In the fire service, we are good at many things. Public education being just one of them. What better way to protect our communities than to teach people to be safe and to avoid needing our service all together. But what about public awareness? Have we ramped that up at all?
As Fire Fighting in Canada marks 65 years, I can’t help but reminisce and look back on what I’ve written. Eight years ago, I wrote about promotion in the way of telling our story and blowing our own horns, so to speak, when it comes to awareness of what we do in the volunteer fire department.
Now I’m thinking we need to improve on that even more, as many of us face staffing and recruitment issues that are greater than ever before. I’ve also written in the past about our brand. We are the most recognizable brand in the world. One that sells itself, or should. Perhaps it’s time to take this product to the next level. Not by getting people to buy it, but to buy into it.
So just what are we doing to promote our brand? I believe that while it’s easy to talk in a forum such as this, how do we reach beyond and outside of the industry itself?
Have we not come to a point now where smaller communities see their volunteer fire departments are needed more than ever? At what point does your community realize or make the move to have career firefighters?
Everything boils down to levels of service. It’s the community, through their elected officials, that need to decide just how much service you are willing to provide. Fire chiefs have the power to make their elected officials think about the future and the services they wish to provide to their citizens. I fear that the volunteer fire service has done such a stellar job of providing a wide array of services that we are being taken for granted. This could soon come to a screeching halt.
To further confuse the issue, add in the discussion of service levels when it comes to minimum training standards. In B.C., for example, we train to an “interior level” but that is just for structure fires. This doesn’t cover everything else we do and while we are not at a “full service” level here in B.C., we are just about there.
Take a basic light switch for example. In most cases, it has two simple options. It’s either on or it’s off. There is no in between or maybe. You hold the power to decide what level of service you require from that switch. Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? The point I try and make is that we are in or we are out.
It’s no secret that we are facing challenges. Look no further than the employment levels in this country. There are jobs out there, lots of them, yet no one seems to want them. If people don’t want jobs that pay, they certainly won’t be signing up for ones that don’t.
The fire service in Canada is moving in the right direction. Declared levels of service are one example that has validated what we’ve been doing all along and has given us the necessary credibility to not only be safe, but to be even better at what we do.
The origins of the fire service in many small communities are essentially grassroot. Residents saw a local need and worked to fulfill it. As communities grew, the fire department had to grow along with it. Part of that growth was a changing level of responses and responsibilities. Very soon, the community came to realize that the local organization that was providing their fire protection was actually an entity that they controlled and were responsible for.
I’ve seen this change first hand and my story is not new. We took three of those community groups and made them our fire department. They weren’t told to go medical calls. They weren’t asked to include extreme weather events in their list of responses but when the need is there, who else are you going to call?
The public expects a lot more from their fire department and it’s only going to increase. We all need to recognize this expectation and work harder to deliver it. There has been much discussion post-pandemic that some things may never be the same. The volunteer fire service is one of those things. Our credibility is certainly there and continues to be on the rise but we should look beyond that.
We train as if our life depends on it, because it does. Now, we all need to promote and recruit as if our community depends on it, because it does.
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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