Karpluk: Reflecting on 32 Years in the Fire Service

After a long career in the Canadian Fire Service, Les Karpluk looks back and discusses what the big picture really was.


On Feb. 28, I retired from the fire department. To be honest, I really had no idea how emotional the day would be. The last two months have been spent reflecting on my career and without a doubt I have been blessed to serve the citizens for 32 years and to live my dream.  

It's my desire to continue to contribute to the profession and as a retired fire chief it will be easier to identify my lessons learned (I have many) and even push the leadership envelope in my blog. 

These lessons are gained from the good, the bad, the ugly and the triumphant times experienced in my career and from the many firefighters and chief officers that I communicate with on a regular basis. It is my hope that these lessons will help the existing and future leaders of our great profession. 

Without hesitation let's move on to some lessons learned after 32 years of being in the profession.

There Is A Big Picture

I recall being frustrated as a firefighter when things didn't happen the way I thought they should happen-especially when I believed there were other options available. Looking back on those times it shames me to think that I would be frustrated and angry because I had a different view of things. 
 
For the most part my lack of patience stemmed from a lack of understanding the big picture. I recall wanting a new helmet because a handful of other firefighters received new helmets. It bothered me that I was not one of the "lucky" ones and didn't understand, nor did I care about the budget process. I had tunnel vision and could only focus on being the unlucky guy that had to wait to get the new helmet. My selfishness and narrow mindedness lead to unnecessary frustration on my part and for what-waiting to get a new helmet?

As a fire chief it was easy to get caught up in the fire department's wants, and I certainly walked that path countless times. At first glance this looks like it should be a normal action for any fire chief, but the reality is the fire department is only one part of the civic government. My passion at times could have been viewed as creating a silo, and upon reflection, I would change the way I pursued some projects and remind myself of the big picture. The big picture exists and patience will no doubt reduce frustration and stress.  

Don't sweat the small stuff: some things are just out of our control. It's easy to get cranked because our work duties need to change because of an unforeseen event.  Life happens, stuff happens and why get bent out of shape when something happens that is out of our control? Is it really such a big deal to rearrange our daily work schedule to deal with the unforeseen event? It's not, but it's easy to make an issue out of nothing. I've done it and 100%of the time I looked back on the event and realized I was responsible for making something out of nothing-that mountain out of a molehill. Why sweat the small stuff? 

Pick Your Buddy's Carefully

Firefighters are human and there is the odd one that just isn't happy unless he is unhappy. Misery loves company and it can be easy to spend time in the negative realm, especially when other firefighters are more than willing to feed the negative. You really are who you hang around with so pick your buddy's carefully. It takes very little effort to complain and the real leaders are those that work to find solutions, even when it makes them unpopular. Find those firefighters and be a part of their group. It's worth it.

These are a few of my lessons learned and it is my hope and intent is to prevent others from making the mistakes that I made. As a retired fire chief I still want to contribute to the best profession in the world.