Fire Fighting in Canada

Volunteer Vision: Embracing the now

March 15, 2021 
By Tom DeSorcy

Has your attitude changed? In the last five years? How about in the last year? There it is — the elephant in the room — what has, or more importantly how can, the past year change you?  

Are you familiar with the term ‘a tiger cannot change its stripes’?  It’s the definition of a person’s true character. No matter what a person may project on the outside, they will always have an underlying attitude that is often hard to change. The past year we’ve been through might just alter that. I mean, if you wanted to work remotely from home, say two years ago, or conduct all your meetings online, someone might have called you lazy. Today, that’s all changed. 

Saying that you’re changing just because you were forced to do so can often be considered an excuse. If you realize that circumstances beyond your control gave you an opportunity to justify change, you will be among the strong that emerge from a crisis situation.  

I think this is what sets the fire service or first responders in general, apart from others. Yes, we have the tools, some more than others, but every call, every response, may require us to use those tools in a way they weren’t initially intended. Or the tool we really need, we simply don’t have. In a case such as this do you actually say to yourself “it’s time to adapt” or do you just do it? Fitting into the situation at hand comes second nature for the fire service. If they “zig” we “zag”? No, we “zig” along.   

What interests me in the year ahead is those that have taken advantage of the situation in terms of the opportunity to change, and not just temporarily, but permanently. Perhaps this is just the beginning of change as we have been forced to demonstrate the need. Again, positively take this as an advantage or an admission if you will, that something before wasn’t quite working and now we may have a better and more efficient way of doing certain things. 

Our biggest hurdle by far in the future will be our lack of human contact. If you’ve heard the phrase, “I’ll never get that time back”, then this is exactly what it means. Did you ever think the last conference or education summit you attended will be in fact just that, your last? For those nearing the end of their tenure, their career in the fire service, this may just be the case. More and more providers are offering virtual conference platforms and many may see this as a viable opportunity moving forward into the future.  

To say this concerns me would be an understatement. Look at the volunteer fire departments across Canada and ask how much not seeing everyone on a social basis has impacted their membership or their sense of belonging in the organization. We owe it to our members to not only build this back, but build it back better.  

I stress to all that we should not always try to replicate what we used to do, but accomplish our goals in a different manner. The next step would be to take these changes and see how we could integrate these virtual tools, for example, into what we used to do. This is what excites me for the future of conferences, education and training. 

Underlying attitudes are getting quite a beating right now and this has to be a good thing. People don’t change easily until it’s forced upon them.  Quite often that is met with objection and in the past 12 months it’s not realistic to think otherwise. The volunteer fire service was having a tough time to begin with. You thought recruitment was tough in 2019?  It just got tougher. Or did it? Will we see a resurgence of that “get involved” attitude again? Will that tiger’s stripes shine through?  

I use the term “now” normal as opposed to “new” normal. It’s all a part of acceptance as by now most of us have stopped holding our breath and waiting for the nightmare to end. The impact to society has occurred. The tiny stream of life has altered its course and, like any waterway, the destination remains the same. It just may take a little longer to get there. Now is our chance to leap into action.  We’ve demonstrated our ability to pivot in difficult times. Now, more than ever, we can make ourselves attractive to those that wish to continue and enhance our legacy of service to our communities. Change has been forced upon us and we’ve all been able to demonstrate that change is okay.  Resist the urge to go back and do it the old way.  Embrace the future because it’s here.  

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 and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept. 

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