Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: Not the same but better

July 14, 2020
By Vince MacKenzie

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Well, here we are halfway through the summer of 2020 and what an incident the first half of the year has been. The year 2020 will not be remembered as a calendar year so much as it will be remembered as an event. To call what we are in the midst of now a ‘different world” would be an understatement. Fire departments across the country have been affected by a series of abnormal events. First, we have all been touched and responded to the pandemic is some way, shape, or form. My co-columnist colleague Tom DeSorcy observed that when he spoke about it in June’s edition of Volunteer Vision. He said that it is the first time fire chiefs across Canada have been united when we consider every chief was working the same incident at the same time, referring to the pandemic crisis.

Second up, the tragic events of April in Nova Scotia saw the fire service once again stepping to the forefront as the violent acts and arsons of one person caused the mostly volunteer fire departments in the region to answer the calls with even more risk. Departments had to stand down as buildings burned because they were not able to respond due to the violence risk. The ensuing tragedy scarred their communities and will be remembered for a long time to come regionally and nationally. My deepest condolences to all affected and I wish you healthy healing.

Third up, late spring saw massive civil rights demonstrations as crowds of people take to the streets during a pandemic and the fire service was once again on high alert as we carefully watch protests in our community and ensuing fires in the United States. Here in Canada we had more peace in the demonstrations and fires were not an issue.

These are just three of the events in the first six months of this year. I’ve always maintained that fire departments are adversity departments: we are only pressed into rapid action when adversity strikes our community. Converging emergencies in local areas during the pandemic era only adds to the sense of adversity.

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As firefighters, we are trained to act in face of adversity, therefore we care deeply for our communities. It takes a deep sense of caring to volunteer and operate at the level of commitment we put forth everyday as we carry that pager. Adversity is what we are here for but it seems it is relentless for this year.

The way we measure our fire service objectives will be changed forever. We shouldn’t expect to meet last year’s goals as easily in the next couple of years. Our firefighters are seeing this daily as their observations around operations, training, and the way we do things now become a proving ground for what really works to be safer in the pandemic era. What we once considered great traditions in once a week department training may be shattered as we learn that training in small groups and in some cases virtually added to better learning for many. It does have its advantages and we also will acknowledge the disadvantages, especially in group cohesiveness. But as we are all affected by this era together the positive fact is that everyone is contributing to solutions.

The loss of training conferences has exposed many to other avenues of learning. While travel has been scaled back, the opportunity for firefighters to attend live trade shows, training and provincial and national conferences is almost nonexistent for a while. Our fire service associations have done great work leading us through and guiding the fire service during this unprecedented pandemic era. Unfortunately, the organization’s revenue from conferences will be lower and place these associations in a change mode as well.

Our communities have learned to appreciate emergency services even more, as we all saw how important essential services are the core of our towns. Essential workers are not exclusive to the core emergency services we often get recognized as, we also learned that everyone is essential especially in even some of the lowest paying jobs that we take for granted every day.

So, buckle up folks and tighten the gear, the fire service will probably never be the same after 2020, but in most respects, I feel we will be in a better place. You will gain more knowledge and experience than you ever have in one calendar year. Let’s build it together. Change is coming, adversity is coming, but fire departments have been ready and dealing with both change and adversity since our existence. That is our true tradition: we got this!


Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld. He is an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the past president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services. Email Vince at firechief@townofgfw.com and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince.