Professionalism is the key when it comes to firefighting

April 6 to 12 is National Volunteer Week. I can’t think of one community program in our town that could exist without the thousands of amazing volunteers we have in our community.

It seems every once in a while the topic of volunteer firefighters versus professional career firefighters pops up. I have some thoughts on that topic, as I began my firefighting career as a volunteer from 1970 to 1979.

In my  first year, the Langley City trucks, Zone 1 back then, responded to 12 alarms in the entire year. They were chimney fires, grass fires, car fires or overfilled oil stoves. The population of Langley City was under 6,000 people.

Then, the small homes on the big lots were replaced by apartment blocks, condos, commercial businesses and an industrial area. In no time, the population tripled, and with people came problems.

Our volunteer system was being taxed, as employers were no longer allowing employees to leave three or four times a week to attend alarms. With the increase in mandatory training and alarms, this once volunteer/social activity was becoming a part-time job.

Communities simply get too big for a totally volunteer force. If a municipality invites thousands of people to move here, they have to look after them when they arrive and that demand for attention comes at a cost.

The composite system of career staff supported by paid-on-call firefighters has been proven to be the most cost-effective method of fire protection across North America and as long as training standards and Worksafe standards are met for all firefighters, the system will work. I say all firefighters because there is no such thing as a “volunteer fire” or a “professional fire.” They all have to be attacked with the same set of knowledge, skills and abilities.

I was told a story many years ago that shaped my career. A pilot of a small plane had flown into a midwestern airport, completed his business and was ready to return home when a nasty weather front moved in. While he was debating as to whether to take a chance and fly out, he met a pilot of another small plane who he knew was also a professional pilot for a major airline.

As he discussed his plan, the commercial pilot said. “I’m not taking a chance,  it could get bad. “ The other pilot replied. “But you are a professional, surely you’re not concerned about the weather.” The pilot replied, “Professionalism is an attitude. Professionalism is when you use all the knowledge you have been given and apply it in every situation, every day.”

I have known professional firefighters who are arrogant, self-serving  jerks and I  know many volunteer firefighters who live their lives in such a manner, on and off the fire ground, that they are a tribute to the profession and the community 24/7/365. It has nothing to do with a badge or a uniform.

The majority of Langley’s career firefighters have come from the volunteer ranks and many other communities have hired City or Township-trained people. The training and dedication of your Langley City and Township firefighters is recognized across the province.

Their wages are equivalent to the crap they deal with these days. Grow-ops are not chimney fires. The old fables tell us if we hire someone to protect the community, we’d better be prepared to pay the piper. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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