Volunteer Vision: September 2016
In spite of 33 years in fire, I’ve started to experience some revelations in just the last several months. I think it all started when I wasn’t paged for a structure fire. I awoke that morning to learn about the call and find out that the crew handled it without me.
By Tom DeSorcy
Realizing that members really don’t need you to take care of things can be a proud parent moment. Then again, the crews are well trained and always could handle the calls, but I’m still the first-ever paid fire chief around these parts, and it seems like just yesterday that I was tasked with this project. That yesterday was 17 years ago.
The local newspaper came to me recently and wanted to cover a training night – take some pictures of the volunteers in action and tell the story of the work and dedication it takes to do what we do. At first I was excited; this was an opportunity to tell our story and show the community what it takes to do our jobs. But then I got to thinking: is this really news? If it is, the next time Public Works mows the grass the paper may have to run an extra edition.
Have I failed as the self-professed guru of all things media and missed an opportunity to market my fire department, by not making a big deal out of something we do every day? On the contrary, I make a point of always telling my department’s story and doing my best to let the community know just what we’re up to and when. I’m starting to think that maybe my view is tainted by the fact that I’ve been doing this for so long. Back in the day, I had to sell the fire department and the volunteers by explaining to reporters what it takes to protect the community. Perhaps I’ve become complacent knowing now that what we do is just that – it’s what we do.
If you’re like me, you run your fire department like a business. Could it be that when our tasks become commonplace we run the risk of being, dare I say, forgotten? I can’t help but think back to a time when the fire department wasn’t really front and centre in the community, until of course there was a fire, which was rare. This was a time when a community such as ours had one call a month and a structure fire every two years. There were no medical assists or motor vehicle incidents; it wasn’t that they didn’t occur, we just didn’t go to those events. Of course smoke alarms were nonexistent then, and growing illegal substances in homes . . . can you imagine?
Unfortunately it’s that business acumen that may throw many fire chiefs off our games. We often talk about the increasing demands on volunteers, but what about the demands placed on fire chiefs? Full-time, part-time, it’s all the same for chiefs as our volunteer services become more and more professional and it becomes easier to disconnect from the fire hall, to lose touch with members. Heck, it seems we spend more time in front of a computer than we do in a truck bay.
I’m seeing this changing role of the chief as a sign to myself and hopefully to others. I remain a proponent of promotion through media and always telling our stories, but I think we have to instill in our members the idea that while what they do is very special and unique, there are times when we don’t really need to blow our own horns. Those times are when members have done their ninth call of the weekend and they head back to their families and their yard work as though it’s nothing special.
Still, we need to remember not only where we came from, but also where we really are. Where we are should not become where we will always be. While I may have awakened to the service we’ve become, I must always be aware to not take what we do for granted.
Continue to tell your story even though you may have heard it way too many times. Your audience changes as much as your customers and, in true business sense, you’re only as good as your last call. If we treat the fire service as new every day, then the passion doesn’t go away. It will always be fun to ride on a fire truck. I’m thinking I’m going to have to park the duty truck one day and go for a run. Will it make the front page when I do? No, but I will tweet about it afterward.
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 married with two children and enjoys curling, golf, cooking and wine-tasting. He is also very 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