My colleagues will understand when I say that there are some real characters out there. We’ve all encountered what I like to call coffee-shop critics – those who believe that they are always right, and have an opinion on everything from the weather to the fire department.
If you’re new to public life, the seemingly endless barrage of criticism that seems to come our way can be hard to take at first, but understand that if you stay the course and treat people as you wish to be treated, good karma will eventually come back to you. As I deal with people on a day-to-day basis, I’m often reminded of a story.
A number of years ago, I was at a social function during the holiday season, one of those events where people stand around and make small talk about the season, the weather and life in general. The crowd was a professional group, mostly made up of business people and community leaders in our small town.
One conversation I had with a woman there was somewhat typical. As the discussion turned to occupation, I quickly realized that she wasn’t from around Hope, B.C. I mean, everyone knows me, right? As it turned out, she was from the city and when she found out that I was a firefighter, not to mention the fire chief, well, that’s where it all began.
First, I had to deal with the small-town-versus-big-town emergency services discussion, and what I thought would lead into a “must-be-tough-to-do-what-you-people-do” revelation on her part. That’s not quite the way it went. Apparently, this person didn’t have a lot of respect for volunteers. Well, maybe that’s not the right term. I’m sure she respected volunteers, she just didn’t want them to respond to any emergencies that she might have, preferring to deal with “professionals,” should they be required.
At this point, you can imagine the bruises on my tongue as I’m biting it, but, taking the high road, I graciously point to the fact that while smaller communities could afford to fund full-time career firefighters, the paid on-call staff were as well trained and as “professional” as any in our country. Of course, that didn’t wash and there was no convincing this person that we were even in the same league as our brothers and sisters in the bigger communities.
As I moved away from that conversation, I kept repeating to myself that golden rule: treat people the way you would like them to treat you. It may not work right away, but it will work out in the end.
As I look back on this story – where it went from here and how predictable it turned out to be – it makes me smile. You see, a day or two after this conversation, we had a little snowstorm blow through. Thick, wet snow was falling on the freeway just west of town and there were crashes and fender-benders everywhere. One collision involved an SUV that went off the road and into the median. Paramedics responded along with fire and rescue (which are separate agencies here, but that’s another story for another day). With the weather the way it was and due to my proximity at the time, I was able to reach the scene right behind the ambulance.
We actually had two vehicles involved in separate incidents and the paramedics asked me to assist in checking people out. Injuries were minor and rescue wasn’t required; however, as I approached the SUV, who should be sitting inside with a cut on her forehead? You guessed it: my friend from the party.
Now, you can imagine what went through my mind: retorts like “fancy meeting you here” or “would you like my assistance or would you prefer to wait for a ‘professional?’ ” Instead, that darned training kicked in and I spoke a cordial greeting of, “Are you OK?” My one satisfaction was in hoping that she recognized me and that I was able to demonstrate that small-town responders can help you, all without me having to say a word.
I guess I was able to prove a point, albeit in an unfortunate way, but that’s how it happens. After many years of dealing with the vocal minority, those aforementioned coffee shop experts who could supposedly run any fire department anywhere, I’ve come to the simple resolve that no matter how boorish these people can be, I’ll still be there to save them should they need it; I’ve done it countless times over the years – just like anyone on a career department.
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. DeSorcy is married with two children and enjoys curling and golf. He is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C as communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at
and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
Volunteer Vision: May 2013
Being professional without saying a word
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