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Darby Allen

In times of crisis, how can we do our jobs, stay strong, and lead with compassion?

Former Fort McMurray Fire Chief | Crisis Leadership Speaker

Contact Darby For Booking
Darby Allen | Former Fort McMurray Fire Chief | Crisis Leadership Speaker
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

During the catastrophic Alberta wildfires, fire chief Darby Allen shot to global acclaim for guiding the 88,000 residents of Fort McMurray to safety with no loss of life—the largest evacuation in Canadian history. Now, he offers guidance on how to be a stoic, quick-thinking leader in tough situations. We all face emergencies and crises—Allen shows us how to overcome them.

“Chief Allen has become the human face of efforts to fight the blaze and has connected deeply with many affected by the unfolding disaster.”

The Globe and Mail

Known as the face of the Alberta wildfires—and widely celebrated as a national hero—Darby Allen is an exemplar of selfless courage and level-headedness under pressure. Currently lecturing at Queens University‘s Smith School of Business on Transformational and Charismatic Leadership, Allen was Regional Fire Chief of Wood Buffalo, an area that encompasses the community of Fort McMurray. In spring 2016, he spearheaded the evacuation of the city’s entire population while the rest of the world watched. Throughout the ensuing weeks of operations, he worked tirelessly with first responders and volunteers, who came from across the nation (and globe) to assist. His updates to the media were not only a means of reliable information, but a source of optimism—Allen provided calm reassurance as the lead spokesperson throughout the rescue efforts.


“Darby possesses an incredible ability to connect with his audience … he is an outstanding presenter.”

— TEDxKelowna

Prior to his role as Regional Fire Chief, Allen worked as a firefighter for the New Hampshire Brigade and the Calgary Fire Department. In Calgary, he moved up in the ranks to Training Officer and Assistant Deputy Chief of Operations, before transferring to Fort McMurray Fire Service. He served as Assistant Deputy Chief, Deputy Chief Operations, and finally, Regional Fire Chief during his tenure.


“Darby Allen was fantastic. Our audience was very compelled by his story and he did a great job of incorporating our theme, work life balance, into his keynote.”

Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta Division

“The event was a great success and Darby was brilliant. There were tears in the eyes of many – not because the messaging was sad, but because his story is so real and he is so humble. He received a standing “O.” Thank you for recommending him. He was the right choice!”

Vancouver Tourism Awards

“Darby Allen was a standout hit at our conference! In all my years of booking keynote speakers, I've never had a speaker receive a standing ovation even before speaking. Darby won the entire room over with his quiet charm and humility. He had us riveted by his story and moved us deeply all while sharing really valuable insight into how to lead through challenging times. He was also a true pleasure to work with. A++.”

Canadian Society of Association Executives

“Darby had such a quiet charm and dignity. It was a privilege to hear him tell his story. I’m never going to forget his message and I’m grateful that he was part of our conference.”

Canadian Society of Association Executives

“Darby was a huge hit, and it was an incredible honour meeting him and hearing his story. We are truly grateful for his time as well as the efforts of your team in coordinating his presentation.”

Electrical Contractors Association of BC

“I spoke with a number of our attendees, as well as our conference sponsor, and everyone felt Darby’s presentation was perfect for the event, and that his points really resonated with the room.”

WIKT Conference

“Darby was excellent! While he was speaking you could have heard a pin drop in the room. He was a perfect fit for our conference and the feedback was extremely positive. He was definitely the talk of our networking session later in the day. It hit close to home and pulled on everyone’s heart strings.”

Canadian Heartland Training Railway

“Darby walked our attendees through the experience of the Fort McMurray devastation and highlighted the importance of truth, transparency, and compassion with your team. Dealing with an emergency doesn’t necessarily sound like the perfect fit for a room of Credit Union managers, however the common themes in our post-conference survey of 185 participants was “inspiring”, “motivational”, and “we can apply this to our work and home life.” Darby’s experience certainly motivated a room full of leaders and we recommend his message to anyone in the business of leadership and teamwork.”

Craig Zamzow, CUMAM

“Darby's speech was about real situations that we can all relate to and his story delivered a great message on how he managed a very large project into smaller events to keep control and focus. Having a proven leader speak was a great change from the norm. Darby Allen provided a refreshing and different insight to leading people during a time of crisis. His presentation was very therapeutic.”


“Our ASA delegates were quite enthralled with Darby’s presentation. So much so, he received a standing ovation! The presentation was silky smooth from an a/v perspective as well. We certainly hope Darby enjoyed presenting at our conference as much as our registrants valued him sharing his extraordinary experiences.”

Wendy Steele, Alberta College of Family Physicians

“[Darby’s] presentation is so heartfelt, he brought some people to tears. He is such a humble, easygoing person, it was a pleasure to bring him in.”

University of Lethbridge

“He had people laughing and crying. Heartfelt and an excellent presenter.”

Health and Safety Conference of Society of Alberta

“Nice to hear from a real hero who made a difference and served people in an emergency. It was a touching and inspiring presentation. Darby is a humble man—he recognizes the contributions of the members of his team. He’s a true leader! Very moving and inspiring from a personal perspective. Made me cry!”

PMINAC Conference

“Chief Darby was a dynamic, engaging speaker for TEDxKelowna. His presentation was one of the highlights of our event, and received very positive feedback from all in attendance. Darby possesses an incredible ability to connect with his audience. He was hands-on, and real. Darby’s presence on stage—and at all activities before and after—was impactful. He is an outstanding presenter.”


“Chief Allen clearly exceeded any expectations we had for a presenter. He truly has a deep love and passion for the fire service and is highly respectful and appreciative for all of those involved during the wildfires. Chief Allen focuses on the positives that happened, the people involved, their leadership and their sacrifices.”

St. Anne Regional Fire Service

“On behalf of the FCABC, I would like to say a huge thank you for a fantastic closing keynote. He had a full room of very attentive delegates. Please pass on our appreciation to him. It was a pleasure and honour to meet him.”

Fire Chiefs Association of BC

“Darby was the keynote speaker for our annual safety, health, and wellness recognition and celebration event. It was quite evident through his presentation and demeanor that he is passionate about people and their safety and wellbeing. His story of the Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation, and how the community rallied behind him and each other in the face of extreme peril, was awe inspiring; it is the type of leadership and teamwork any organization would be proud to model.”

Vancouver Airport Authority

“The presentation went very well, and we had a record turnout for the dinner and only positive feedback since. Darby is a very good speaker, and the crowd responded really well to his character and message. He comes across as someone of genuine honesty and great competency who was caught up in a rare moment in history. He assembled a team to do what had to be done under great pressure and stepped into that breach with the calm professionalism and rare leadership needed to achieve great things under trying circumstances. He is Canada’s Captain Sullenburger; a reluctant hero thrust into the limelight and who saved countless lives by making the right decisions at the right time ....”

Rotary Club of Saskatoon

“The overwhelming comment (almost every single respondent has made) is that ‘Darby Allen was exceptional.’ As I have been studying Canadian Catastrophes since 2014 and never could have imagined the devastation Fort McMurray brought, there was no need for an insurer, forest fire specialist or risk manager to discuss what happened – we wanted the perspective no one but yourself could bring. Your presentation didn’t feel like a media release with flashy pictures, statistics or prepared facts – it was personal, and warm and, as most of us felt, heart-breaking.”

Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc.

Speech Topics

Surviving the Worst Day of Your Life And Coming Out Stronger
Whether it’s a code blue emergency, a major deal falling through, or a personal struggle—hard work, preparation, and a great team aren’t absolute safeguards against professional crisis. Dealing with crises might even be your profession, and it can wear you down. In this sensitive and galvanizing talk, former Fire Chief Darby Allen draws on his experience reacting to, and coming back from, the biggest crisis he ever faced: the immensely destructive Fort McMurray wildfires of 2016. The truth is: you just get through it. But as Allen explains, there are things that will help you, like people who will support you unconditionally and bring realism and positivity to the situation. With good people around you, a deep level of trust from both sides, and a strong sole mission, you and your team will get through the worst, while finding the best in it. Allen will show you how to find clarity and strength during crisis, and equally important: how to readjust and support yourself once the crisis has passed.
Mental Health
The Strength to Help Others—and Yourself Recovery After the Smoke Clears
Months after Fire Chief Darby Allen had left the flames of Fort McMurray behind him, something wasn’t quite right. He couldn’t figure out what it was, or why he felt the way he did. Why would he have issues? Allen and his team had evacuated a whole city with no loss of life, a fact he should’ve been celebrating. But he didn’t feel celebratory. In this practical and destigmatizing talk, Allen speaks about the mental health concerns that can remain years after a crisis. He shares how some first responders and many members of the public are still struggling to deal with the trauma of that evacuation day, and the steps he took (with the support of others) to change his perspective and feel like himself again—in time. Traumatic events affect people in different ways, and the symptoms aren’t always so easy to spot or treat. In day-to-day society, how can we help each other? As Allen explains, we can’t be judgemental; we must rid the stigma of trauma recovery and mental illness altogether from the workplace if we are to move forward constructively. Employers need to embrace the fact that mental wellness will in turn lead to more productive team members. “How do you get people to realize that they need help?” asks Allen. After this talk, your audience will be more aware of the resources available, or that can be made available. More vitally, you will understand the real personal, professional, and societal benefits this kind of discussion can have for all of us.
True Grit Darby Allen’s Passion, Resilience, and Commitment
Grit, briefly defined, is passion for a long-term goal, with the ambition, perseverance, and determination necessary to achieve it. It’s a quality of character, developed over numerous hardships, that equips famous leaders and average people alike with the stamina required to stay motivated, overcome adversity, and achieve the long-term objective—often without reinforcement, praise, or positive feedback.
Darby Allen is a paradigm of grit. Throughout the trauma of the Fort McMurray evacuations, he stayed the course—proving a stalwart, inspirational leader who never wavered in his pursuit of goals that seemed, at times, impossible to achieve.
In this talk, Allen shifts the focus away from himself to reveal how an entire community—and a team—can embrace this positive trait, access deep reservoirs of hardiness and conscientiousness, and achieve a seemingly insurmountable victory. He talks about the first responders, working many days without a break. He celebrates the civilian evacuees who were offered only 30 minutes to escape, leaving their entire lives behind, while often separated from their loved ones. He champions the staff at the emergency centres who, without warning, were forced to forge ahead, operate on a level they never imagined, stay focused, and do it all without sleep or reprieve. Ultimately, he shows how grit isn’t reserved to a lucky few, but can be instilled, encouraged, even developed in us all—in times of both duress and yet another average, humdrum day—to accomplish what might appear, at first, superhuman.
It Takes a Team Developing Unity in Crisis

In the midst of a devastating natural disaster, how does one person manage a teams countless, critical decisions? Allen, beyond being a brave and strategic leader, also practices empathetic team-building, including colleagues in his decisions and looking out for their needs. In this keynote, Allen offers actionable takeaways for leaders in any field: lessons on encouraging and trusting your teammates wholeheartedly; never losing focus on the moment by worrying about the larger story; and establishing unbreakable relationships that observe and celebrate the smallest of human elements—like the power of a Canadian flag to boost morale and welcome evacuees home. 


Courage Inside the Fire A Story of Leadership

The 2016 Albertan wildfire was the costliest disaster in Canadian history—destroying 2,400 buildings and homes and displacing the entire community of Fort McMurray. And through it all, from beginning to end, was Fire Chief Darby Allen. A figure of stability to his community, a reliable source of information to the press, and a humble leader, Allen became the human face of both incredible tragedy and courage. With Allen’s leadership, Fort McMurray was successfully evacuated—and the fire claimed zero lives. How did he maintain composure in life-or-death conditions? What is it like to endure, and overcome, a disaster of such magnitude in one’s own backyard? Today, Allen is bringing the riveting inside story of the rescue operations to audiences everywhere. Framed as a personal narrative, this keynote takes you through his day-to-day struggles against the fire, shining a light on the community—and national—trust that empowered his efforts.