Fire Fighting in Canada

Volunteer Vision: Time to call the adversity department

July 19, 2022  By Vince Mackenzie

It is conference season, and I can’t tell you how important it is to see our training and networking opportunities redevelop over the last few months. As the pandemic restrictions ease, our world returns to normal (or whatever normal will be in a post-pandemic time). We will need our peer networks like never before.

In my view, our collective lives may never be the same and it will certainly be a struggle as all organizations and businesses regroup to provide their services and wares. 

If the stumbling automobile, air transportation, and supply chain businesses are any indication, consumers will be in for a tough ride. Providing services to Canadians in any aspect of a business seems to have changed. Timely healthcare services are even more dire as we see our partners in our nation’s hospitals struggle to recover with adequate staffing and service levels. We are actually seeing emergency rooms close. There is a real concern that the professional women and men in healthcare will be in crisis for a long time. This is serious business and the lives and safety of our colleagues, families, and friends are under threat. Just like the fire service, the demand for service can not be turned off as much as our governments would like. 

Managing and improving these core services usually mean increases to funding and hiring more people. But they are still in crisis and there is simply no trained workforce pool to be had. Fire services are provided in many communities by volunteers, so money certainly won’t be the answer there either. 


The financial business world is heading into turmoil as interest rates sharply increase and the price of everything skyrockets. It will have impact on everything fire department related, from the cost of a new fire truck to a new pair of gloves. Operating budgets will undoubtedly be diminished as the mounting costs pile up and the value of our funding goes down. 

I’m sure my comments may seem like a diatribe of doom and gloom but there is a point to all this. 

The world is facing adversity at an unprecedented scale and we, the country’s first responders, will face challenges to provide fire and life safety protection to our citizens. With all the negative energy coming from the news, it will be easy for fire departments to make excuses and point fingers at other factors to explain why we are struggling. 

But haven’t we always struggled? My entire fire service career has been highlighted by the challenges of fighting fires and training; overcoming adversity is a staple of what we do. We are the adversity department for our towns and villages and this upcoming era will be no exception. 

If we think that someday we will magically wake up and all is good, I will call you a dreamer. Let’s face it, fire departments exist for the sole purpose to fix the adversity of community strife when it happens. Thankfully, our fire halls are filled with the most resilient types of individuals known to society.  Those of you that have been here a long time did not get here by riding the coat tails of others. I would suggest that when the problems come knocking on the doorstep of our community, it is the fire department that is often first out to respond. When society has thrown curve balls to community, the members of our fire departments always adapted and overcame. 

Prior to the pandemic, our challenges were many. Problems like recruitment and retention, adequate funding, updating equipment and technology, boosting morale, managing politics, and training were the ingredients to make a successful fire department more resilient. Now that the world is seeing adversity on all fronts, from airlines to hospitals, on even greater levels than anyone has been used to, fire department challenges should be expected to be no different. But I do think we have an advantage: volunteer fire departments have been training in the college of adversity since our inception. We are ready for this. I believe this is where the adversity leaders in your fire halls will have their finest hours to come.  

So, my point in all this is to help show you that we have the tools to push our departments further along during the troubles to come. Your challenge will be to concentrate on the leadership traits you already have and build them even more. Our challenge will be to keep responding and helping in a time where it will take a greater toll on our resilience, our bodies and minds. Care for your mental health, support each other like we never have before, enhance your leadership ability on all levels from firefighter to chief. These post-pandemic times will offer old and new challenges. Let us lean on each other, and our fire organizations will have their proudest moments.

Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the current president of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association. Email Vince at and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince.

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