Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: June 2019

Look into the past for a glimpse of your future

May 15, 2019 
By Tom DeSorcy

Funny what you find when you decide to clean the fire hall.
So, picture me the other day digging through storage areas only to find a film strip projector of all things. Talk about being taken back to elementary school. Not only did I find the projector, but this came complete with the canisters of film for fire training. Have we really been doing this that long?

Not far from this relic of history was the old VCR. Of course, with the VCR came the boxes of training tapes that I remember watching on practice nights.

As a part of this collection, I pulled out an old video – some “archival” footage, if you will, of our fire department in action – and what I saw not only opened my eyes but had me nodding my head in appreciation.

Soon I was looking into, essentially, a rearview mirror back 15 years into our past. The video footage was shot in 2004. We had just joined three fire departments into one and were still going through the pains of this alignment. I still considered myself a rookie chief officer of sorts doing what we could in the face of adversity.


The memories this video rekindled made me smile for more reasons than nostalgia. Yes, the calls may have taken me back to the day, but when I looked closely I could see the dedication and determination from a team of professional volunteers that were essentially making do with the gear and equipment they had. Firefighters were wearing different brands of air packs and their gear was mismatched and in an older style, well older than the year that this was recorded.

Essentially what I was watching was the polar opposite of where we are today, and while that made me smile it also validated our attitude toward what we currently do in our department.

I live my life following certain “guidelines,” shall we say. Philosophies, mottos, whatever terms you wish to use, there are several I lean on – from leaving people wanting more to feeding the grass instead of the moss.

A particular attitude I watch out for in fire departments and communities as a whole is their attitude toward tomorrow, or how they see the future ahead in comparison to their day-to-day operations. More so, do they continue to work just with what they have or are they forward thinking in terms of what tomorrow will bring? Quite simply, are you a “make do” or a “can do” fire department?

If you think you fall into the “make do” category, why do you think that is? Could it be there is simply no funding and you do the best you can? Or is there a holdover from past attitudes in the opinion that the “gear is fine, it never gets used that often,” or, “We take care of our stuff so it lasts forever.”

The “make do” attitude has actually fuelled smaller communities for years. Enter the modern fire service, one that introduced communities to standards and practices guided by the likes of NFPA, Worksafe and the Underwriters – a world where vehicles and equipment are replaced on a schedule and members are trained and properly protected and where forward thinking is, or at least should be, top of mind.

The fire service took many years to evolve over generations of tradition. But, thankfully change has come.

In my career as a chief officer, I think back to the people I’ve met and, more importantly, learned from. They taught me the value of change and forward thinking.

The gear you bought yesterday may still be good today but won’t last until tomorrow. The time to plan replacement is right now. The same goes with trucks and other equipment.

Looking back through the mirror that was our past, I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. Those that taught me that it was okay to not be perfect and, while we don’t own the best, we can be the best in what we do, the way we prepare, the way we protect our community.

Sometimes, all it takes is a look into your past to give you a glimpse of your future. More so, a validation that what you’re doing today in your department is not only on track, but that the right decisions have and are being made.

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 B.C as communications director and conference committee chair. Contact Tom at and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept.

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