Volunteer Vision: March 2017
By Tom DeSorcy
If you’re new to this column, you won’t know about my theory of moss and grass. Allow me a refresher: the same way a small section of moss can ruin an otherwise pristine lawn, your fire hall can be damaged by a couple of people who don’t fit in, who don’t like the direction in which you’re heading, and who threaten to overtake the rest of the members if left unchecked.
The first reaction is to attack and remediate the invasion, often throwing all your energy and resources at one or two people when, like the moss on your lawn, you can simply ignore the moss and feed the strong and healthy grass around it; soon the moss is overtaken by the strong, healthy grass, and will simply go away on its own. I have been feeding the grass for years now and while I have to trim it back now and again, for the most part, I leave it to grow and strengthen day by day.
I started on this journey as a fire chief in 1999 and, looking back, I’m happy with some of the growth I’ve seen, but it has taken time. The fire department is like a property without landscaping – leave it alone and it will be overgrown with weeds but properly planted and maintained, with good direction and guidance, it will flourish.
Time can be your best friend. Many things can’t be fixed overnight, rather they need time to grow and develop. This is particularly true with change – a little at a time with a common goal in mind and you will soon see the benefits of your actions. In smaller volunteer departments, change is not often needed. You’ve had the same members for years and there is really no need to be different. For many, change, when it is needed, is often big or controversial.
Allow me to make a suggestion (or plant a seed): you’ve heard people say not to implement change just for the sake of doing so, however there may be some benefit in doing just that. Just remember that whatever you lay down today becomes the foundation for tomorrow and the smallest alteration now could be the catalyst for that. Major changes all at once are hard to take but small changes are easier to accept. As the saying goes, eat an elephant one bite at a time.
I feel that tomorrow is something a lot of people can’t envision; something that is just too far away. When I think back to our fire department in the ’80s I don’t think there was really a tomorrow. Everything we did was for today. We drove the trucks, went to fires and that was it. When a truck didn’t run anymore we begged our council for money to buy a new one.
When I started in this position I came in cold. I knew nothing about fire-service administration, yet I set up an apparatus replacement schedule with money put aside annually for new trucks. We were fortunate that with our amalgamation, two of the three departments had set up reserve accounts for this purpose but unfortunately, most of our vehicles were the same age, so we had to take this on one bite at a time.
At first, the thought of purchasing a fire truck was overwhelming, a once-in-a-lifetime event; no way did I expect to be involved in the purchase of six trucks since 1996. The first one that I helped purchase, as a volunteer firefighter, is soon due for replacement. Granted, in a small community, that new truck is still going to be a big deal but if it’s scheduled and planned, it won’t come as a surprise.
Amalgamation forced us to change, and, looking back, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened. This is what I encourage chiefs of smaller departments to do. Envision tomorrow. In your mind, things may be running smoothly, with everything going the way it should. In that case there has never been a more perfect time to gaze into the future.
Like the old-growth forest, the trees may be tall and stronger than ever but you still plant seedlings nearby. You will need new trees one day and it’s important to break ground now. Running a fire hall can be like a garden. I’m not a gardener by any means, but around the fire hall you might say we have a bumper crop: seeds have been planted and we are poised to reap the harvest.
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 active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept