theatre of the mind’ where you had to paint a picture with the spoken word.  Sometimes, you didn’t have a lot of time, or the listener wasn’t in it for the long haul and wanted the information quickly and concisely. They’re not always there for a story. They want to know what’s happening and even without seeing you, they can tell you are delivering concise and accurate information.

Can you see a fire connection here yet? Public speaking is standing before a group and presenting or announcing in person. Radio, on the other hand, is not really public speaking. Announcers are trained to speak to only one person, even though many more are actually listening. This technique allows you to be more conversational and make the listener feel that they are being spoken to personally.  

On the fire ground, these same principals apply when giving direction, not only in person, but over the air. My inspiration for this topic comes from always trying to maintain situational awareness. In my area, I monitor the channels of my neighbouring fire departments along with emergency health services. I’m able to gain an awareness of what’s going on around us.


Radio announcers are constantly critiqued as part of their job. In a radio station, the program director is responsible for the announce staff. Back in the day, there would be a cassette recorder in the studio that was connected to record only when the microphone was turned on. This delivered a synopsis of your performance for you and the program director to review.  This is known as an “air check”; it was an “after action review” of sorts.   

On the fire ground, I’m personally particular of the message I send over the air. This is most important when you’re first on scene. The dispatcher and incoming units should get an idea of what you’re facing.  

How important is the “air check” in the fire department? Obviously, we are not requiring people to perform on the air, nor should they be worried about how they sound. They are not doing a radio show, but many of the same principles apply.  

Have you ever done an “air check”? I have in the past. Not for every call, but certain ones that I may not have attended and were able to listen to. In particular, I compare the picture that was painted for my mind to the way it was conveyed over the radio. I’ve taken audio files from our dispatch that included not only the sound of the person on the air, but the dispatcher and the call taker to give the firefighters a sense of just what is going on at the other end as they receive multiple calls for the incident that they attended.  

Quite often I’ve seen, or heard, volunteer departments become frustrated when their calls of acknowledgement to a page out, for example, aren’t answered right away. However, once they realize that their dispatcher is working feverishly to gather information about the call they’re being sent to, they soon realize that they are part of much larger response behind the scenes.

Radio training for first responders is usually a standard about protocol and procedure which is important, but giving people a chance to hear themselves and understand what their delivery and messaging sounds like is worthwhile training as well. Quite often you don’t need to know what’s happening on scene as you can often tell by the tone of voice and delivery of the message. Your confidence and demeanor will resonate with the crew that’s monitoring in the background or is on route to the call. 

 Give some consideration to how you sound. I’m sure you do this all the time when it comes to addressing the local media at a call. Your body language together with your tone of voice can combine to paint a picture of concern and confidence in your team all the while delivering a lesson or message of safety.   

There is nothing more powerful than the spoken word. Remember this and use it to your advantage.

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. Tom is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia as communications director and conference committee chair. Contact Tom at 

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