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Volunteer Vision: Reflecting on the life changing act of becoming a volunteer firefighter

August 19, 2022  By Tom DeSorcy


I will often take the opportunity, both in person and here in this column, to remind my colleagues and myself to take a step back once in a while, a check-in if you will, to remind ourselves that what we do does make a difference in all our lives.  

I’m reminded of this by a colleague that always said to me that when it comes to recruitment in the volunteer fire service, it all comes down to criteria and so long as you could “fog up a mirror” you qualified for the fire department. 

All kidding aside, this is not far from the truth, or at least it was in the “good old days”.  Today, the mirror can play a different role in true reflection. You never really need to look too much further beyond that mirror to see the person that you really are. However, for a moment, take a step back, and you’ll see that the person looking back at you, gets farther away as well, allowing you to increase your depth of field and reflect a little deeper on who you are and what you’ve become.

I often hear the phrase “life changing” and I like to think that’s what the volunteer fire service means to us all. For me, it’s been almost 35 years involved in one way or another. For others, it’s been even longer.  Even for those newer members who are still considered rookies, I challenge that their lives have changed just by hanging a pager from their belt.  

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The term life changing goes even further than that. Every time you respond in a truck and engage with someone in your community, you stand to make a difference and change someone’s life each and every day. Are you standing there reflecting on what you have done to make a difference or are you thinking about today and how you will do it all over again?  

Take a moment and think of any member of your department that has been with the team for a few years. Think back to when you first met that person and imagine what their life would be like had they not joined the fire service. Would they still be in the community? Would they still sign up today knowing what they were in for? It’s crystal ball type stuff but interesting and affirming to us as leaders when we realize how lucky we actually are to have them as part of our team.  

That goes for the entire crew. Is there anyone in your fire hall that you could do without? Seriously, if that’s the case, then maybe they shouldn’t be there, but I suggest that we would be hard pressed to find that individual.  Now you can reflect on what we truly have and it doesn’t take long to realize that the value of their stock just went up.  

The most honest person in your life is that person in the mirror staring back at you. Do you remember what the younger version of this person was like when they began in the fire service? Do you even remember why you got involved in the first place? Thirty years ago, you didn’t join a volunteer department to become a career firefighter. It was a reason to contribute to your community. Perhaps you were a business owner that wanted to give back or it was a place where your friends were. It may not have been intentional at the time, but you enrolled to make a difference.  

Today’s volunteer fire department responds to many more calls for service than we used to. Medical calls, motor vehicle incidents and even natural disasters. If ever I’m questioned as to our reasons for response outside of actual fire calls, which does happen, I ask myself a question before answering. Did we make a difference? Well, rest assured, to someone we did and even if that someone is one of our own responders.  Each and every response impacts us all and no matter the outcome we need to recognize that.

A wise person told me a long time ago that we should all strive to learn something new every day.  Well, I challenge you to also make a difference every day and that includes to yourself. I think it’s worth having this conversation often with members of your team. Remind them that they have the potential to impact with each and every response and remember that everything we do will not only reflect on the people we serve but the people we serve with.  

Editor’s historical note: Chief DeSorcy has been co-authoring the Volunteer Vision column for 13 years. His penning partner, Chief Vince MacKenzie, has been co-authoring since December 2010 (his first column for FFIC being a “A View from the East”, also published in 2010). Thank you for your contribution to the volunteer fire service conversation through Fire Fighting in Canada!


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. DeSorcy is married with two children and enjoys curling and golf. He is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C as communications director and conference committee chair. E-mail Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept. 


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