Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Volunteer Vision: The parable of moss and grass

August 17, 2023 
By Tom DeSorcy

Contributing to Fire Fighting in Canada these many years, it’s easy to overlook the impact our words can have on some people. I was made aware of this at this year’s fire chiefs’ conference in B.C. when a retired member came to me with a reminder of moss and grass.  For those that may not be aware, this was a leadership lesson that I created based on a personal experience as a talk show host on our local radio station.  

I think it’s worth recalling this story as many may be able to benefit from this idea when it comes to leadership in a volunteer fire hall.  Many years ago, when I was part of our small-town radio station, I was the host, among other things, of a daily talk show. One of our favourite guests was a local gardening expert by the name of Brian Minter.

Now, understand that I’m not a gardener per se so asking questions about something one knows little about can be very difficult, not to mention trying to fill an entire hour of a live radio show with it. Fortunately, this was a call-in show and our listeners had a lot of questions to ask, but I had to get the ball rolling and needed to start somewhere.  

The one thing I do know about gardening comes from lawn care, and by lawn care, I mean I mow the lawn. So naturally I asked about moss. This invasive nuisance encroaches on my lovely green turf. My question centred around how to get rid of moss. What chemical or technique could I implement to eradicate it?


His answer took me by surprise, and it was something that I thought of years later when I became fire chief for our volunteer fire department. He said that the best treatment for moss is to simply leave it alone. Don’t throw chemicals or poison at it when you can feed the grass around it. The more you feed the grass and support its growth efforts, the sooner the moss will be overcome.

This is where the leadership lesson comes in for me. I took on a new position, and essentially a new career in being the fire chief. While I quickly recognized an opportunity for change, I soon learned that a volunteer fire department can come with some challenges in motivating, empowering and retaining members.

I became the fire chief at a very interesting time where there was a lot of change in the fire service. Call volumes were beginning to increase, the need for our services was starting to grow, and some members who became complacent were not as receptive to new ideas and overall change. This is not to say that everyone shared these feelings, but the one or two that did soon began to occupy my time and energy. It was at this point that I recalled the talk show and that interview. 

I recalled the conversation about dealing with moss in my yard and then started to think to myself — there’s not much difference between the moss and grass and these individuals. I stopped putting my energy and efforts into those that didn’t want to move forward and treated them as moss. The rest of the crew, those who wanted to learn and progress as a modern fire service, were the ones I needed to focus my attention on.

I essentially fed the grass and left the moss alone and the more attention and support I gave the grass, the stronger it became. It wasn’t long after that the moss essentially couldn’t survive any longer and left on their own accord. My energies were better, my mindset was positive, and by employing this theory, I was able to create a strong and progressive fire department many years ago. It was after I first wrote this column and told this story that I heard from a few fire chiefs who said this was bulletin board material. This was on the wall in their office to remind them where their energy and efforts needed to be focused.

I’m glad that I’m able to continue to share this message and hopefully give fire chiefs a different perspective in a style of leadership that can help them grow their department. It may sound a little harsh, but sometimes you need to concentrate your efforts on those that want to be a part of the team.  

For those that have heard Fire Fighting in Canada: The Podcast, of which I’m fortunate to host, you may recognize the term “takeaways.” This is something that we hear often in presentations and read in columns and books. It refers to the “nugget of information” that you remember and can utilize in your day-to-day lives.

I’m thankful for the people that have contacted me in the past and I look forward to those that contact me in the future, to share their experiences with this style of leadership. It’s funny that something I came up with many years ago is still relevant to this day. I guess you’d call this legacy stuff. It’s definitely a simple way to turn positive energy into progressive growth supporting change in your fire hall.

Tom DeSorcy joined the fire service in 1983 and became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000, retiring in 2023.  DeSorcy is married with children and grandchildren. He is equally at home at a bonspiel, on the golf course, or in the kitchen, and continues to enjoy his connections to the fire service.  E-mail Tom at and watch for him on social media.

Print this page


Stories continue below