Volunteers
Written by Tom DeSorcy
Every one of us knows the customer experience firsthand. We’re all consumers, and at some point each and every day we receive some form of service. Hopefully, we are treated properly as a customer.
Written by Kirk Hughes
It’s evening, that period just after supper and before you go to bed. The kids are asleep and, despite the television being on, you’re on your phone checking social media and looking at funny cat pictures.

Then it happens. The tones drop. Dispatch comes on and gives you information about a possible structure fire just outside your community. Multiple calls have been received. You get up from the couch and hurry to your room to put on some more appropriate clothing before heading outside to start your vehicle. Getting to the firehall takes about six minutes and if you want to make a truck and get to the fire in time to have any impact you need to get moving.

Sound familiar?

Response time to any emergency is of critical importance to fire departments all across Canada.

Preparation begins with the individual firefighter. The first step is to prep your individual kit. Having pants, socks, t-shirt (weather depending of course) and boots placed in a dedicated area negates time lost searching for clothing in the dark or in a panic. Ensuring the vehicle used to respond to the hall is clear of snow, full of gas and angled out and not blocked in is also a strategy, aiding in faster reaction times. Another trick is to put the keys to that vehicle in a place that is consistent. Looking for keys or eyeglasses is a time-killer.

Responding from your house to the hall has to be done in a professional and safe manner. Planning ahead will ease that strain. Drive the route under normal conditions. Know the back streets and alleys that you could use in the event of obstruction. Identify hazards you want to avoid such as school zones, playgrounds and seniors’ complexes when travelling to the station. Understand road conditions, watch the weather forecast for precipitation and account for those factors when you respond.

Another innovative way to reduce the timeframe from house to hall is to use a green light. This is unique in Canada and used by many rural departments in many provinces. Some, like Alberta and Ontario, have it written into their legislation. By mounting a green light inside a personal motor vehicle, a statement is being made that you are a firefighter, likely a volunteer, and, when activated, that there is an emergency that requires attending. This may seem like an easy venture to partake in, but it isn’t successful unless an educational component is attached to it.

The first stage is ensuring firefighters using the lights understand their obligations and responsibilities under respective provincial traffic safety acts. Firefighters must know that the use of a green light provides no special privileges and all normal traffic control devices and regulations have to be followed.



Once firefighters understand those requirements, the second and more difficult phase begins – creating awareness amongst the public. Not every driver knows what a flashing green light signifies. Posting signs in your municipality that explain what a green light means is a great way to focus that message on anyone that enters your communities via a roadway. Social media posts, school talks and community events are also perfect ways to distribute the message. Green lights do not require another motorist to pull over, but it is a courtesy to yield the right-of-way to the responder, thus clearing the path to the hall.

Once at the hall, there are still numerous little ways to speed things up. First, adequate parking is a must. In the Northwest Territories, this includes space for snow machines and snowmobiles. Safe parking spaces that are away from responding bay doors and exit routes is a consideration. Once parked, having the main door open for firefighters to enter through is a big help. Some departments open one of the bay doors, usually the door without the responding apparatus coming out of it, which allows firefighters moving from the parking lot to gain access to the hall without having to use keys to open locks or punch in access codes to pull the door open and gain entry. Arriving at the lockers, a firefighter should have stored his or her turnout gear in such a manner as to assist with rapid donning. Pre-rolled pants over the boots with gloves and balaclava attached to the coat save time.

Technologically speaking, the use of firefighter responder apps on cellular devices are beneficial for telling departments who is on the way, sometimes how long it is expected to take them and provides the crucial data of how many firefighters are responding. Knowing who is coming and their specific skill sets and capabilities not only speeds up truck response, but it also arms an officer with advanced knowledge of the differing levels of experience available when a truck arrives on-scene.

Responding to a call from the station often requires advanced training from the officer and driver. The officer must know where the call is, the quickest way to get there, and be aware of any barriers to the response. The driver must have knowledge of emergency vehicle operations, provincial traffic act rules regarding lights and siren usage, and be skilled enough to maneuver a vehicle under stressful conditions.

Post-call review is also an important component to enhancing response times. Determining a department’s level of service is the first step. NFPA 1720 is the standard to strive for. Ignoring that standard is poor planning. Acknowledging the existence of that standard and working on complying accordingly is the right avenue to take. Gaining input from firefighters on how to further expedite responses is also worth a debrief after the call.


Kirk Hughes is deputy fire chief of the M.D. of Taber Regional Fire Department in Alberta. A veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Kirk served with the Burlington, Ont., Portage la Prairie, Man., Deline, N.W.T., Fort Providence, N.W.T., and Behchoko, N.W.T., fire departments before taking a position with the Municipal District of Taber as the director of community safety.
Written by Vince MacKenzie
Recruitment. It seems to be a topic of discussion a lot lately. Fire chiefs and officers are telling me that not only is it getting harder to recruit volunteer fire fighters these days, but when we do, some of the successful hires leave in a few short years for fulltime fire fighting jobs.
Written by Tom DeSorcy
Many have heard me quote this saying about the fire service: it’s “150 years of tradition, unimpeded by change.” But that’s not entirely true. There really is change in the fire service – it just doesn’t happen overnight. Believe me, in the last 35 years I’ve seen my fair share of change; it has and does occur on a regular basis, not only in the way we conduct ourselves and the job we do, but the change in the people that do the work itself.  
Written by Tom DeSorcy
You may be familiar with the phrase “sharing is caring”.  In this case, if you share this column in one way, shape or form, it may go a long way toward caring for those volunteers in your fire hall. This just may be the opportunity to tell the community their story.
Written by Tom DeSorcy
Reflection. Wow, there is another one of those power words like Resilience, Change or Inspiration. Words that good leaders have emblazoned on their foreheads, or that we’d like to believe is the case.  
Written by Vince MacKenzie
Feb. 1 marks a fire fighting milestone for me. It will be my 35th anniversary of the day I joined my hometown fire department and became a volunteer firefighter. I remember entering the fire hall that first training night, all excited and proud of the journey I was about to embark on. Now I look back and am even more proud of what the fire service means to me.
Written by Tom DeSorcy
Firefighters are the kind of people that will help anyone, anywhere. For the most part, the communities they serve are willing to pitch in whenever needed too. That is, until it actually happens.
Written by Vince MacKenzie
Firefighters do hazardous work, and that work can be very unpleasant at times. Emergency services form the safety network of our communities, and in the vast majority of communities volunteers are doing this work.
Written by Tom DeSorcy
Fire-service conferences and educational sessions often deal with the importance of leadership. Good leadership is necessary – at an emergency scene, around the fire hall and even at home. But leadership is not always seen, or in the forefront, as often the best leadership happens behind the scenes.
Written by Lauren Scott
On July 11, Richard Wells, a volunteer firefighter with the Hope Fire Department in British Columbia, was sent to aid in structural-protection efforts in Williams Lake along with a colleague. Wildfires in the surrounding mountain area had the town on evacuation alert for two weeks prior to Wells’ arrival.
Written by Vince MacKenzie
I believe there is no such thing as a fully trained firefighter. Firefighters are constantly training; it doesn’t matter whether you are a rookie or have had several decades on the job. Career or volunteer, this job requires a life-long learning commitment.
Written by Robert Krause
Editor’s note: Bob Krause, a battalion chief in Toledo, Ohio, has become a bit of a Bluenoser, having taught workshops at FDIC Atlantic and instructing on weekends in various parts of the Maritimes. A longtime career firefighter and officer, Krause learned a little bit about himself in Clare, N.S., recently, about the Canadian volunteer fire service, its dedicated men and women and the professionalism they exhibit on the job and in their communities.
Written by Tom DeSorcy
We all know that the volunteer fire service can be filled with all kinds of pressure and expectations. We have long established ourselves as the go-to service when it comes to emergency and community response. There used to be a time when our fire department responded to a fire, and that was all.
Written by Vince Mackenzie
Our job is tough. Responding to emergencies takes a toll on our bodies, minds and souls. But it is only recently that we have begun to consider how the stressful, life-saving work of first responders can impact our mental well-being.
Written by Tom DeSorcy
If you’re new to this column, you won’t know about my theory of moss and grass. Allow me a refresher: the same way a small section of moss can ruin an otherwise pristine lawn, your fire hall can be damaged by a couple of people who don’t fit in, who don’t like the direction in which you’re heading, and who threaten to overtake the rest of the members if left unchecked.
Written by David Balding
Like many areas, our community of 4,000 residents is incredibly well served by a fire department that comprises committed volunteers; I am the only career member. Although our members are paid-on call, they truly are volunteers in terms of the time and talent they donate to Golden Fire Rescue.
Written by Vince Mackenzie
Being a volunteer fire chief in a small community certainly comes with an unconventional lifestyle. Whether the chief is volunteer or a career chief of a volunteer/composite department, to say the job is challenging most days is an understatement.
Written by Tom DeSorcy
Being the chief officer in a fire department comes with its own set of challenges and rewards, which are not exactly equal in proportion. Yet when the rewards come, they often outweigh the challenges tenfold.
Written by Vince Mackenzie
As volunteer firefighters, we rarely stop to think and analyze the culture in our fire departments. While every department has a culture, these cultures can vary from virtuous and healthy to dysfunctional and vicious.
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