Volunteer Vision: Celebrating 35 years in the fire service
By Vince MacKenzie
By Vince MacKenzie
Feb. 1 marks a fire fighting milestone for me. It will be my 35th anniversary of the day I joined my hometown fire department and became a volunteer firefighter. I remember entering the fire hall that first training night, all excited and proud of the journey I was about to embark on. Now I look back and am even more proud of what the fire service means to me.
Reflecting back, I know the volunteer fire service in Canada has progressed leaps and bounds. Surely there are still a few fire departments that seem to be a little frozen in time, but even those departments don’t operate entirely like they did three decades ago.
In 1983, I was 18 years-old and chomping at the bit to become a firefighter. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, who spent 42 years in the volunteer fire fighting service. Growing up as a firefighter’s kid, I was influenced so much by my father’s passion that I cannot remember ever wanting to do anything else. Many children want to be a firefighter when they grow up, and some of us never outgrow that desire. My upbringing was influenced so heavily by the fire service that I could never imagine myself in any other profession.
I was reading Fire Fighting in Canada magazine as early as 1978 as a teenager. There were always issues lying in around our home as my father had a subscription. This magazine also influenced my fire fighting path. Long before social media, where nowadays people can follow their interests minute-by-minute, trade magazines were the enthusiast’s only means of getting updated information on their industries. In my young life, Fire Fighting in Canada magazine was my only view of the fire service outside of our little town; it was a window to the entire Canadian fire service. I still remember the names of some of the columnists like Chris Ransome. I honestly never dreamt that I would be someday become a columnist, contributing to the magazine for nearly a decade.
Reflecting now on three and half decades, I see that so much has changed in our industry. I have had the great fortune to learn and experience the fire service on a multitude of levels and perspectives. From a volunteer firefighter to a career chief, I have held a number of different roles within the fire department, from fire suppression, rescue, prevention, public education and fire inspection to training. I am also privileged to be involved with executive boards for provincial, interprovincial, and national fire service associations. It is a magnificent journey.
I remember being that enthusiastic young firefighter wanting nothing but to answer the call, get on the hoseline, enter burning structures and kick butt. Back then, I never once thought about what goes into building and maintaining a successful fire service. I think back now as to how primitive that mindset is compared to today’s service. We have evolved so much. But some things will never change; fires will continue to occur and it still takes hard work and training to fight them.
Much has been written about how the fire services are changing: fires burn faster and more toxic, training, etc. Our roles have evolved from one of just fire fighting to a multitude of roles in emergency services and management. I am happy to see our services rising to meet all the changes and challenges we now see as fire departments in Canada today.
I’d like summarize my thoughts and observations over the 35 years in a few statements, while trying not to sound like an old salt.
Fire fighting is and will always be hard physical work. This work requires technical knowledge and skills to be executed as safely as possible, performed with cool emotional stability by solid teamwork in an organization striving for excellence. I have observed this on many occasions.
Fire fighting will never be easy, nor will it be without physical work. Fire fighting skills cannot be performed by untrained people nor can they be performed recklessly in a frantic effort. Instead, service must come from quality organizations driven by purpose.
The fire service will always be a changing profession, and I am excited to welcome the new firefighters who will join up in the coming years. One of the key advantages they have now as opposed to 35 years ago, is that training information is so readily available through social media platforms, including this very publication. Perhaps a bigger challenge will be weeding out false information, deciphering the good training from the bad. Therefore, I believe we need our trade journals to be more credible than ever.
Hard copy or online, always keep reading and learning! Perhaps start by reading this issue cover to cover.
Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince