specting or dishonoring my organization and the
men and women who are working in it. So, let’s talk
about change and fear in the context of leadership.
Whether you like it or not, change is happening all
the time. Retirements, recruitments, equipment,
stations, technology, procedures, and people all keep
our work environments in a constant state of change.
Sometimes I wonder why we ever keep repeating that
adage of a hundred years of tradition unimpeded by
progress when, by and large, the statement has never
really rung true.
Change is all around us and, for the most part,
we’ve all kept up with a multitude of major initiatives in our fire departments. Perhaps we are guilty of
fearing the unknown. Sometimes, however, I think
we’re guilty of not seeing the trees through the forest
because we’re standing in the thick of it all complaining and not being a part of the solution.
Change can happen slowly over days and weeks or
rapidly in an instance; a major shift could have dire
consequences if we don’t react. Leaders understand
this, and they are in tune with the changes and, more
importantly, the reasons the changes need to happen.
Leaders ask tough questions; make decisions at the
speed of the problem; and, for the most part, do their
best to accept the results of any change initiative.
Leaders earn rather than demand an opportunity to
take the stick in a crisis opportunity and are keenly
observant of when and if change needs to happen.
FEAR AND APPRECIATION
I have had to slightly change the way I deal with
some people and, in some cases, turn the other cheek
because I understand that change can be difficult for
some to get used to. I have always said that your rank
gets you a large portion of your total respect, but the
remaining qualifier is based on how you treat people
and how you’re seen treating and leading others
I don’t fear making difficult decisions or being in
charge when I need to be. We’ve all seen the way
firefighters move up the rungs and embrace new
challenges from riding the hydrant position as a
probationary firefighter to one day being the nozzle
person making entry on the first-in line. Every
brand-new seat we sit in should induce a certain
amount of fear for a while, because in this profession,
if the change doesn’t elicit some fear, you’re probably not completely aware of the risk associated with
it—and that’s just not good enough when lives are on
Try not to worry too much about the CEO taking
over the stick on final approach because we hope the
reason he got there in the first place is he knows the
difference in his own capabilities and he trusts in the
teams he works with to get the job done effectively and
safely. When we lead well enough, we understand
when and why change is required and that the fear in a
new direction or landing on a new runway is a normal
part of the process. I know I said I wouldn’t say
anything too cheesy or cliché, but I heard a respected
officer once say your altitude is determined by your
attitude. I understand this more than ever in the new
seat I’ve been lucky enough to serve from.
Jay Shaw is the assistant chief of emergency management and
public information with the Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) Fire
Paramedic Service. He has 19 years of emergency services experience from rural EMS to military and urban fire services. Shaw has
been a part of water rescue, technical rescue, and helicopter rescue
teams as well as maintains a license as a primary care paramedic.
With more than 50 articles, blogs, and columns written for various
media, he continues to learn on the job through working, writing,
consulting, speaking, and enjoying the comradery of the greatest
profession in the world. Shaw has multiple emergency services
certificates and two diplomas and has a master’s degree from
Royal Roads University.
Thoughts and observations
from FireRescue readers
Your January column, “The Struggle of Volunteer
Departments,” sure hit close to home. We recently
lost eight very active members of a volunteer
department in our township for many of the exact
same reasons you outline in your column. The fire
company’s response was to ban the firefighters from
On the plus side, most of those who resigned were
soon accepted as members in our township’s other
volunteer department, so they continue as active
firefighters. Relations between the two departments
are near rock bottom.
Keep up the good work!
Just finished reading your excellent article, “Fire
Service Emotional Meters,” in the February issue of
FireRescue. I would like to share two incidents that
took place in my small suburban fire department a
few years ago.
1. My last day as volunteer chief, we had a house
fire in which two young boys were seriously
injured. Sadly, both passed away as a result of
their injuries/burns. I called for a critique and
about six members showed out of 75+ who
fought the fire.
2. A few years later, at an apartment fire that I