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Editor's blog

Editor's blog

Laura King responds to Margaret Wente's column about underworked and overpaid firefighters, but what she says will surprise you.

NFPA Impact: May 2015

NFPA Impact: May 2015

When it comes to fire-service training, it is caveat emptor – or buyer beware. Shayne Mintz urges firefighters to brush up on their knowledge of training certification.

Leadership Forum: May 2015

Leadership Forum: May 2015

Introducing Barrie Deputy Chief Bill Boyes, the new columnist for Leadership Forum. His inaugural column explains why he chose formal education to advance in the fire service.

Amplify your teaching

Amplify your teaching

What makes a successful PowerPoint? Chris Davison-Vanderburg elaborates on how fire instructors can amp up their teaching by turning down visual noise.

Dress and deportment

Dress and deportment

Kirk Hughes dives into the world of fire service protocol to clarify the Canadian standards for orders, decorations and medals.

May 26, 2015, Toronto - All right. All right. All right. I wasn’t going to dignify Margaret Wente’s column about underworked and overpaid firefighters with a response. I changed my mind when I read online some of the more than 600 comments about Wente’s May 19 musings –632 comments, to be exact. What I’m going to say may surprise you. We could talk about salaries and arbitration and parity with police and doing more with less; we could talk about who responds to tornados, train derailments, floods – all the stuff Wente and the Fraser Institute report on which she bases her column neglect to mention. (You can read my response to the Fraser report here.)Wente’s opening line, “It’s good to be a firefighter, especially if you live in a small town,” holds no water; most small Canadian communities are protected by volunteers. We all know that. And we know that working seven or eight 24-hour shifts a month means firefighters put in more hours on duty than many Canadians do over 30 days in their 8:30-to-4:30 worlds. I’m preaching to the choir. But the choir – that’s you guys – better start singing more loudly and more clearly, and in perfect harmony; loudly and clearly enough to be heard by the taxpaying masses who added their two-bucks worth to Wente’s remarks and whose online vitriol drips with disdain. It’s not my job or your chief’s job or the union’s job to advocate for you because someone wrote something you don’t like (the OPFFA did make a decent video about what firefighters do but I’m not sure it reached those taxpaying masses). If you want to change public perception, then do something.Lots of commenters wrote about how much it irks them to see firefighters in grocery stores shopping for their supper (none explained why). Others bashed firefighters for having second jobs building decks or renovating basements. “Cut back on firefighters and Home Depot would go out of business,” one said. There were several references to firefighter hero complexes and the fact that firefighter unions back certain political candidates. There’s nothing wrong with buying groceries, building decks on the side or being politically active. But public perception carries a lot of weight. And the public – or at least a good percentage of the people who read Ms. Wente’s column – perceives that firefighters are a bunch of louts who sleep soundly on shift, dress in their gear to unnecessarily respond to medical calls for which paramedics are more qualified, stop at Sobeys to pick up pork chops using fire-department dollars (yes we know that’s not the case), and, if they are in Ontario, end up on the sunshine list. The taxpaying masses also perceive, and perhaps in this case more rightfully so, that firefighters are asking for more in their contracts but want to do less – premium pay for training, fewer shifts, more vacation, more leave days, more benefits. Does it matter what people think? If 632 Globe readers took the time to comment –we at Fire Fighting in Canada know that readers respond only to what really annoys them – then yeah, it matters, particularly if you let it get to you. And, many firefighters and firefighter associations seemingly do just that. So how do firefighters – you guys – make the taxpaying public understand that you don’t sit on your well-paid, well-toned behinds all day waiting for calls from Mrs. Smith? How do you make people grasp the fact that the municipalities in which these angry commenters live – and the politicians they elected – determine the levels of service? When firefighters in Slave Lake, Alta., were chastised after a wildfire burned part of the town rather than praised for saving an even bigger portion of the community, Fire Chief Jamie Coutts made YouTube videos explaining how long and hard his team worked, what they saved, how overwhelming the fire was. He used social media to turn the tables on the naysayers. Several of our Fire Fighting in Canada columnists have written about marketing your department to your community and helping to change negative public perception; doing so requires work, they note. You are smart people. If you don’t like what Globe and Mail readers or the Fraser Institute says (even if it is inaccurate) turn the tables. Do something about it. Me and at least 632 others will be watching.
May 19, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. - I had one day off between a recent trip to Vancouver Island and a weekend presentation to the members of the Redwood Meadows Emergency Services in Alberta, and was busy fine-tuning my PowerPoint when my dog jumped on my MacBook keyboard. I immediately wondered how she could do that and not break my keyboard…oops, I was wrong and picked up the broken key off the floor. A little bit of panic set in because I don’t have a backup and even though one key was broken, along with its functionality, I could still use my laptop and give my presentation. The fire training kicked in and my job was to solve my problem and get a new keyboard or buy a new laptop. The cheaper option was, obviously, getting the keyboard fixed, but I could have used a new excuse to replace my two-year-old MacBook Pro. After making a phone call to an Apple store in Calgary I made arrangements to stop in while en route to Cochrane and get some opinions on my options. I drove through Edmonton to get to Calgary and then off to Cochrane to my hotel lodgings. While driving through Edmonton I managed to get lost (even though I had my GPS) and this required a phone call to the boss (my wife) for guidance. Yeah, I could sense the surprise in my wife’s voice when I told her I was lost in Edmonton and the car was literally running on fumes. Thankfully, I was able to get fuel and then head to Calgary. While in Calgary looking for the Apple store, I got lost. Yup, again! I know, I know, I had my GPS on, but one wrong turn and I was lost. Another call to the boss to vent my frustration and then I decided to follow the directions on the GPS to get me to my destination. I swear it took me through the scenic route in Calgary, but at least I arrived at the Apple store. While talking to two different reps at the Apple store, it became clear that my MacBook Pro is still very fast and has the maximum amount of RAM and there was no benefit to upgrading unless I had nothing better to do with my money. That was a good sign and even though I was looking for an excuse to get a new one, I followed some advice from my friend Rich Gasaway and used my intuition and decided to save my money. I spent the next day with Redwood Meadows Chief Rob Evans and he took me through the service boundaries that fall within his department’s jurisdiction. Rob took me to several areas and described the impact from the 2013 flood. When Redwood Meadows got hit, I was following Rob on his Facebook while he was posting about the berm in Redwood Meadows. When I stood on the berm I could not comprehend how much water actually flowed past and came within inches of destroying the berm. It’s not a secret that Rob is a great photographer and since I consider myself below the novice level, I got some good ideas and could hardly wait to order a few more toys (I mean pieces of equipment). Hey, after all I didn’t have to spend a ton of money on my laptop, so any excuse to spend money on camera equipment works for me. I told Rob how I managed to get lost in Edmonton and Calgary and I asked him if the camera store I wanted to go to would be hard to find. The look on his face spoke loudly enough and then he said, “It is hard to find and you would probably get lost.” Thanks Rob for saving me some undue frustration and embarrassment. Four departments were represented at the leadership seminar and several firefighters and chief officers drove hours to attend. It was a great day and it’s hard not to get energized from the passion of those who attended. In the last 10 days I have met with the leadership of more than a dozen volunteer fire departments and I am amazed at the services these departments provide to their communities. These volunteers work regular jobs and unselfishly serve so they can help keep their communities safe. I know the hours required to keep up on the practical skills, and I was even more impressed when many officers were talking about the courses they are taking from post-secondary institutions. Simply amazing, and all with the intent to become better officers. Wow! What was really cool during my seminar was the fact that there were Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennial’s in the room. The open discussions we had were incredible and there is little doubt in my mind that the departments represented on Saturday understand the necessity of good leadership in the department. Now that I am back home, all I have to do is update the GPS in my car and spend some time reading the user manual so I know how to save myself the embarrassment of getting lost and admitting it to my wife. Luckily for me my return trip was uneventful and I even had a chance to stop in at IKEA and Costco and I didn’t get lost once.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes
May 19, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. – It is said that one in five Canadians experience addiction or mental-health issues. If you are struggling with work-related stress, you are not alone. May 4-10 was mental health week in Canada. This week was set aside by the Canadian Mental Health Association to raise public awareness of mental health and to help people get past stigmas around mental-health issues. It is important to understand that good mental health isn’t about avoiding issues or trying to live the perfect life; it is about realizing your potential, coping with your stressors, and making a positive contribution to your community. Being a first responder can be stressful, but you don’t need me to tell you that. What you may need to hear is that despite the stressors associated with the job, you can still thrive. You don’t need to suck it up. You can and should talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Some fire-service leaders are beginning to speak of the need to generate a template of what being a firefighter means today and what it may become in the future. They indicate, and I agree, that to focus solely on the task level can create stagnation in our personal growth as human beings. While it is vital we know how to hit a hydrant and advance a hoseline – these skills should be second nature to us – there is more to the career than just hands-on tasks. For 25 years I lived and breathed the fire service. I studied hard and I trained hard in firefighting tactics, first aid, high-level rescue, auto extraction, and so on. However, we never had any training or information given to us on how to handle the stressors of the job. It just wasn’t done back then. I was a dedicated firefighter, as I’m sure all of you are. I was, and still am, proud of the Burlington Fire Department on which I served. We have good reason to be proud of the fire service in Canada. It is important that we appreciate how many first responders care deeply about what they do. Yet we seem to miss what we can become. We focus on the task while ignoring personal development. As men and women we are more than what we do for work. Fire fighting is a vocation, a calling, and to be the best we can be we also need to develop our character. We show sensitivity and kindness to those we encounter at calls; maybe it’s time we do the same with each other. Sensitivity is kindness, concern and awareness of others needs and feelings. Sensitivity is a beautiful virtue that enables us to reach out to others and invite those who may feel alone to become part of our group. Now, I am not suggesting that we sit around a campfire and sing Kumbaya, but we do need to give each other a break when it comes to work-related stress issues. Although fighting fires and saving lives is the best job in the world, it is not an easy job. There is a need to develop our characters as humble and courageous public servants; to develop resiliency without hardness of heart. We should seek to become exemplary human beings who just happen to be first responders. Stay safe. Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
May 12, 2015, Toronto – Context. There’s certainly not a lot of it in the Fraser Institute bulletin on municipal fire services released last week. If you haven’t read one of the many news stories about the report, here’s the gist: there are more career firefighters in Canada – specifically, in Ontario – than there used to be but fewer fires. Really? It took three highly educated researchers – people with masters degrees and PhDs – to put together a 14-page document that includes two full pages of references (to justify their hours of research, no doubt) yet fails to mention that fires burn hotter and faster than they used to, that there are standards and SOPs and SOGs for sending firefighters to structure fires, that municipalities determine the levels of service they want, and that some firefighters work in prevention and public education – areas that contribute to the reduction in fires. Wow. If a reporter – like me – published a news story that was devoid of context, he or she would be pilloried and vilified. (The IAFF does just that in its response to the bulletin, posted last night, which is worth reading and challenges the researchers’ methodology.) What’s more, the Fraser Research bulletin bizarrely features a graphic on its cover of a firefighter wielding hose that is spraying paper money and coins. Is it the mandate of the Fraser Institute – a non-partisan research and education organization – to editorialize and sensationalize? OK. I know. I have skin in the game. I’ve had calls and emails about the report and people asking if I planned to write about it. I didn’t. Until I got the calls and emails. Because, frankly, I didn’t think it justified a response. But if the bulletin is being distributed among municipal leaders who, mind you, probably know a lot more about fire than these three researchers, then perhaps they will also read this and glean the much-needed context. It wasn’t clear to me who commissioned the report, so I sent an email to lead author Charles Lammam. He replied last night. “In an era where municipalities across Canada face budgetary pressures while claiming a lack of revenue, all spending choices warrant close examination,” he said.(I see he used the same line in an op-ed piece in the Vancouver Province – I didn’t even get an original answer.) “No agency or group commissioned the report.” OK. Fair enough, given that there have been plenty of news reports critical of firefighter salaries and municipalities complaining that they can’t afford them – although, interestingly, that’s not the focus of the report. I also asked whether the researchers – who complained about the lack of available statistics on fires and firefighters – had contacted each provincial office of the fire marshal or fire commissioner to ask for data. Yes, yes, we know there’s no national database but a little digging would have unearthed provincial numbers. I find it curious that the report doesn’t include them. The Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management provided numbers, Lammam said. Other details came from annual reports from Calgary, Montreal and Toronto – all easily accessible online, and Statistics Canada. He didn’t answer my question. As the IAFF points out, the report does, however, include firefighters who work for private companies – oilfields, for example – in its conclusion that the number of firefighters has increased in the last 16 years. Those firefighters are not paid by municipalities so I’m baffled about the relevance. The Ontario numbers were easily accessible and, therefore, the report focuses on Canada’s most populous province, where cities such as Brampton and Milton are among the fastest growing in Canada. And, therefore, because councils in Brampton and Milton and the like have set the levels of service, there are more firefighters than there used to be. Surprise. “We’re seeing a puzzling trend,” Lammam said in the email, “a growing number of firefighters and escalating fire services spending, despite fewer fires to fight.” Clearly Mr. Lammam and his team didn’t ask anyone in the fire service why there are more firefighters and fewer fires. Doing so, of course, would have debunked the report – provided context. I could go on and even agree with some of the comments made by Ontario union president Carmen Santoro on a radio talk show on Friday, but I’ll leave you with a few thoughts. The report acknowledges that firefighters (maybe we should call them something more accurate – emergency responders?) do more than fight fires – medical calls, hazmat incidents, motor vehicle collisions. But it fails to take into account tornadoes and mall collapses and wildfires and floods and train derailments. It fails to mention that if municipalities were to reduce service levels then residents might demand a reduction in taxes. It fails to mention that firefighters don’t want more fires and more property damage and more injuries and fatalities. It fails to recognize that municipalities are matching the level of service to the risks in their communities – because that’s what taxpayers want. There’s the context.
May 8, 2015, Toronto – I’m going to say it out loud (or, more accurately, type it): there is going to come a day – soon – when municipalities will require the people they hire to be firefighters to have university degrees. No degree. No job. That shouldn’t surprise you – it’s a natural evolution given the business, management, political and soft skills required to be promoted in the fire hall or into management. Education – for firefighters and fire officers – emerged as a theme in my circles the last couple of weeks. The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs have all announced education programs. Only the OAFC program includes a degree – through the University of Guelph Humber in emergency management. Essentially, it seems to me, organizations are back filling, trying to get fire personnel the education they need to do their jobs – once they already have the jobs. That’s why I expect municipalities to change the criteria for their firefighters to include a university education. As OAFC first vice-president Steve Hernan explained to me yesterday, “around the council table, and when fire officers are looking for jobs, [councillors] are looking for degrees rather than diplomas. They want the people they hire to have the critical-thinking skills that come with that.” Briefly, the OAFC’s program builds on the education that fire officers already have – NFPA Fire Officer I and II – through a certificate program that requires 18 credits in management, human resources, emergency services management and emergency incident management. Those courses lead to a college diploma and the college credits can then be applied toward the university degree. Make no mistake, Hernan said, it’s a lot of work and requires consistent part-time study. The point, said Hernan, is to build on the courses and certificates a fire officer already has rather than start from scratch, and develop the skills municipalities are demanding of their senior-management team members. There have, for years, been issues in Ontario (and other provinces) with fire officer training – access to it, funding for it, delivery of it. And there have been complaints that the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management doesn’t provide a full range of necessary courses and programs. Now, Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek told delegates to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference this week, there’s a deal with the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. – the OFMEM will be the only external organization accredited to deliver National Fire Academy programs, including the executive fire officer course. Interestingly, when Wieclawek asked who in the room of more than 300 chief officers might be interested in taking such courses, not a single hand went up. I messaged OAFC president Matt Pegg to ask why. “The NFA executive fire officer program is both exclusive and well regarded,” he said. “I suspect that most Ontario chiefs will not be familiar with it.” Which is probably the case. As Pegg said, you can’t want what you don’t know about. The deal, I’m told, required some finagling to do with student background checks, academic history, and such. As for the CAFC, its professional development program launched last week. Details were in our February issue. The three organizations’ programs – the OAFC’s, the OFMEM’s and the CAFC’s – have different goals but the message is clear. What’s also clear is that getting hired after doing a quick stint at a firefighter training campus or a community college will soon be unlikely.
May 5, 2015, Simcoe, Ont. – This past weekend was full of lessons and firsts for me in my (relatively) new role of assistant editor. With laptop, camera, phone and tape recorder in tow, I attended my first Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference and trade show in Toronto. Those of you who know me (particularly the ones I met at the conference) will know I’m a total conference newbie. I’m about nine months into the job and learning more every day. I probably looked a little lost throughout the weekend, but I was lucky enough to have an experienced editor at my side to help me navigate the unfamiliar territory. (Thank you, Laura King!) My expectations were high going in with this being Canada’s largest show, and after hearing stories about how fun it can be from my colleagues. Three activity-filled days later, I can now report that those expectations were exceeded. It was the first time I messaged my loved ones with: “Having fun while working this weekend. How bizarre!” Without further ado, here are the top five things I – an inexperienced conference-goer – learned at the OAFC conference and trade show 2015: 1) Social media introduces you to people.  I can’t tell you how many times I recognized faces from Twitter or Facebook and introduced myself with, “I know you!” And it was true – on a social-media level I did know them and we were already introduced. I thank my active presence on social media for making it easier to meet and greet during both the conference and trade show. You can bet I’ll be ramping that up over the next little while, and adding a ton of new acquaintances. 2) Networking can happen anywhere. Whether it’s a discussion during the morning coffee break or bumping into a conference-goer in the hotel lobby, networking is happening at all hours during a conference. And networking, we all know, is the quintessential conference experience. Meeting new people is the best way to learn from them. Granted, what I’m learning as an assistant editor of a magazine is slightly different than what chief officers are learning from each other! 3) Plans help, but it’s still easy to feel overwhelmed. This lesson is specific to the trade show since the OAFC did not overlap its sessions. The Ontario trade show is the largest in Canada and I don’t think I was quite prepared for its size. (I have, of course, been informed of the craziness that is FDIC trade show in Indianapolis.) I combated my feelings of awe by wandering about slowly to take it all in, then doing a second sweep of particular booths I wanted to revisit. I was lucky enough to meet a few patient vendors who gave me laymen’s explanations for their featured products. In the future, I’d feel more prepared if I knew what products I’d like to focus in on, while being open to anything that catches my eye. 4) Don’t forget your business cards. This one is pretty specific, but I thought I’d throw it in since I did, in fact, forget my business cards and keenly felt their absence. In fact, at one point, a new acquaintance took a photo of the lone card I had stashed in my wallet so that he had a copy for reference. You can imagine my embarrassment! Lesson learned. 5) And lastly, firefighters, especially leaders, are passionate about their jobs. I had an idea of this passion before I went into the conference after months of editing copy written by firefighters, and chatting with many on the phone. But it wasn’t until I sat in on Saturday’s learning sessions that I got a real sense of the extent of that passion. Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., Fire Chief and Fire Fighting in Canada columnist Vince MacKenzie’s passion for the volunteer fire service and leading with the positivity shined through during his presentation on leadership attitude. Kingsville, Ont., Fire Chief Bob Kissner was clearly amped up to share his knowledge of flow paths and SLICE-RS to the room of attendees. And David Griffin – a firefighter from Charleston, S.C., who presented on the Charleston 9 firefighters who lost their lives at the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007 – took the cake for passion, and volume. He spoke (yelled) on the need to embrace change in the fire service, drawing from the lessons learned by his department. Outside of the sessions, passion came through during the trade show Sunday as vendors eagerly shared their products and explained how they can help keep firefighters safe. And passionate faces beamed Saturday night as the organizers of the Ladders Up for the Foundation event proudly held up a $28,000 cheque for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Thank you to all those passionate people who made my first conference and trade show experience a complete blast!
May 5, 2015, Readwood Meadows, Alta. - I was looking back at the blogs I had written for Fire Fighting in Canada and realized there was a pattern forming. That pattern seems to be very long periods between blogs. And that is a problem. Not because I am under any type of contractual agreement or anything such thing, but because I enjoy writing. Writing and photography have always been my “good” stress. I last wrote about the need for smoke alarms in homes and sprinklers in care facilities – how the proper use of both would save lives – on March 4. Stressing the need for sprinklers and smoke alarms is nothing new for any of us, and sadly it is something we seem to need to continually reinforce. When I wrote that blog, I would never have dreamed that our fire department, Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES), would respond to a fatal house fire the next day. A 17-year-old teen lost her life that day after becoming disoriented in the basement of a burning home. The call was a mutual aid request to RMES from a neighbouring department and by the time we had arrived, rescues had been made and the house was fully involved. Fire suppression efforts continued and we stood by until investigators were ready to have us begin the search for the girl. I was the operator of our tender and had a great crew with me during the call. It was our first fire fatality in the 23 years I have been a member of RMES and hopefully it will be our last. Smoke alarms save lives! We have to continue pressing that message or we will never have a chance of making that our last fatal fire. There are many messages that we as firefighters need to continue delivering. Carbon-monoxide alarms are just as important as smoke alarms to have in your homes. At the beginning of April, within a two-day span, 12 people in Calgary were taken to hospital after CO incidents. Home sprinklers should remain on our radar because there is absolutely no doubt that they save lives and protect property. But we need to deliver messages to our own and for our own as well. Whatever form or name worker’s compensation takes in your province, we need to continue educating ourselves about occupational cancers. But we also need to continue ensuring that fire departments and their members are doing everything they can to prevent those exposures. Wear your turnout gear properly. Wear your breathing apparatus. Decontaminate after exposures. And then there are the “bad” stresses. We need to look out for one another and take care of our own mental health. We cannot stop talking about critical-incident stress. To end the stigma associated with mental-health problems we need to make talking about it the norm. For me, writing and photography will increase so that “good” stress starts to take over. Hopefully that means you will be reading more of my ramblings as we go into summer. Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof
May 4, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. – This past weekend I had the opportunity to present a one-day leadership seminar at the Smoky Mountain Weekend Fire/Rescue Expo in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The expo started about 17 years ago with a few classes; today, about 900 firefighters gather in Pigeon Forge to participate in hands-on training and classroom sessions.One of the expo highlights was a RIT maze competition. Once a mayday is called, firefighters enter a maze and go through a series of obstacles and entanglement props, break through a wall and connect emergency air to a downed firefighter. The firefighters faces are blacked out during the exercise (rather, the competition), which forces them to communicate and act as though it is a real situation. The competition drew a large crowd and it was clear each team was determined to win. I have never had the opportunity to observe this competition and as a spectator I could feel my adrenaline rushing. How can you not respect firefighters who train hard to protect their communities?One of the benefits (I tend to call it a blessing) of speaking at conferences is the great people I am able to meet. I have met so many passionate firefighters across Canada and now I can say the United States. Pigeon Forge Training Officer Chris Knutsen is one of those individuals who is truly passionate about training because he knows lives depend upon it.The energy of Knutsen and those attending the conference could be felt throughout the conference centre. It was incredible!   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriac13cb49935 I was fortunate to meet and bounce around ideas around with so many great people at this conference and one such individual was Deputy Chief Jeff Alter from the Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Rescue department. He told me about five key rules that are followed in his department. As Alter rattled on about his rules and explained to me what they were, I knew I would have to write about them. I only hope I do justice to the rules and I will describe them the best I can.Rule 1: honesty and integrity in everything you do. This means to act ethically, honestly and with integrity while at the firehouse and while serving the public. Do this in everything you do. Period!Rule 2: firefighter safety is never compromised. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this rule. When Alter spoke about firefighter safety, you knew he lived and breathed this rule.Rule 3: be nice ¬– no bad attitudes. This was another rule that Alter’s body language communicated with zero compromise. If a firefighter has a bad day and it negatively impacts the rest of the team, it is dealt with immediately. I did not get the impression that it is dealt with harshly; rather, steps are immediately taken to deal with the attitude before it impacts the rest of the firefighting team or the public.Rule 4: never walk by something that is wrong. If you see something that is wrong, you now own it; so take the necessary action to fix it. It’s a very simple philosophy.Rule 5: it’s not personal, it’s business. Back to the scenario in Rule 3, if the firefighter is negatively impacting the team and causing moral issues, the firefighter is given permission to go home. The team comes first and if a firefighter is negatively impacting moral, being sent home is not personal, it’s business.Being able to speak in Tennessee was truly a great experience. Now I know what they mean by Southern hospitality.I am privileged to have made many new friends from Tennessee who are passionate about the fire service. The only obstacle I had to overcome was trying to understand the local accent. Apparently many firefighters in my class were challenged by my accent; I don’t get it – the only people who had accents in my class were the firefighters!Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes
May 4, 2015, Toronto – I met Jessica Boomhower last night. Jessica, you may remember from a column in the December issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, is a 20-year-old firefighter from Greater Napanee, Ont., who collapsed while getting onto a truck for a call last June. Jessica had a brain bleed. She is in a special-ordered hot-pink wheelchair, although she walked on Saturday, unassisted under the watchful eye of Chief Terry Gervais, a milestone after brain surgery in March. Not a big deal, Jessica insisted with a typical young-adult attitude: “It was just too much trouble to get my wheelchair or walker out.” Jessica’s sense of humour is intact but she has lost the hearing in her left ear. She calls her progress slow. Her mom, Bonnie, also a volunteer firefighter for the Greater Napanee Emergency Services, marvels at how far she has come in less than a year. Jessica cruised the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs trade show yesterday and attended the memorial service and reception last evening. The folks Greater Napanee are resilient. The Highway 401 bus crash that involved several members and their families had already brought the department closer together. Jessica’s challenge is another hurdle but hardly a roadblock. - Delegates here learned a lot about resilience yesterday. I’ve seen a lot of duds in eight years of conferences and presentations, so I was looking forward to hearing David Griffin, the driver of the first-due engine at the Charleston, S.C., Sofa Super Store fire. Griffin’s energy – HE YELLS A LOT! – is contagious and, admittedly, part of his schtick as a speaker, but his message – that doing things the way they’ve always been done just because they’ve always been done that way is unacceptable – is bang on. In Charleston, where everything that could go wrong did, and nine firefighters died fighting that furniture-store blaze, there was no accountability system. No RIT. Tradition dictated SOPs and SOGs. Egos as big as aerial trucks trumped safety. Best practices didn’t exist. Griffin was on the pump panel that day. There wasn’t enough water pressure. He shut off the flow at a crucial moment. His survivor guilt drove him to alcohol, drugs and mixed-martial arts fighting. Until he woke up with his eyes swelled shut from blows to the face and realized that punishing himself wasn’t the answer. He went to school to learn about leadership and change. And he had hundreds of fire officers hanging on his every word yesterday. He tells the story better than I can – we’ll have his book In Honour of the Charleston 9: A Study of Change following Tragedy, on our Firehall Bookstore site shortly. Read it! - It’s down to 13 candidates for 12 spots on the board of directors of the OAFC. Voting ends tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. Of course, no one wants to be the odd person out so there is some lobbying going on – I even saw some vote-for-me flyers. I’m told Matt Pegg will not be challenged in his run for a third term as president, and although no one expects big change, there’s certainly talk that a board incumbent could be unseated. As always, watch @fireincanada and @OnFireChiefs on Twitter for results.
April 30, 2015, Toronto – Most of us know about the Charleston 9 – the firefighters who were killed after they responded to the Sofa Super Store fire on Monday, June 16, 2007, in South Carolina. Most of us probably haven’t heard of David Griffin, the driver on the first engine to respond. Griffin’s story is gut-wrenching. “Plagued with survivor’s guilt, he numbed himself with alcohol, painkillers and blood sports so much that it nearly cost him his life,” according to the bio on the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs website. Griffin had fought Houston ‘The Assassin” Alexander in a mixed-martial arts bout. For three days, his eyes were swelled shut from the battering to his face. At which point Griffin stopped feeling sorry for himself and did something to honour his nine fallen colleagues – he got a doctorate of education and is helping to change the way firefighters are trained. I sit through a lot of presentations at conferences. I’m looking forward to this one on Sunday at the Ontario chiefs annual education seminar. Griffin, by the way, a former professional baseball player, is just 34 years old; in 2007, when he drove the truck to that Super Sofa fire, he was 26. The OAFC trade show and conference – the largest in Canada – ought to be interesting. The agenda is fulsome – Griffin’s presentation follows former FEMA deputy director Richard Serino’s talk about the Boston marathon bombing, another must-see. From an inside-baseball perspective, there will likely be some politicking in the hallways as candidates for the board of directors jostle for votes (up to 16 for 12 positions, I believe) and then for positions on the executive. With Greater Napanee Chief Terry Gervais retiring and Hawkesbury Chief Ghislain Pigeon moving on, there will be a minimum of two new faces on the board, and, if my intelligence is correct, potential for some change on the executive. Watch for tweets (@fireincanada) when election results are announced on Tuesday. I’m also hearing rumblings about change at the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management so I’ll be hunting for confirmation. The OFMEM’s booth at the trade show is always bustling with uniformed staff, and Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek gives his annual update to OAFC delegates at 8 a.m. Tuesday. With the Ontario training officers, communicators and public educators conferences running simultaneously to the OAFC – there are several joint sessions but also separate seminars and presentations – there will be more than 600 delegates at the Toronto Congress Centre, starting Saturday morning. The trade show opens Sunday at 10 a.m. – I’m hoping to connect with all the vendors I missed last week in Indianapolis! – and, as always, assistant editor Maria Church (a conference/trade show rookie!) and I are looking forward to networking – I find the best story ideas talking to people after hours. Mostly, though, we’re looking forward to golf tomorrow – our annual Fire Fighting in Canada/OAFC Provincial Open. Maria will be on the $10,000 hole-in-one tee watching for a lucky drop, and – as was the case last week in the collapsed-structure simulator at FDIC in Indianapolis – I will be trying not to humiliate myself. Fore!
April 28, 2015, Toronto – I don’t know how, but it seems I missed more at FDIC in Indianapolis last week than I saw. I missed Redwood Meadows Emergency Services Capt. Jennifer Low-Evans complete her first 5K in the Courage and Valour Fun Run on Thursday. I missed Brampton firefighter Britney Holmberg and her teammates win the female relay in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge on Friday. I missed seeing Ryan Pennington – some of you know him as @jumpseatviews – who writes for our magazines about hoarding and, for the first time, taught at FDIC. Two and a half days, a spreadsheet full of meetings with vendors and writers from across Canada, the gigantic trade show, a morning in the Guardian Safety & Survival Training Simulator (more on that below) and the usual after-hours networking that is part of the FDIC experience. And that’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I saw a bit of the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation/9-11 stair climb on Friday between meetings with truck manufacturers at the mammoth Lucas Oil stadium. (Pierce’s 107-foot aerial on a single rear axel is impressive, even to non-truckies like me.) I talked with a lot of people about technology – wi-fi and backup cameras and command/control systems that do everything but drive the trucks. I saw Hurst’s newest edraulic tools – stronger and more technologically advanced to help rescuers deal with reinforced vehicles. I saw Alan Brunacini walking down the street by himself – twice. I had dinner at a table beside Billy Goldfeder. I ran into Vaughan Fire Service chief mechanic and writer Chris Dennis and Thames Centre Chief Randy Kalan – and dozens of other Canadians. I met with Calgary firefighter Randy Schmitz – who has written for our Canadian Firefighter magazine the entire time that I’ve been editor. I watched groups of firefighters testing tools and PPE and wishing they had a municipal chequebook in hand.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria628c42e958 My plan last week was to talk to truck makers to find stories for our annual apparatus issue in November. Interviews were set up in advance and public relations people came armed with key drives full of high-res photos and PDFs full of specs. My secondary mission was to experience the Personal Protection Equipment Specialists /Guardian collapsed-structure simulator (www.ppesguardian.com). Given the Elliot Lake mall collapse in 2012 and the tornado in Essa, Ont., in 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about search and rescue in collapsed structures. My first clue that the simulator might turn out to be more than I expected came when the PR guy said he was looking forward to hearing about my experience in the “box of pain.” Probably not the best advertising tagline, I thought. So, I packed my custom-fitted Globe gear (sorry, shameless plug!) and hoofed it four long Indianapolis blocks from my hotel to South Street where the simulator was set up outside Lucas Oil, near the Scott Combat Challenge – prime real estate indeed! It turns out that Guardian owner Kerry Oswald – a small woman with a great big personality – developed the idea for the simulator after a week spent washing coveralls for urban search and rescue teams after 9-11. “They told us that those coming to help just didn’t have the training,” Oswald said. Oswald works with trainers from the Baltimore City Fire Department, who (very patiently) escorted me through the simulator – the unit I was in costs about US $400,000. I asked for light just once when I could feel a tight space through which I was supposed to shimmy, sideways, using my hands to pull me forward, but was nervous about getting stuck – and humiliating myself! With a bit of coaxing, it was a piece of cake. I made it over the floating floor, through the entanglements, across the catwalk, tossed debris aside (mild exaggeration – I grunted and pushed with all my weight), crawled up blocked stairs and through narrow passageways, slid through a crevice, jumped at the sound effects – cries for help, creaks and groans – and remembered to sound the floor in front of me at all times, right hand on the wall, left hand outstretched to feel, in the pitch black. I banged my (securely helmeted) head about 100 times, my knees may never recover, and I sweated off every calorie consumed over four days in Indy – including the world-famous shrimp and hotter-than-hot, clear-your-sinuses-and-make-your-eyes-water cocktail sauce at Harry & Izzys Steakhouse. I spent the week before Indy in Dryden, Ont., at the Northwest Response Forum, learning about the bureaucratic side of emergency management and response from those who had responded to collapses, tornados and floods. I wanted more hands-on experience. Jennifer Evans, Britney Holmberg and Ryan Pennington achieved lofty goals in Indy. My goal was journalistic – to be better able to write and edit stories about emergency response so that I can use what I learned and saw and touched to help Canadian firefighters better themselves and, hopefully, help to make their jobs easier and safer. After completing the simulator exercise and taking photos, I hid my soaking wet hair under a ball cap, and started to walk back to the hotel carrying my jacket, pants, boots, helmet, camera and my everything-else-I-might-need-in-Indy bag that included a tape recorder, notebook, wallet, maps, Blackberry, iPhone . . . you get the gist. I made it half a block and grabbed a cab. The trade show had just opened and I had miles to go that afternoon. Literally.
April 21, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. – It sure was great seeing many of my former colleagues at the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs conference held this past weekend in Swift Current. The Swift Current Fire Department put on a great show and had an excellent speaker lineup. Several months ago, I was delighted to find out that I would be presenting at the conference along with my good friends author Rich Gasaway and Comox Fire Chief Gord Schreiner. Gasaway gave three presentations that grabbed the audience’s attention with examples of the need for situational awareness and paying attention to your surroundings through your senses. I’m going to put a twist on Gasaway’s situational-awareness message by applying it to leadership. Gasaway stated that the sixth sense is called intuition – the voice inside your head that says something isn’t right – and we should all listen to it. As a fire service leader, it’s important to get in tune with your intuition, especially when it comes to dealing with personnel issues. Gasaway emphasized that if we can’t change the outcome of an event, then the best thing to do is stay out of the way, otherwise you can become a victim. The same idea can be applied to leadership. As a fire service leader, it’s important to realize that some things can’t change and the best thing to do is to stay out of the way of the predicable outcome. In his #Stopbad presentation, Fire Chief Gord Schreiner spoke about preventing bad things from happening on the fire ground. He identified a simple and effective way to track personnel during emergencies and gave examples on why this was critical to keep firefighters safe. Day 2 of the conference began with a bear-pit session with a panel (including Fire Commissioner Duane McKay) on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and critical-incident stress debriefing (CISD). Throughout the discussion it was evident that there is a real need to have PTSD and CISD training available to fire departments across Saskatchewan. Many fire chiefs from volunteer departments identified how their limited budgets make it difficult to access this type of training, yet they are expected to respond to emergencies that can cause some mental-health issues with firefighters. If the fire service isn’t dealing with CISD and PTSD at the local and provincial level, then I say shame on us. Maybe that is harsh, but we are losing too many good people by suicide because they didn’t have the tools to deal with their demons. The fire service is a great profession, whether career or volunteer, but there is a price to pay for being in this profession. PTSD & CISD training for every firefighter is a great way to start preventing, or at the very least minimizing, PTSD in firefighters. I’m not an expert, but I have known two firefighters who have committed suicide, and I can certainly attest to the fact that training is needed for mental health as much as it is for learning how to properly attack a structure fire. My presentation was on my 10 rules for situational leadership. I appreciated the feedback and comments from the audience after my presentation. I have never had the opportunity to listen to the life story of Calgary Assistant Chief Tyler Pelke and if you ever have a chance to hear his story, you must make it a priority and get to his presentation. Pelke spoke about leadership in life is by understanding the choice between being a victim, surviving and thriving. Pelke’s story is truly inspiring and I see him as a courageous leader that is making a difference in people's lives. I commend the host committee for the great job they did hosting the conference in Swift Current. It was great exchanging ideas with Gasaway and Chief Schreiner and more importantly, it was great to make new friends at the conference. Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes
When it comes to fire-service training, it is caveat emptor – or buyer beware.
You love amplifiers. Even if you don’t rock out, you love amplifiers. Now before the jazz, classical music and easy-listening aficionados move on to the next article, allow me a moment to explain. As you know, a sound amplifier essentially takes noise and increases its strength to make it louder. As a firefighter, you love amplification because increasing strength with equipment is something that we do daily: fire pumps increase the discharge pressure of our water, hydraulics move extrication tools or monstrous ladders, and compressors jam a bunch of breathable air into a tiny cylinder. See . . . you love amplifiers!
Navigating the world of protocol is complex and, at times, frustrating and confusing. Since my article “Protocol and proper dress” appeared in the June 2013 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, I have received countless emails, letters and phone calls from fire personnel across Canada. Most of the questions are similar in nature; some ask for clarification on uniform standards, some seek advice on proper protocol for parades and functions, and some ask for specific insight on the wearing of orders, decorations and medals.
Mississauga firefighter Jodine Hough has a soft, calm voice – a trait that likely makes her an asset in her role as a peer team member. She described that role with humility.
A new online course offered by the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) teaches building managers and owners how to take a leadership role in fire-safety planning in their buildings.
In the March issue I outlined some of the emotions that firefighters may feel after a critical incident, and some of the signs and symptoms that may be associated with those feelings. The next step is to talk about strategies to increase your emotional resiliency, and how the organization can do the same.
It’s spring maintenance time at the fire department. The maintenance list is long. Truck-check sheets and maintenance records should be updated as you go.
Toronto-based Safety IQ has introduced the Saver emergency breath system, a personal fire-evacuation device that helps a user avoid smoke inhalation in the event of a fire emergency. The Saver device uses a triple-filter technology that filters smoke and toxic chemical substances, including carbon monoxide, to allow a person to breathe clean air for up to five minutes. The small device stores easily and takes about five seconds to activate during a fire emergency. Learn more at http://mysafetyiq.com/
Weight reduction was the key factor in Holmatro’s development of the new 5000 series of spreaders. By using new materials, component integration and a new design, the new series of spreaders is lighter, without compromising spreading force and distance. Two of the five new devices in the series are available with Greenline battery technology to allow for freedom of movement. Other features on the new series are an ergonomic carrying handle design, upgraded LED lighting in carrying handle, build-in speed valve, and Holmatro’s patented CORE technology. Learn more at http://www.holmatro.com/en/
Fraser Lake Fire Rescue in British Columbia recently attended a chest-pains call. Dispatch identified the complainant over the radio and a number of us recognized the name as that of a local resident. Instead of listening and responding to the civic address given by dispatch, we headed right over to where we knew the local man lived – only to find no one home. After checking back with a very accommodating dispatcher we headed for the correct address, somewhat red faced. Thankfully the patient suffered no ill effects from our folly, and there was a valuable lesson for all of us who attended.
For years, municipalities have complained about the high cost of firefighter salaries and benefits and the arbitration process that awards them.
Stop buying fire trucks! There, I said it. There seems to be this idea that buying a fire truck for a community will prevent any and all fire fatalities. There is a tragic flaw in that thinking when it comes to First Nations communities across Canada.
When I was approached to write this column, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss my journey to a deputy-chief position, the challenges I faced in attaining the position and those I have experienced in my new role. I hope my columns provide some insight into how a chief officer experiences the transition from a front-line responder to an administrative role.
Social media is rampant with adages and short, insightful sayings about leadership and management. Put the magazine down or minimize the Fire Fighting in Canada website and go to LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to browse through them for a few minutes. I like most of the adages; they have the tendency to stick in my mind as I reflect upon what the day brings to me – especially as I interact with colleagues and the public. A recent one that stuck with me is: Managers light a fire under people – leaders light a fire within them. I am not sure who coined this phrase, but for me it summarises what managers and leaders should be doing.
After five years of writing our joint leadership column, it’s time for us to pass the torch to present and upcoming leaders. We have considered ourselves extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to write together and to pass along our philosophies on leadership in the hopes of encouraging and motivating firefighters (at all levels) across Canada.
You’re the chief. How did you get to your position? In days gone by, if you stayed in the service long enough, you became chief. Or perhaps you won a popularity contest. To be a chief today requires you to be all things to all people – a public relations pro; a human resources manager; a budgeting and finance expert; a fund raiser; a social worker; a labour negotiations expert; a mentor; a leader; a succession planner. You report to a body, whether municipal/city or provincial, that may offer you little to no support. And don’t forget the taxpayer – who is sure he knows that all a firefighter does is drive a truck and aim a hose.You may be misunderstood and are certainly criticized. How do we, and our departments, get a handle on this? As chief, you are the leader of your department and it is incumbent on you to ensure that you provide the atmosphere and venue in which your men and women can have the complete and complex training required to protect themselves and their communities.Start with yourself. Sit down with a paper and pencil; draw a line down the centre of the paper and head one column “strong” and the other “less strong.” Be brutally honest. Think about how you might organize your time more effectively. In some of the areas where you are strong, can you mentor one of your team members to learn about and take on some tasks? Strong leaders are not afraid to share knowledge and responsibility. For decades, chiefs were groomed to be fixers and in-house managers of everything. Are you one of these leaders? If so, are you exhausted and running out of internal options? Why not look for other solutions within your own community or nearby? Budget managing is always the No. 1 leadership challenge and has worn down many good leaders. In many cases, locating and chatting with outside (and inside) resources brings the light at the end of the tunnel. Trying to handle everything, every day, in house, with limited or no expertise is dangerous. Do you dread writing reports? Think about drafting what you want to convey in point form, and then let someone edit your thoughts into a coherent report. Maybe you can find these people outside your department. You still own the budget or the report, but accepting expert help is not weakness; it is the mark of a strong leader.This same process can be applied to your department. In areas in which your department and its members are strong, acknowledgement and praise go a long way to maintaining those strengths. Where you are less strong, involve trusted senior members in the initial steps of planning how to make things better. Do not be afraid to involve your whole department. Sometimes a really good idea will come from a new, fresh set of eyes. Let someone else talk about why you do certain things the way you do. What a great teaching and leadership opportunity. Consider having a professional lead a brainstorming session with only two rules: all ideas are welcome, and there is no evaluation or criticism allowed. It takes courage to do this, but it can pay real dividends. Members are more likely to buy into a new plan if they feel involved in the process.Two cautions: first, don’t try to do everything at once. Have a three-year plan. Then ask yourself, “To accomplish this plan, what do I need to do in one year? In six months? In three months? This month?” Secondly, you are still the boss. Ask for and listen to input from members, accept help in drafting your plans, but in the end the buck stops at your desk.I have left the most important point to the last. Look to your fellow chiefs for support. Attend all of the conventions and courses that you can. Get to know colleagues. There are some very talented, supportive chiefs in Canada who have done the legwork, and they are always willing to chat. Chiefs often hold back on asking for help because of a fear of appearing weak. Being open and vulnerable in the right setting and with trusted colleagues is a good skill to have.Hence the column title “How much can our service handle?” This is not only about the level of service we provide members and communities, but also about us as humans beings and leaders. No community or service should let its leaders drown in an overwhelming workload. If you are caught up in a stream of endless challenges without support, it might be time to make some calls to trusted colleagues. Be wise enough to understand and value yourself and your service before you take on a tough challenge. Education, communication and having trusted mentors will assist you tremendously if you choose to use them. And please feel free to connect with me.Tom Bremner is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island, B.C. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
We are going to identify four basic principles that will help current and future leaders grow and achieve excellence.The principle of change surmises that change is a part of life and achieving excellence as a leader means that you become comfortable with change and accept the fact that without change there can be no progress. This is an important principle because, for the most part, people are not comfortable with change, but when leadership excellence is being pursued (and it should be), leaders must venture into the unknown with faith, and believe they will figure out things along the way and succeed.The principle of belief may seem to have religious undertones, but that is not what we mean here. The principle of belief is based on the belief in oneself; leaders must believe in their abilities and skills. Leaders must believe they can make a positive difference in their departments. Without belief, an individual is simply going through the motions, and when tough times come (and we guarantee they will) the leadership foundation will already be weak and the leader will not survive the turbulent times.Leaders will face challenges and there may be times when they make poor decisions. Poor decisions can impact leadership ability; if a leader believes that he or she failed by making a poor decision, a powerful message of self-failure tends to rattle around in that leader’s brain. The principle of belief simply redirects a leader’s thinking to focus on abilities and skills and to learn from a mistake and move on. Belief is a key factor in whether a leader succeeds, so we highly recommend that everyone understand the simplicity of this principle.The principle of growth means that the path to leadership success is directly connected to commitment and growth. Today’s fire service requires firefighters who are not afraid to learn about the profession and the expectations placed upon fire-service leaders.We all know that complacency can lead to tragic events; the same applies to leadership complacency. Let’s be perfectly clear – complacency does not occur overnight, it happens over time because of poor habits.Growth comes from reading magazine articles, blogs and at least one leadership book a month. Leaders need to expand their minds so they can excel in their craft. The principle of growth must be understood so leaders can be successful in today’s dynamic fire service.The principle of exceeding expectations is based on the belief that life favours those who do just that – exceed expectations. Give more than you expect to receive and you shall be the benefactor. Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”Never forget that actions have consequences. Strive to always exceed expectations because the more good work you do for others and your community, the more success you will achieve.Author John Maxwell said, “If you want to be a big-picture thinker, you will have to go against the flow of the world. Society wants to keep people in boxes. Most people are married mentally to the status quo. They want what was, not what can be. They seek safety and simple answers. To think big-picture, you need to give yourself permission to go a different way, to break new ground, to find new worlds to conquer. And when your world does get bigger, you need to celebrate. Never forget there is more out there in the world than what you’ve experienced.”Leaders must give themselves permission to exceed expectations and understand that leadership is more than leading within the station walls.We have recommended in past columns the importance of having a mentor. Identify the characteristics, skills and vision of the mentor you seek and go find the right person. Mentorrship is an opportunity to learn from those you respect and want to model yourself after. It’s also a future opportunity for you to take the skills you’ve learned and become a mentor for others. There is no greater satisfaction than to be able to share (your knowledge and experience) with others to watch them grow.The principles identified here have been borne out of our experiences as fire-service leaders. As you grow as leaders, you will find that your experiences will bring forth principles that will help you in your journey. More importantly, these principles must be shared so others can learn and grow.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
It is with mixed emotions that I start my 40th year in the fire service. On the one hand, I am so proud of the fire service in many ways. The service impacts many lives in a positive way. Over the years, I have met a lot of great people and I have made many lifelong friends. I am pleased with what I have accomplished to date. I love the fire service.On the other hand, I am embarrassed by the very few bad apples that are out there in the fire service. Over the past few months, there have been a number of stories about chief officers behaving inappropriately. I, like many others, strongly believe that good leadership is vital to a healthy organization. If leaders of the organization are behaving poorly, the negative effects ripple through the entire organization. Some of these chiefs were bad characters to begin with and should never have been promoted. With this in mind, we, as chief officers, need to do our part to ensure that young staff members are taught the importance of ethics. We need to let them know that inappropriate behaviour is not accepted in our organizations.Unfortunately, there have been so many stories lately about chief officers behaving badly that I think we could start a reality series titled Chiefs gone bad! There would be a lot of content. The episodes would include stories of chief officers making racist remarks, drinking and driving, drinking in public vehicles or at their fire stations, drug use, misuse of public vehicles, misuse of public funds, receiving gifts for spending public funds, inappropriate relationships, conflicts of interest, chief officers with fake degrees, chief officers with little to no formal training . . . need I go on?Poor behaviour such as this is totally unacceptable; it’s shameful and gives the entire fire service a black eye. It is hard to believe these things happen. One would hope only the best would be promoted to chief-officer levels in the first place. If this is the fire service’s best, we had better get a handle on this situation quickly before it is too late and the reputation of the entire fire service suffers.The problem of individuals’ behaviour affecting the reputation of the fire service, or any other profession, has been around forever. But with the reach of social media, stories are now shared much easier and faster than before. Make a mistake in the morning and it is possible that millions of people will know about it before the end of the day.I know chief officers are just regular people, but we should still expect them to behave properly. As a chief officer, you have a duty to act appropriately. When you accept a position as a chief officer you have an obligation to be honest and ethical; anything less is unacceptable. If you can’t do this, get out now.While 99 per cent of the chief officers out there are doing the right things right, the small percentage of bad chiefs are making us all look bad. One of the most important things in your life should be your reputation and the reputation of the organization you represent. Good or bad, your reputation is known by the people around you. You are accountable for yourself, no one else is. Do what is right and you should have no worries; do wrong and you could lose your job and your good reputation very quickly.I believe all fire-service members can be a part of the solution by letting others know if their behaviour is unacceptable. (It would be nice if they could figure this out by themselves, but sadly, many can’t). Tell them their poor behaviour (and bad reputation) hurts us all. Annual surveys show that the fire service is one of the most trusted professions; this will surely change if we do not take the necessary steps to address this problem. It is time to clean house.There are a lot of great people in the fire service who are ready to step up and make a positive difference. Let’s call bad apples out and let them know that their inappropriate behaviours are unacceptable. By doing so, you might help them correct their careers before it is too late, and you will help us all continue to make the fire service better; you may even help save lives.I have a reputation of speaking up and saying what is on my mind and I plan to continue to do this until I retire in a few years. If I think something is wrong, I will say so. I ask that you do the same.Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. He is a structural protection specialist with the Office of the Fire Commissioner and worked at the 2010 Winter Olympics as a venue commander. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire
Over the years I have written quite a few columns on leadership styles and the benefits of each style. One style that I have always endorsed and tried to embrace is that of servant leadership.
Teaching in the classroom is necessary for passing on knowledge to firefighters. But chances are that some of your firefighters grumble as they enter the room and cringe at the thought of reliving the educational nightmares of their youth, and for good reason.
There are a lot of firefighter leaders, writers and administrators who talk about leadership versus management, the differences between them, and how each is applied to situations, problems, or issues. As a consultant who specifically assesses, creates programming and instructs on the tenants of these topics, I find it very amusing that the predominant term used by managers in the private industry in which I consult, is in fact, fire fighting or putting out fires. These terms are used to describe dealing with problems that pop up, or people or things that seem to become difficult. You’ve probably heard these terms in the context of business, as emergent issues that always put a wrench in your plans and seem to come out of nowhere and start fires. These fires, if left unattended, seem to grow in these organizations until they consume morale and organizational culture, much the same way a structure fire consumes oxygen. Managers tell me how they fight the fires with aggressive policies and manage the issue from a best-case scenario point of view, sometimes even taking a chance or having to move quickly on an issue to stop it from spreading. Just imagine an organization lacking in oxygen – a slow, dying, stale business with no fresh ideas goes under, and you can almost bet cash money that someone was trying to fight a fire. Fire fighting is extremely dangerous, has unforeseen risks and is an aggressive venture to undertake at the best of times. So why do we do it? Because there may be something to save. But when it comes to business and/or fire fighting, our strategies have evolved to the point at which even firefighters question why we would do something so aggressive.Fighting or putting out fires are horrible terms and mindsets for managers, leaders, and supervisors in any industry,– including the fire service – when it comes to dealing with people and managing resources. For goodness sake, the term fire fighting has the word fight in it. Why would you want to correlate any work activity to the term fight? The new fire officer, fire chief and firefighter all learn the same conceptual ideas now that we know that interpersonal skills and communication skills are paramount to the success of the department, in the halls and on the fire ground. In fact, unless something is happening that is of imminent danger to my life, there is really never a time to yell, ever. Every organizational behavior, conflict resolution, and leadership book or course confirms this.And while we can argue until our face pieces suck in and were out of air, I can tell you I will never be convinced that managing people is the best way to create a successful department. Leaders lead people, and manage policy, directives and process. Managers manage people through a lens of policy, directives and process. The difference is that the leader is out in front with fire-prevention strategies and the manager is chasing fire with a small five-pound extinguisher. There is a notable difference in the approach, wouldn’t you agree? When my lovely wife was promoted to a management position at the hospital and struggled with the new buddy-to-boss paradigm, I suggested she lead the team from a perspective of collaboration, taking in feedback and doing a lot of listening from all of her new stakeholders. Once a deep understanding of the issues was accomplished, she was able to use feedback and suggestions to help draft new policy, and she gave all the credit to her staff for coming up with the ideas. A manager might have first tried to assume what the problem was and direct the fix with no input for others. While in some cases this would be a normal strategy and a proper course of action, rarely does this approach work as well as leading your team to help draw the right conclusions on their own. One solution builds value in the team and eventually prevents similar issues from popping up as stakeholders learn the value of leading forward to find the solution, while the later may solve the problem, but offers no long- term strategy for stopping the issue from happening again; hence the comparison of fire fighting rather than fire prevention. This strategy has worked for me in the boardroom, and the fire officers I trust and respect who use this method seem to have crews and followers who would bust through brick walls for them as well. Funny how building value in people, showing them respect and guiding them to follow policies and procedures that are collaborative in nature gets better results.An ounce of prevention or a five-pound pound pressurized can of cure? You decide.Jay Shaw is a primary-care paramedic and firefighter with the City of Winnipeg. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @firecollege
Scottish rugby player Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” This is what leaving a legacy is all about, and since our retirements from the fire-service, we truly understand the importance of leaving a leadership legacy upon which others can build.  For fire-service leaders, legacy is all about planting leadership seeds within departments so that after the leaders have moved on, the seeds continue to grow. Remember, a leader’s legacy is not just what he or she did while in the fire department; it’s also what is left behind for others to build upon. Leadership is all about growing other leaders.  Imagine how gratifying it is for leaders to look back five or 10 years after leaving a fire department to see how their leadership direction took the department to new levels of success. To us, this is the true legacy of a fire chief. One of the key challenges to leaving a solid foundation to build up is how to ensure that all staff members are not only trained and ready to do their jobs, but are also prepared for future leadership positions. How does a leader know who to help grow and prepare for the future? The simplest and probably the best answer is that leaders need to teach, mentor and prepare everyone to meet the future; by doing so, the best will rise to the top and demonstrate that they are able to meet future challenges.There are five steps that may help fire-service leaders prepare future leaders. Step 1: lay out the plan. No matter what the project is, there must be a plan in place for it to be successful; building leadership capacity is no different. We all know that leadership is more than time served. The leaders of tomorrow require education and qualifications that focus on people; soft skills such as building effective teams and mentoring and coaching sell the department’s vision and make firefighters feel as if they are a part of a team. So ask yourself: what is the plan? What do you want to accomplish and in what timespan? Step 2: identify the existing leadership capacity. Every department has leadership and every department has leadership gaps. Preparing for the future means the fire chief and firefighters must communicate openly about the leadership plans for the department. Working collaboratively, which includes open and timely communication, gives everyone a connection with the plan and will help to inspire members to see it to fruition. Remember, a leader’s legacy cannot continue if it completely depends on his or her presence. Guiding the team and allowing team members to take the reins is part of building the momentum. Step 3: be the team. During any phase of any plan, a leader must ensure all team members know and understand that they are important. It is critical to know the difference between being a part of a team and being the team. Success occurs only if firefighters feel they are part of the team that is building the future of the fire department. One person cannot do everything, but many hands lighten the load and more efficiently complete goals and objectives. Step 4: celebrate successes. Take the time to celebrate accomplishments. We all make an effort to acknowledge when our kids win a ribbon or get an A on a test, but leaders sometimes forget that their staff need to hear that the department has successfully met a goal or worked through a challenge. So take the time to celebrate successful course completions because without celebrating the successes, it’s too easy to feel part of cold-hearted organization. Step 5: empower others. When it comes to leadership, it is OK to empower others to grow and explore how they can fit into leadership roles. Leaders may be surprised what their staff can do if they know they are supported. Lee Iacocca said, “If you really believe in what you are doing, you’ve got to persevere even when you run into obstacles.” When you are building your team and looking to the future to predict what kind of legacy you will leave as a fire chief or chief officer, know that there will be many obstacles and many setbacks that will test you and frustrate you. Persevere and believe in yourself and your team.To us, leaving a legacy is one of the greatest things fire-service leaders can do. Leaving a legacy demonstrates to everyone that the leader was invested in the department. For leaders, a legacy is about what’s in it for the organization, the communities they service and, most importantly, their staff.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
Fire-service leaders have many responsibilities; developing talent in the fire hall is a responsibility that chiefs should take seriously given that one day all chief officers will move on to retirement or other opportunities. Leaving a solid foundation of internal talent is paramount to the stability and growth of the organization. The level of talent demonstrated within the fire station is a good indication of the organization’s leadership. When firefighter talent appears absent or is lacking, it’s a strong indication that the leadership has either stalled out or, in some cases, is unable to keep up with the growth of the department. In cases such as these, the fire chief and senior officers need to regroup and change things.There are various views on the subject of talent development, but one thing is certain: every fire department has talent, and it must be developed, otherwise the future looks grim and the community loses respect for the department.Firefighter talent is a commodity that increases in value as it develops. This commodity improves the fire department, enhances public safety, increases firefighter professionalism and boosts morale, which is why talent development must be the focus of all fire-service leaders, regardless of the size of the department. Many readers might believe that, by default, it is the fire chief’s responsibility to build department talent; we agree to a point, but only to a point. Yes, it is the responsibility of the fire chief to acquire the resources to develop firefighter talent, and this is typically accomplished at budget time by presenting a carefully laid-out plan that identifies the short-, medium- and long-range goals for talent development. But, for the most part, this is where the chief’s job ends. Now it’s time for the real talent-builders to roll up their sleeves and do what is needed. In our opinion, the real talent-builders are the frontline officers. Let us explain.Who is in the best position to know the skills, competencies, personalities and experiences of firefighters? The frontline supervisors. And who is in the best position to lead by example and set the bar high for talent development? The frontline supervisors. Frontline officers have more face time with the firefighters and therefore they are in a better position to understand individual strengths and weaknesses. Frontline officers can determine ways to best use firefighters’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses, which is, ultimately, building talent. Frontline officers are also in the best position to mentor and coach firefighters and to encourage them when they get stuck in a rut. Building talent requires frontline supervisors to understand the importance of firefighter talent; they must lead by example and set the bar high for not only firefighters, but also for themselves. In other words, the frontline supervisors must continually take steps to better themselves. To lead by example, these officers must be the example; when it comes to training and education, frontline officers should be the first to sign up for the course. We cannot expect others to buy into talent development if the frontline supervisor doesn’t buy into it. Building talent rests on the shoulders of every firefighter in the department; it’s a team effort. Who determines firefighters’ attitude toward building their own talent? You guessed it: the firefighters. Firefighters must value talent development and be active supporters of meeting department and/or industry standards. Firefighters may need to juggle their vacation periods to accommodate training, attend seminars on a weekend, or spend time doing homework in order to build their own talent. They need to have some investment in the game.Building department talent can be a challenge as firefighters likely have their own opinions regarding talent-building priorities. Regardless of what comes first or what comes second, successful leaders realize it takes the combined effort of every person in the department to develop this precious commodity. Basketball star Michael Jordan summarized this team effort quite nicely: “There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”It isn’t a matter of wanting to build department talent; rather, it is a matter of making it happen. We recommend you take steps to make it happen sooner rather than later.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
We can’t help but reflect on our careers, the adventures we have enjoyed and how we have been privileged to serve our communities.
Three Breast Friends put one foot in front of the other and set off on an adventure they never expected.
How do we help every member of the fire service educate the public about fire safety?
Earlier this year, the National Geographic channel aired a six-part documentary, titled Inside Combat Rescue.
Being in the fire service seems to imply to others that we are tough and armour plated.
Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek outlined to fire chiefs on Tuesday the details of proposed changes to the Ontario Fire Code that focus on fire prevention in homes for seniors and some other vulnerable Ontarians. See story below. Photo by Laura King
It’s a little-known fact that on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire there was another huge fire the United States: a fire burned so out of control in Peshtigo, Wis., on Oct. 8, 1871, that 2,500 people died
A strategic partnership has emerged in British Columbia with the intent to reduce fire injuries and fatalities among at-risk populations.
As I wrote this in late November, all thoughts were on the approaching Christmas season and fire departments were focused on holiday safety.
This past summer I watched more of the Olympics than I ever have before.
The number of fires and break-ins in an at-risk neighbourhood in Surrey, B.C., dropped significantly after a one-day education and safety blitz conducted by firefighters and RCMP officers.
I’ve been intrigued by the story of Hélène Campbell, a double-lung transplant recipient. Campbell, suffering idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, made headlines after appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show a few months ago.
I’ve been writing for this publication for more than a year now and my focus has been to get firefighters
Securing and advancing a hoseline using a standpipe system in a building is an important aspect of engine-company operations. Standpipe systems are found in buildings that have multiple storeys or that are very large, such as warehouses or factories.
The Greenwood Fire Department in British Columbia where I am a training officer has come through a major facelift. Department members, along with a group that shares the building, invested hundreds of hours in transforming our hall. The word “our” is important because it shows we have taken ownership. Ownership, whether it’s ownership of a building or the department as a whole, is crucial for all members in order to effect positive change.
Wildfires can, and have, happened at any time of the year, but there is something special about the middle of May in northern Alberta. For those involved, the Redwater, Newbrook, Opal or Grassland fires were big deals, but the Slave Lake fire in 2011 made everyone sit up and take notice. While we hope we never have to face a fire that destructive, those other fires tell us that while the impact to Slave Lake was unique, in Alberta we had better be prepared for May wildfires.
One of the more well-known drills in rapid-intervention team (RIT) training is the Denver drill. This drill is very physically demanding as it involves two RIT firefighters working to rescue a downed firefighter in a very small space. The drill was developed in Denver after the death of firefighter Mark Langvardt.
In the January issue of Canadian Firefighter, I wrote about the Dash-Away – an innovative tool designed by a Sundre, Alta., firefighter to help mitigate issues in extrication, particularly in frontal offset collisions. I have since heard from readers asking why frontal offset crashes are so deadly. Most rescuers will have responded to a frontal offset collision. It’s important we, as rescuers, understand what the industry is doing to address the danger of these crashes.
You’re registered and ready to go to your first firefighter conference – maybe FDIC in Indianapolis this month, one of the training sessions profiled on pages 16 to 19, or your first provincial conference for fire officers. How do you get the most out of three or four days of classroom or hands-on training, enjoy the social opportunities (without overdoing it!) and manage to remember what you’ve learned?
On April 10, 2013, at about 9 a.m., I stood in the frozen mud at the fire training ground in Peace River, Alta., waiting to be fit tested and watching lead instructors Lance Bushie and Rodney Schmidt prepare for evolutions in fire behiaviour and rollover – many, many evolutions.
Chainsaws used in the fire service for ventilation are much more powerful than the average home-use chainsaw; the engines are bigger, the chains have large, wide teeth that are designed to chew through a range of materials, and the units are larger and heavier overall. Most firefighters rarely use chainsaws, and many are first introduced to these pieces of equipment during courses at entry-level fire academies.
In Western Canada, the collaboration among industry stakeholders, first responders and government agencies during last summer’s wildfire season was remarkable. Information and resource sharing, situation updates, timely and effective communication, and a lot of plain old hard work provided the necessary tools to get us through a crazy summer. During that time, there were record-sized fires in British Columbia’s Tumbler Ridge and Moberly Lake to Mt. McAllister, and the entire community of Hudson’s Hope, B.C., was evacuated. However, there were also some valuable lessons learned about the hazards first responders typically encounter when responding to emergencies near industrial activities.Pipeline crossings, specifically in rural areas, are one of the most important topics to address for emergency response personnel. Under federal and/or provincial regulations, oil and gas companies that own and operate pipelines are required to monitor, and in many cases prevent, heavy equipment from crossing pipeline right of ways. There are many reasons for this. First, the depth of pipelines varies due to factors including farm activities stripping away layers of soil, hot ground/surface fires, flooding and erosion. And secondly, companies spend a lot of time and resources identifying and mapping pipeline crossings. Nothing is more frustrating to the owner/operator of a high-volume pipeline than seeing that heavy equipment impacted a section of pipe – especially when a designated crossing was close by. Always check with the pipeline company prior to mobilizing heavy equipment.Knowing what the pipelines contain is also critical. Information about the specific products will help determine safe distances for setting up temporary camps, staging areas and incident-command posts. Always verify with the pipeline company what distance should be maintained from the hazard area, which is generally referred to as the emergency planning zone (EPZ). The radius of an EPZ depends on the product being transported, the operating pressure and the liquid/gas volume. Pipeline companies will gladly share product information and emergency protocols with emergency-response personnel. Understanding this information ensures everyone is aware of the potential hazards as well as the do’s and don’ts.The oil and gas industry has numerous sites at which large volumes of hydrocarbons are stored in tank farms. And even though industry works hard to reduce the storage of flammable materials during the fire season, the potential fire/explosive hazard is always present. Tank sizes vary, but it is important that fire departments confirm with the local company the contents of the tanks and the volumes. This information is usually found in the wildfire-mitigation plan for the area.Having up-to-date emergency contact information for industry stakeholders in a given operating area is vital. Company personnel change frequently, which presents communication challenges for everyone. Creating a real-time and accurate list for single points of contact within organizations avoids unnecessary time delays in pushing the critical information to those who need it most. Industry stakeholders also need updated contact information for local emergency services, response agencies and government authorities. A great information-sharing mechanism was created and co-ordinated by Emergency Management BC in Prince George last summer. Interagency and industry conference calls were set up to provide wildfire-situation updates, weather forecasts, fire impacts and much more. Participants were able to get fast, accurate information. By opening up the phone lines, industry stakeholders could then use the most current information to prepare for wildfire threats.Mapping proved to be another challenge with respect to the wildfires. However, industry has many geographic-information-system (GIS) resources available to ensure pipelines, roads, bridges, water sources, work camp locations and other important landmarks are clearly identified on the maps used by response personnel. In fact, most emergency-response plans have updated maps. The maps help responders quickly prioritize their actions and tasks; for example, the structural protection of a large work camp would likely take priority over a pipeline. On the other hand, protecting a bridge may take precedent, depending on the access and egress.Any time we can learn lessons from our past experiences demonstrates a willingness to continually improve response systems, processes, methods and tools.Mike Burzek is the senior HSE co-ordinator for Progress Energy Canada Ltd. He has 26 years of experience in emergency response and public safety. He lives in Fort St. John, B.C., and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
The presence of other moving vehicles makes emergency-response operations on roadways and highways extremely dangerous for the crews on scene. Firefighters have been injured and killed by distracted or intoxicated drivers while responding to motor-vehicle collisions or other emergencies on highways. In Ontario, the Fire Service Advisory Committee on Occupational Health and Safety issued a Highway Traffic Control guidance note in 2003 that seeks to protect firefighters on highways and roadways. The guidance note recommends, among other things, that departments use apparatuses or other available municipal vehicles to block traffic at collision scenes. The committee also recommends that responding firefighters: Never trust the traffic Wear high-visibility reflective vests Reduce motorist vision impairment by turning off headlights that face approaching traffic Use traffic cones and flares whenever possible Leave red emergency lights on in accordance with the Ontario Highway Traffic Act Most fire departments in Ontario, as well as other provinces and territories, will send two fire trucks to emergencies on roadways and, on an as-need basis, use one apparatus to block or divert traffic. This is referred to in Ontario as a blocker truck, and is positioned a ways back from the incident (roughly 30 meters or 100 feet) to provide an isolation zone for the work area. The blocker truck acts as a barricade between the incident work area and the collision scene. The truck is positioned at a 45-degree angle in order to deflect traffic around the incident scene. In some situations, the blocker truck may be required to block off the entire roadway and force traffic to come to a complete stop. Creating space between the blocker truck and the work area also allows for ambulances, police cars and other fire trucks to pull in and away from the traffic. When the incident is located at an intersection, the blocker truck is positioned in order to direct traffic around the scene while still providing protection for emergency workers. More than one blocker truck may be required, depending on the size of intersection. Police can help by directing traffic.Public works or roads-department vehicles, if available, are beneficial when dealing with a prolonged incident. These large trucks are often outfitted with rear-collision bumper systems and warning lights, and with traffic-direction indicator lights that are able to warn the oncoming vehicles of the need to slow down and merge either left or right. The indicator lights are valuable, particularly when the incident occurs on a high-speed highway.  Most fire trucks have high-visibility reflective chevron markings on the back (see photos 1 and 2), as well as traffic-direction indicator light bars. These two safety devices are proven assets for the protection of firefighters on roadways; they get the attention of drivers and warn them that there is a situation ahead.If a department does not have access to a second fire truck to use as a blocker truck, then firefighters should use flares and cones to direct traffic during a roadway incident. High visibility is key on roadways and not all traffic cones are built as such. A good way to achieve high visibility is to combine traffic cones with strobe lights or other flashing-light devices. Photo 2 Photo 2 Figure 1 Figure 1   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria5829113926 To determine where cones or flares are placed on the roadway in relation to the incident, firefighters should follow suggested guidelines or local regulations, which are based on the speed limits of specified roadways. In Ontario, the advisory committee recommends that traffic cones not be deployed on highways with speed limits greater than 90 kilometres per hour. (See figure 1 for recommended starting points for traffic cones or flares.)Another way to maintain high visibility on the roadway is to ensure each firefighter wears a high-visibility vest. High-visibility vests are designed with colours that can be seen from a distance, typically bright yellow or green with reflective striping. Most structural firefighting protective gear is not adequately outfitted with enough reflective stripping to meet the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard Z96-09 for high-visibility safety apparel. Refer to this standard to see what the requirements are for adequate protection. Adding a high-visibility traffic vest will help your department meet the CSA standard.Parking the fire apparatus too close to the edge of the roadway or too close to the emergency scene can hinder the team’s ability to operate. When the roadway has a steep drop on the shoulder, parking the apparatus too close to the edge will limit accessibility to the equipment on that one side. If the truck is parked too close to the scene, it can become a part of the scene.    Be sure to park the fire truck in a spot that allows adequate access for firefighters to all equipment on all sides, and also provides enough protection to the crew without being too far or too close. All personnel should exit the fire truck on the side facing away from the traffic. This means the rear crew members and the officer should exit out of only one door. The driver’s side of the fire truck usually faces traffic so the driver must be diligent when exiting.Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. Mark teaches in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. He is also the lead Author of Pennwell’s Residential Fire Rescue book. Email Mark at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
All training officers face the same basic challenge: they have to find a way to actively engage students in the learning process. And since firefighter training is ongoing, training officers constantly have to deal with this particular issue.Take a hard, brutally honest look back at your last year’s training program. Did it go as you expected? Was it successful? Did you get any feedback (good or bad)? Don’t ask yourself if you could you have done better, because we can always do better. But was there something you tried that worked particularly well, or something that you should never do again? The main question is: were your instructing methods and topics effective?Training officers have a great influence (good or bad) on their departments. Being an effective trainer takes real dedication. Even after 20-plus years of instructing, I still average two to three hours of prep time for each training hour I put in on any given practice night.Along with providing a safe and positive training environment, training officers have many training objectives to cover. It is easy to get burned out – even for superhero trainers. My advice is to get some help; find your Robin or Tonto.Get students involvedOver the years I have noticed that people learn more and retain more if they are more actively involved in the learning process. However, getting firefighters – especially veterans – to engage in the training process can be difficult to say the least. We all know of veteran firefighters who step to the back of the classroom (especially during demos) and disengage from the lesson. Worse yet is when two or three firefighters group together to chat it up or critique you as you train.The following are proven engagement techniques. Ask a veteran firefighter to help you prepare and present a training lesson. Be sure to give the veteran a copy of the training objectives or any other relevant material several weeks in advance. (Not everyone is comfortable flying by the seat of his or her pants.) Institute a big-brother system by pairing up a veteran with a younger firefighter, and then divide them into teams to deal with training scenarios. Learning is optimized when students are actively engaged in learning. There is an oft-quoted chart (found through web searches for learning styles) that is cited by learning experts as a solid guide for those who teach. The chart states that we remember: 10 per cent of what we read (taking turns reading training material) 20 per cent of what we hear (lecture) 30 per cent of what we see (video) 50 per cent of what we both see and hear (PowerPoint with a lecture) 70 per cent of what we have discussed with others (brainstorming) 80 per cent of what we have experienced personally (hands on) 95 per cent of what we teach someone else (helping instruct) Keep this in mind as your prepare for training night.Gender can play a part in the learning style. If you listen to parents interact with their children, you are more likely to hear a mom say, “Listen to me, and I will tell you how to do this.” Whereas a dad is more likely to say, “Watch me, and I will show you how to do this.” Find a balance between spoken instructions and demonstration. The three-Ds system (describe, demonstrate, do) seems to work well.PowerPoint can be an effective teaching tool to engage students in learning, if it is used properly. PowerPoint appeals to visual learners and can be a good way to organize a presentation. However, it is easy to misuse PowerPoint. Reading from the slides (especially if you turn your back to the students) is the easiest way to kill students’ attention. With PowerPoint, less is more. Resist the temptation to cram as much information as you can onto one slide. Instead, the words on a slide should be visible from the most distant point in the classroom. Most learning happens during a discussion of the topic, not from reading the words on a slide. Rely on the discussion to flesh out key points. (You can read more tips for classroom instructors in Chris Davison-Vanderburg’s article “Instructions for instructors” in Fire Fighting in Canada’s February issue.)   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriac49ae9d3b3 Attitude adjustmentOne area of instructing that is far too often over looked is the teacher’s attitude. As the training officer, you have a great influence over your trainees. They will, in a very short time, reflect your attitude regarding safety, respect, zeal for knowledge and professionalism in the fire service. When you meet the training officer, you meet the department; simple as that.Encourage discussion during training sessions by providing a positive environment for all students who participate. This can be difficult, but remember, nothing shuts down a group discussion like the words, “No that is wrong.” Give firefighters opportunities to correct or add to the information presented. Above all, do not make them look bad in front of their peers. Here are some positive examples: Thanks . . . does anyone want to add to that? Interesting point . . . what do the rest of you think? Good start. Let’s hear some more ideas. Consider using the rule of 10 and two: for every 10 minutes of lecture, students should have at least two minutes to talk to each other about what is being presented. It is important for students to interact with the material in order to retain the information and become engaged in learning.Use incentivesIt is paramount that training officers continually strive for excellence. Set the bar high and your students will reach for it and respect you for thinking highly of them.Look for ways to show you acknowledge students’ positive progress. One way we at Greenwood Fire Rescue do that is by giving in-house certifications. Each Greenwood firefighter receives a department training-program certificate. These are mounted in picture frames and hung on the training-room wall. As candidates successfully complete our training sessions they are awarded a coloured seal, which is affixed over that particular topic.Because this is an ongoing program, each firefighter sees his or her progress within a short time. For example, our first-quarter training session (January to March) covers safety and communications, PPE, SCBA and fire behaviour. Each topic has an exam and evaluation component. In this quarter, there are five basic topics, so in three months firefighters could earn five seals.The potential for a seal every three weeks is a great learning motivator; this simple acknowledgement has a very positive influence. The certification program is also a great asset for when you are making up future training schedules, and aids in your required record keeping.Encouragement goes a long wayEvery once in a while you will meet firefighters who are hungry for knowledge. They are unusually keen about one area of the fire service (fire behaviour, arson investigation, or suppression, for example). What a privilege to be able to nurture interests and mentor those firefighters to reach their full potential. I encourage you to help firefighters discover insight into their key topics. Give your students access to your books, videos and internet resources; sign them up for extra training sessions. Do whatever you can with your budget and resources to satisfy their hunger.Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote, “Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory.” Who knows, you may be training future leaders in the Canadian fire service; or at least your department’s future training officer. Every firefighter has the potential to become an instructor, and the best thing an old firefighter can teach a young firefighter is to become an old firefighter.As always, stay safe and keep training as if lives depend on it, because they do.Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue. He is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor/evaluator and an ordained disaster-response chaplain. Ed has written the Trainers Corner for 13 of his 26 years in the fire service. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
An apparatus driver helps to set the tone of a rescue or fire-ground operation. How the driver positions the apparatus at a scene is crucial to a successful fire-ground operation or motor-vehicle rescue.
My colleague, Tom DeSorcy, wrote in March about public perceptions of leadership positions in volunteer fire departments. I think Tom’s analogy of busy fires chiefs who appear calm on the outside but, like ducks, paddle furiously under the surface to keep things running smoothly, was spot on.
It was just a matter of time before this column lent itself to a wildlife analogy – at least considering the two animals that write it. (Sorry Vince, I couldn’t resist.) I’d like to share some thoughts on leadership and public perception in relation to the animal kingdom. Do I detect an eyebrow or two being raised at this point?You might think leadership is analogous to the behaviour of a stately lion or another dominant animal but no, this is a leadership analogy based on a duck. That’s right, the lowly, mild-mannered waterfowl that populate lakes and waterways. While you might think I’m a little daffy (pardon the pun), I’m quite serious. Allow me to explain.The way we, as chief officers and leaders in our community, present ourselves in the public eye is paramount to the trust that others have in us and in our abilities. Staying positive no matter the situation and projecting an air of control carries chief officers a long way with the public, the media and your firefighters.As with a lot of fire chiefs in volunteer departments, I don’t have any staff. My office is in the municipal hall so I frequently interact with people who don’t work directly for me. Being in a small community, I take on more roles than just that of the fire chief; I manage our website, do administration and voice narration for our phone system, and act as an tech liaison for computer troubles, all the while maintaining a host of Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.Often I take it upon myself to inject a positive attitude to my work environment. If someone is having a bad day, I only turn it up a notch. My first thought is “Sorry but you’re not bringing me down,” but in reality I’m just trying to demonstrate perspective.  One of my frequent lines is “And how many people died as a result of this incident?” That kind of brings those turning molehills into mountains down to earth. Perspective quickly turns into the realization that things are being blown out of proportion and, hopefully, the rest of the person’s day goes a lot more smoothly.This example illustrates my attitude toward most things. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to show emotion and concern, but if what is going on inside me doesn’t concern those around me, then I won’t bring it up – especially if it would bring them down.Here’s where the duck comes in. To me, having an air of confidence and control shows balance in your world; a duck is literally living life in the balance whenever it is floating on the water. Many of you have probably heard this: the part of the duck you see on top of the water – the calm, cool collected version – is how people see you and what you project to the outside world. What happens on the inside, or in the duck’s case, below the waterline, is not quite as serene. Upon closer inspection, two webbed feet are paddling like mad, adjusting and correcting, propelling and slowing down, unbeknownst to onlookers.Can you see the comparison now? On the outside, everything is running smoothly yet underneath there is work going on to keep things balanced. Unlike a comparison to treading water, in which case most of a person’s body is below the waterline – thus giving meaning to the phrase keeping your head above water – a duck isn’t paddling to avoid sinking. A duck can coast or it can propel forward, and either way, nobody knows what’s going on underneath. Is the comparison of leadership to a duck starting to make sense yet?What we, as chief officers, face daily takes a toll on us. Whether you get paid to be an officer or it is something you do on the side while running your family business, the job never gets easier. People in authority, from politicians to professional athletes, are well versed at projecting confidence or concern as required; to me, successful leaders are those who do this well.Find your own personal balance and be as positive as you can because while one person’s worst day may be our every day, our worst day is no one else’s, nor should it be. Instead, show strength and confidence for the benefit of those around you.Many of us work and live in smaller communities and we are very public people. While not all of us wear a uniform all the time, people still know who we are and what we represent. I know that it is tough to always be on, and my hat is off to all of you who accept that responsibility and don’t try to duck out of it while you keep on paddling.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Tom is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as a communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
You cannot mention the word communication today without a focus on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (and the list goes on) are playing greater roles in our lives. In the past we relied on mainstream media to report the news and inform us of events. Today everyone with an electronic device is photographer, reporter, complainer, and helper. But the public can be a valued communicator too, especially during an emergency.
When you’re a broadcaster, whether on radio or television, you’re constantly reaching out to an audience that you presume is there. For the most part, you’re talking into a microphone or camera in a one-way conversation without any feedback from those to whom you’re speaking. How’s that for motivation? In broadcasting school we were taught to treat our audience as just one person, therefore giving listeners the impression that we were talking directly to them and them alone. This experience was enhanced when broadcasters opened the phones and took calls, thus allowing a direct connection with the audience.  Magazine columnists are in a similar situation: we know the readers are there and we get reaction to what we say via emails and personal contact, but the feedback comes only after the column is published – weeks (sometimes months) after it has been written. Which is why the summer of 2014 was special for me; along with my Volunteer Vision co-author and good friend Vince MacKenzie, we took our opinions and columns off the pages of this magazine and to the people.   Over the summer, we presented what we called Volunteer Vision LIVE – three sessions in two provinces at opposite ends of the country. Thanks to Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King, who moderated two of our sessions in British Columbia, and Tim Pley, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of BC, who moderated in Gander, N.L., we took readers deeper into our columns, explaining where the ideas came from, the inspiration behind our stories and expanding on the issues we had written about, The beauty of our column is that Vince and I seem to touch on the same themes – not necessarily on purpose. It’s just the way we connect with the issues that face the fire service from coast to coast to coast. During the presentations, we brought forward several columns from the past few years; what struck me was that while the issues weren’t new, they are still relevant today, albeit with some new ideas and opinions. To say we all learned something from this exercise would be an understatement. The questions and comments in the rooms as we explored issues from recruitment and retention to retirement opened my eyes to the number of people who read what we have to say; there was a lot of acknowledgment and there were lots of heads nodding in silent recognition – or agreement – in each session.   While we maintained the same format and storyline, each of the three sessions was completely different. We were unscripted and unplugged, so to speak, and if it wasn’t for the moderators, all of our sessions would have run way over. In fact, all of them spilled into the foyers during the subsequent networking sessions.What I took away from those sessions goes far beyond meeting the readers; the experience reinforced to me that what I have to say is relevant to my peers. The fact that I have a hard time recruiting new members and staying ahead of the calendar resonates in other departments. My concerns over the future of the fire service is shared by many more; in fact, I’ve come to realize that while we tend to focus on recruitment on the front lines, we aren’t doing enough to address the need for leaders in our volunteer world. Seriously, it’s one thing to encourage new members to take on the daunting task of becoming a well-trained firefighter, but the need to step up and take on a leadership role adds a whole new wrinkle. Succession planning is vital to the health of any organization, and coming from a world that always has one foot firmly planted in the past, we need to be aware of this. We’re all not getting any younger, which is one thing I see as our biggest challenge in the future. Touching on one of Vince’s topics – the millennials in our ranks – can you actually see some of these people carrying your torch (and yes, I did say “your”)? As we grow older it may seem harder to realize, but it will and it has to happen.  There are times when we exist within our own little worlds, our small departments, without realizing that what’s happening in the next town – or province for that matter – has an impact on what we are doing locally. I guess we just need to be reminded of this; and, hopefully, through a column written by a couple of small-town fire chiefs, those messages are realized. Train as if your life depends on it, because it does, and understand that you are part of a great big family. I’ve been to Newfoundland and Labrador on three occasions and when asked recently if I have family back there, my answer was yes, yes I do have family back there – a fire family that gets bigger all the time thanks in a large part to my written words and those who read them.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
It is common in smaller communities that the volunteer fire department is the only available emergency agency. Most of Canada’s smaller communities have fire stations, but they don’t always have police stations or medical centres. Therefore, when a major emergency incident or disaster strikes these communities, it is the volunteer fire departments that respond. Unlike in larger cities with emergency-management offices and full-time staff, rural, large-scale disasters are usually dealt with by the members of the volunteer department. The rural fire chief or senior fire officer is thrust into the role of disaster operations commander, or, in times of non-emergency, the role of emergency operations co-ordinators and planners. This can certainly be a challenging role to be thrust into without preparation.I would like to focus on one element of emergency planning: communication. When the emergency is over and evaluation and inquiry begins, communication is commonly identified as a key factor in the success or failure of disaster operations.  Emergency management communication includes directing emergency responders, sharing public information, and gathering data about the emergency. Therefore, the fire chief needs to know how to receive credible information and how to communicate to the public effectively. I think we can all agree that forms of communication have changed dramatically in the last five years with the growth of social media. In order to effectively communicate in today’s world, emergency planners now have to consider a social-media component to the emergency-operations plan.Credible information now comes in many forms from the public. It used to be that everyone phoned into the emergency services to report issues, but today, many people who witness the incidents use social media to inform everyone. While most social media information is credible, some is tainted with opinion and rumors that will quickly spread to the public. The deluge of tweets and posts lends itself to misinformation because the public can receive information as quickly as the officials handling the situation. Unfortunately, the constant monitoring of crucial information can rapidly overload a conventional public information officer or media centre. Reports from the public also generally come with photos that cannot be ignored by emergency operations centres. The challenge for local emergency managers is to capture that information to assist in a manner that is credible and timely. I learned a new term during a recent session on media training: the digital volunteer. It’s a relatively new concept as applied to emergency management, but I believe it will soon become a familiar term. The digital volunteer is a person who emergency managers identify to help monitor social media platforms for relevant information and data during emergencies. Digital volunteers are not actively engaged in the emergency operations centre, but are engaged with the public information officer to alert those in charge when significant messaging is trending. Digital volunteers are, in essence, social-media savvy spectators recruited to help filter the barrage of information. If you spend any time on social media, you can probably think of a few of those people now. During almost every emergency, people emerge online to provide information to the public through posts on social media, as though they were officials themselves.  We all know someone who is tuned into the event for whatever reason. Many times these people are actively engaged in the situation and can be a valuable resource to assist with analyzing the volume of information. Enlisting these digital volunteers to filter and inform the emergency operations centre of trending issues or damaging rumors will be very helpful to overall communication. We should not turn away from these opportunities that can help us navigate the changing world of emergency management. So why not write this concept into our emergency planning?This fall, I will participate in an exercise on the concept of the digital volunteer at an emergency management conference in Nova Scotia. I am excited to find out what the organizers have in store for us. While the concept of the digital volunteer is relatively new, I see great value in it as a tool to help fire departments keep on top of today’s busy communication world.Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Service and an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince
There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses.
Fire departments all have jurisdictions – areas that we cover and in which we provide protective services.
Firefighters strive to provide good customer service: that means treating others the way we would like to be treated – going above and beyond whenever possible and surprising people who don’t expect our do-onto-others attitude.
Volunteer firefighters who last a long time in the fire service can certainly gain a vast perspective on many aspects of life.
Social media can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Say the wrong thing, post the wrong picture and you have more than egg on your face.
I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to the designation of Canadian fire services as professional or volunteer.
As one generation gives way to the next, so does the makeup of our fire departments.

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