Fire Chief Dave Pratt has been in the Canadian Fire Service since 1998. He started his career at the age of 30 while living in Acton, Ontario, and quickly set himself on track for quick advancement through the ranks from part-time firefighter to fire chief in another town called Milton. Unfortunately, some personal setbacks borne of PTSD affected his career in a negative way for a couple years. But Dave Pratt has bounced back strongly and has since relocated to the Territory of Nunavut to bring his years of expertise to modernizing the territory’s fire service.
Where did the idea for your company or organization come from?
I entered the fire service in 1998 at the age of 30 as a part-time firefighter. We lived in a small community, and they were looking for part-time firefighters. It was just one of those things that sounded interesting, but I soon fell in love with it and applied for a full-time position with the same department. I got that opportunity in July of 2000 and it set me on a course to become a career firefighter.
In 2008, I served as deputy fire chief and worked my way up to fire chief in 2016. Unfortunately, I had some personal trauma related to work and was diagnosed with PTSD. I am still in the fire service, but I am working in Northern Canada in the territory of Nunavut as their deputy fire marshal. I have been based in the City of Iqaluit since September of 2020.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My office has a primarily administrative role in the fire service for Nunavut. We provide guidance and advice for each of the departments so we can provide them tools, equipment and training. Our staff also goes into the communities to bring them training directly. We also focus on fire prevention and public education activities. We go into all the buildings and complete safety inspections to make sure they are complying with the fire code and we visit the schools to teach kids fire safety.
Our office also does fire investigations, so depending on the nature of the fire, our staff will go into the community to determine the origin and cause of the fire. Was it intentionally set? Could this happen in another community? We try to get to the bottom of those kinds of questions. The bottom line is we are more the Monday to Friday type administration staff that looks after the budgets, policies, and procedures for the fire service in this region.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I came to Nunavut with twenty-plus years of experience working for two municipal fire departments in Southern Ontario. I know the ins and outs of how they do business with their operating budgets and capital budgets, their policies and procedures in terms of how they do training, and how they respond to calls. For those departments in Ontario, you would probably have a three-inch-thick binder of all their policies, procedures, and regulations. I am trying to bring all that knowledge and understanding of those policies and procedures to the territory of Nunavut.
It is a little different up here. Nunavut does have a Fire Safety Act, but we do not have any of the supporting documentation. The Act will say, for example, that the hamlet is responsible for creating the fire department and to mitigate fires, etc., but it does not really tell them how to do that. They do not have the documentation that tells them how to train or how to document the responses. There is a huge learning curve to modernize things up here so that they conform to expected legal standards. I look at my job as coming into an organization that is intact, but they do not have a lot of foundation. With the assistance of my staff, I am trying to build that foundation from the ground up, putting together all the different pieces of the puzzle to make sure that we are meeting our regulatory requirements, while also providing the best service for each of the communities in Nunavut.
We are also prioritizing life safety, which is the priority of any fire department. It is the firefighter’s safety first, and then the public is the second, so my job is just trying to make sure that we are doing everything we can to service the communities and look after the life and safety of the staff and the community.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One trend that I see that is new in my experience is not exactly exciting, but it is the setting of fires by youth. We perceive this to be a growing concern and we are collecting data to confirm it is a problem. We see young kids in these communities getting bored and being curious and playing with matches that ultimately start fires. There is what we call curiosity fires where a young child gets a hold of dad’s or mom’s lighter and is playing with it and starts something on fire. And then there are the crisis fires, where a young child is acting out, so they are purposely lighting something on fire. There is a lot of potential dollar loss involved in these fires.
It is a concern that our office has identified, and we have one individual who is our fire prevention officer, and he is developing outreach programs so we can teach the community fire departments to help prevent them. We also teach our staff to go into the communities and try to address this problem. That excites me because I am hoping we will reduce the number of fires that are started by youth. In Nunavut, I think the number of adults that smoke is over 80%, so it is easy for kids to get their hands on fire-starting materials.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am very detail-oriented, and I try to keep track of all my tasks through email and keeping lists. Much of my communications these days is through email, so my inbox is kind of a measurement for me as to how many tasks I must do. If somebody sends me an email that I must follow up on, I keep it in my inbox until I have actioned it, after which I remove it from the main box. That way I can keep track of my daily progress. I can look at all the things in my inbox and it kind of triggers me as to what I’ve yet to do that day.
The other thing would be lists. You will always find me with a notepad or a little black book in case I run into somebody when I am out in the community. It allows record notes from conversations to remind me of people’s needs. The last thing I want is somebody calling me on the phone or sending me an email saying they asked for something a week ago.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I went to university and did not really ever know what I wanted to be. I did not get into the fire service until I was 30, so I think if I could do it all over again, I would have tried to find a career I was passionate about and could see myself doing for 30 or 35 years so I could make enough money to sustain myself and family. In municipal government you must work a full 30 years to get a full pension when you retire. Seeing that I did not get into the fire service until I was 30, I probably must work until 65 to get my 35 years for my pension. My young son went to school for a specific job, and he got a full-time position at 21 in the field that he went to school for, so if he puts 35 years into that job, then he will be retiring in his mid-50s with his pension. I wish I had gotten a career started much earlier than I did.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
This will not be popular, but I am a firm believer that a when a fire or a motor vehicle collision happens, there is usually some human cause and effect that led to it. I believe that if somebody has a house fire, it means in many incidents the homeowners did not do everything they could to prevent that fire from occurring. I believe that we should not be holding fundraisers and we should not be doing all these things for people that sustain a loss in a fire because odds are they were negligent in terms of preventing that fire from happening. Not having working fire alarms, leaving the pot on the stove, or not cleaning their chimneys; there is a lot of human cause and effect in terms of why a fire starts that I think the homeowner, or the person affected by the fire, must take some responsibility for it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’m a lifelong learner, and I believe 100% that learning never stops. I am in my mid-50s and I just signed up to take a college program online about municipal management because that will potentially open doors for me in terms of career opportunities. If you have an interest in how something works or have a hobby that you want to get interested in, you can take a course on that. I do not think there is any point in anyone’s life that they should not be learning something new or challenging themselves.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I guess throughout my career, I have always known I would not hold that job or be in that position forever. I have always thought when I am doing something, “you have to do it correctly and properly with the worst case in mind”. You must wonder, what if you must go in front of a judge should the story about the incident end up in court? Well, I have always kept that in the back of my mind and because of the litigious world we live in now, you must be mindful of how it would look in court.
Secondly to that, you are serving in a role. Somebody else is going to eventually take my place and when they look at the work that I have done or they look at the tasks that I have completed, how does that reflect on me? I want somebody else that follows in my footsteps to say, “You know, he did a really good job. He was really thorough. He was concerned, and it shows in the work.”
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There are about 40 thousand people in Nunavut, the majority of which are Inuit. There are four official languages in the territory: English, French, Inuktitut, and then there is a fourth language that is only spoken by a few hundred people. Most of the Inuit speak English as their second language. I am finding as we go into these communities that communication is a challenge. They also have what is called societal values, so the government of Nunavut has these eight societal values that inform all of their decision-making. The challenge is coming into their communities as an outsider and not speaking or writing in their native language. I am trying to learn Inuktitut so I can communicate with them without the use of a translator or without me speaking in English where they may be only grasping 50% of what I am saying. It is certainly a challenge, but I think it will go a long way in showing that I have some credibility as a person that is coming in and trying, as opposed to just coming in and not giving a hoot. I just don’t think that is right.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Now that I have lived in Nunavut, it has really become clear to me the distance between populated areas. When you come to Nunavut you have to fly into the territory. There are no highways. If you go from one community to another you pretty much must fly as well because they are all spaced out.
Based on my experience, I would create a company that would provide something I might call fire service protection. I would create a company that would go into all these communities and provide the annual fire protection maintenance that is required by law. You could go into each of these 25 communities over the course of maybe three or four months and service all the equipment that the fire code and the fire safety act require. You would be providing a valuable service to the communities and exposing yourself to all the different, small communities and their culture within the whole territory. Plus, there’s money to be made there. Unfortunately, because it is so remote, nobody has thought about it or nobody wants to do it. Those are two questions you would have to ask yourself. Maybe if I were in a different life situation, that is something I would take on. It is a legislative requirement, so they do not have a choice, and I think it would be a fantastic business for someone in the fire service.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I am in the process of taking a course through the Canadian Mental Health Association. It is called Resilient Minds and basically it is about how to teach staff that work for you to recognize stress and to deal with it so that it prevents them from missing work or having their life thrown off balance. It teaches me how to recognize stress, how to respond to stress, and highlights the resources that are out there to help me deal with stress. It also shows how to reconnect with your team, department, or community after dealing with a stressful event.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I am a member of an organization called the Canadian Fire Chiefs Association. With that membership, they have a website with a variety of different pages devoted to training, communication with other fire chiefs, and learning about the latest trends, the latest equipment, the latest programs, etc. I visit that website on a weekly basis just to try to find out what is coming down the pipe and what trends are happening in the fire service. The beauty of it is it is national, so it is information from across the whole country. It is not specific just to our area.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist that was in four different Nazi death camps between 1942 and 1945. It is an autobiography of his life and his suffering and how he chose to deal with it. It is a fascinating book. He would not accept the outcome. He felt that it was his own internal fortitude and how he reacted to things around him that made him live through those death camps. It is a phenomenal book about the human spirit and about how one man was able to document how he made a difference to himself. It has certainly made a difference in my life and how I look at things, how somebody could suffer and cope with so much but still find meaning in his suffering and be able to get through it.
What is your favorite quote?
I assume many of us were given Dr. Seuss books when we were growing up. That is part of our childhoods. One of his quotes is, “When something bad happens, you have three choices: You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” Based on my experience in the fire service and my mental health issues, that quote resonates with me in terms of how you deal with traumatic events or how you deal with life. When something happens that is good, bad, or ugly in life, you can reflect on that quote and say, “Okay, how am I going to react to this? How am I going to let this affect me?” You have more power over that than you think.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.