Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: When preparation meets opportunity

July 12, 2021
By Vince Mackenzie

Luck, I have heard it said many times, is when preparation meets your opportunity.

How many times have you responded to a call and after a successful fire fighting operation have someone comment about how lucky the crew was to save the building or stop the fire when you did. These people would go on to further comment on what the negative outcomes may have been had your crew not been lucky to respond to the emergency when you did and take actions the way we do. In making complimentary conversation, they attempt to lift our spirits and acknowledge good work in their own way. They say we were lucky. 

People come up with a plethora of reasons why firefighters were successful and end it with the observation that we were lucky.  I go away from these conversations always thinking that luck really doesn’t have much to do with it. I’m not a large believer in luck when it comes to fire fighting. Even though I use the term many times, if we stop and think about it luck has absolutely nothing to do with outcomes, especially in fire fighting scenarios. Sure there are times when we feel luck has played a part in our success, but I view luck as one of two types of scenarios. 

The first “luck” scenario is mathematical odds, and lotteries are just mathematical odds, like buying lottery tickets. Winning is the exception, not the rule. 

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The second so called “luck” scenario is when your good preparation meets the opportunity. This is when your training and preparation level meets the emergency call  that requires the learned and practiced skills. In essence, our fire fighting teams created our own luck by ensuring our training meets the next call.  So when someone comments to you that your actions were lucky to save something, rest assured that luck had little to do with it for you. Do realize that the compliment is more to acknowledge that your level of preparation enabled you to be ready for the opportunity to have a successful outcome. 

The community should feel lucky they have you and your fire department are around. The confidence and expectations that your citizens would have in the capabilities of their fire department is created by the department’s reputation over time. Even the fact that they feel lucky to have a fire department of a high caliber usually means there has been a lot of preparation and training, a department that is solidly led, and well supported financially to enable the members to train with good equipment. The community and organization has created its own luck for its citizens.

Most of you who are reading this are firefighters yourselves. Were you lucky to join a department or was it calculated preparation on your part meeting an opportunity to be involved that brought you into the team?  Many of us are second or third generation firefighters.  Therefore I think that the preparation meets opportunity order may just be a little reversed in that opportunity presented itself early. You then had the foresight to prepare yourself at a young impressionable age, perhaps experiencing your father or mother volunteer in their local fire department. Their example opened your eyes to the opportunity.   

You may also feel lucky to be blessed to be working with a great crew of dedicated firefighters. Again, it is not luck, it is simply the pride and confidence that you have because the organization trains hard to be ready to meet the opportunity of the next emergency call. 

I have always felt uncomfortable when praise of a successful emergency scene outcome is directed toward me personally as a fire chief. While it feels good to hear the comments,  I always counter with the statement that we have great people working on our team and that’s why we had the specific success.  We know we are absolutely nothing without a solid team at play. While I may feel lucky to have you, I know that it took the team’s preparation to ensure you are ready and trained to serve. The luck that we feel to have you is simply the appreciation that we as chiefs have for our members and their  positive attitude to constantly prepare for the next call. 

I solidly believe that in the fire department you create your own luck, individually or as a team, luck doesn’t even factor into my equation. Winning a lottery would be pure luck. Constant training and development in preparation is the only way to be lucky in our business

But in fire fighting, in order to generate a win in a true emergency situation, your preparation, whether training individually or as a team, is what creates success. Train, train and train more and you will quickly see that your luck will magically increase with every call. 


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 past president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services. Email Vince at firechief@townofgfw.com and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince.