Cooking and hockey —not necessarily something you’d expect in a Volunteer Vision, but then again with me, many won’t be surprised. These are just two of the things, outside of fire fighting, that occupy my time. On the hockey front, more so as a spectator than a player, and I will admit to watching a lot of cooking on television — just as much as sports. So, how does this relate to leadership and life in the firehall? Well, in this column, I’ve often referred to sports and the correlation between coaching and leadership in the firehall and the recipe for success.
I also feel that this is where volunteer departments, with fewer members or just one hall, are unique to that of career or larger departments. It’s like comparing a city to a small town. There is a unique sense of community where a firehall becomes a lot of different things. Firehalls can be a meeting place, a storage facility and a focal point of the community, just to name a few. Some are community halls and emergency centres. They host functions and gatherings of all kinds. To some, it’s actually our home away from home.
For any fire department, chemistry is everywhere and a required ingredient in all that we do. we all learn in the beginning about the fire triangle. We have heat, fuel and oxygen everywhere, yet we still need that chemical reaction in order to have a fire.
The same goes in the kitchen where if we combine the right ingredients good things can happen but not by themselves. For example, simply combining flour and water together does not make bread. You need other ingredients, including chemistry, to bring the dough together. Simply said, when you put the right mix together along with time and technique, we can create something special.
Watching sports, particularly hockey, I often hear about that one person on the team referred to as being “good in the room”. They bring a certain chemistry. The room, or the firehall in this case, is where leaders emerge, be it through age, attitude or experience and much like a kitchen, adding one wrong ingredient can ruin the meal.
Finding the recipe for success in the firehall is not often something you can look up in a manual. Albeit, as a chief fire officer and leader gathering skills and knowledge, there is a place for literature. In fact, it’s a great place to start. I refer to books on leadership written by those in the game, those that have been in the room. These books are not manuals, they’re guides for success; guides one can use to recognize those key ingredients that can come from within “your” room. The skill lies in the leader that can find that ingredient and give it what it needs to grow stronger.
In our fire department we have seen a definite change in our ranks, not just in age but in attitude. Some may call it dealing with a different generation. I’d like to think it’s the older generation that is not only instilling the traditions of the fire service, but helping our firehall community grow strong in support of, and for, each other. They truly have each other’s backs, beyond an emergency event. This is stuff you can’t teach.
The big buzz words in the volunteer fire service have always been recruitment and retention. To me, a great team blows the retention issue out of the water. Keeping people engaged as part of the team, as part of the family, wins out over all.
On the other side of the coin, some may get the feeling that it’s hard to break into a strong team, that they might not be accepted by “the group”. On the contrary, I think the stronger the team, the more pressure there is on a recruit to not necessarily “fit in”, but work even harder to make the team beyond the fire skills and training.
It’s up to us to demonstrate that recruits are not just on the team, but are a key ingredient in the mix. We use a mentoring program that does just that. It allows recruits to have a peer to lean on. Soon they will learn that this organization is more than what meets the eye as we create a unique desire to be a part of it.
We all give our team the skills to play in the fire game. Those skills not only build confidence but they build pride. Pride that is like a wave, and once you catch it, it’s hard to let go. All you have to do is find the recipe to bring them together as a winning team.
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 TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
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