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Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - Aug. 28, 2015

Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - Aug. 28, 2015

Winnipeg firefighters launch a PTSD website, B.C. fire chiefs was penalties for careless smokers, and more.

Size-up

Size-up

Rob Evans vividly recalls responding to a call that resulted in a roadside memorial to two boys in the community. And every time he passes that memorial, he's forced to recall it again.

Editor's blog

Editor's blog

The Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal has put out a directive about dealing with media during emergencies that require OFM investigations. As you can imagine, editor Laura King has a few things to say about that.

Under Control

Under Control

Les Karpluk is in Whitehorse for the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs conference and shares what he's learning about firefighter suicides and retiring from the fire service.

Editor's blog

Editor's blog

The Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada has made progress with the federal government on fire-service issues on First Nations, Laura King writes after speaking with the association president. The tasks at hand, however, will require time and patience.

Aug. 28, 2015, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – The pager goes off, and crews muster and respond to a serious call. Then the media shows up and starts taking pictures, shooting videos and asking questions. This can sometimes be a weekly occurrence, depending on your department’s size and the newsworthiness of any particular call on any given day.A busy highway, or two or three, wildfires that seem to burn endlessly during dry periods, and much more can put the smallest of fire departments on the news. We do our jobs while the camera people film away. And who hasn’t tried to look busy or ignored the reporter trying to get your attention to ask a few questions? Some people do not like the media at all – actually, that seems like the biggest understatement of the year after the events of this week in Roanoke, Va., However – as I ask our firefighters – who are the first people to pick up a paper or turn on the TV after an incident at which the media was on scene? The media has a job to do and unfortunately many of the calls we respond to happen to be the hard-news stories that sell newspapers and make people tune in to their favourite television or radio stations.Earlier this week it was the media that was in the spotlight after the horrific on-air shooting in Virginia. A morning show reporter, videographer and their interviewee were all shot at close range. The reporter and videographer died on scene, and the woman they were interviewing is reportedly in stable condition in hospital. Immediately these news gatherers became the news, big news. And from all accounts, all media is handling this incident the same as any other major news event – by gathering and reporting the information. From what I witnessed, the victims’ own station WDBJ, a CBS affiliate in Roanoke, continued with an incredible amount of poise and professionalism, not unlike how emergency services move on and gets the job done after a LODD.Most morning shows begin their day at the same time many of us do – around 5 or 6 a.m. We watch these folks deliver information to us every morning while we drink our first coffees of the day and eat our cereal. We see them get married, have children, and, sadly for the viewers of WDBJ, in their last moments. This tragedy affects more than just those who were in the newsroom of one TV station; it also affects those who were watching live . As well, social media has given all of us means to communicate with on-air personalities in real time, and was where this senseless act was seen by so many. So yes, this tragedy is far reaching.I don’t want to draw a bunch of parallels between this horrendous event and the LODDs that the fire service deals with so many times a year – thoughts while writing are with my media friends and acquaintances – but there is one similarity I need to mention, and that is brotherhood. There is certainly a brotherhood in journalism and the ripples are travelling across the profession right now. A local Calgary TV anchor posted to Facebook, “He was not one of us,” a statement that speaks to the feeling of brotherhood even so many kilometres away.Think of your colleagues, keep filming our back and butts, and keep trying to get our attention, but most importantly keep gathering and delivering the news of the day because at the end of the day, we will all keep tuning in and flipping those pages.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
Aug. 27, 2015, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – While I have been off work recovering from my heart attack I have been driving around the area a lot trying to relax, taking hundreds of pictures. Photography has always been relaxing for me and it has been a good release while getting stronger. Sometimes I go out by myself to shoot, other times I take the boys or the entire family for a drive.During a recent drive with the family we passed by a roadside memorial. My wife Jennifer, who is a captain and EMT with Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, commented that it is hard to pass the memorial without remembering the response to the call 13 years ago for a head-on collision between a tractor-trailer and an SUV. Two local boys were in the SUV; one was dead in the back seat, and the other died shortly after a lengthy extrication by our crews. The scene was on a busy two-lane highway that runs between Calgary and Redwood Meadows. Jennifer and I travel that highway many times each week. I told her that I can still see the scene as clearly as I did the afternoon I gave the initial report.Roadside memorials are not uncommon: families and friends place crosses, flowers and other keepsakes at crash scenes more and more often, it seems. Memorials ease some of the pain in dealing with the losses, but at what cost to our members? By no means am I suggesting that memorials should be banned because of how they affect first responders, but perhaps we need to consider how these shrines impact our members.There are at least eight memorials along highways in our response area. I can remember each and every one of the calls. Most do not trigger memories like the one I just mentioned, or the one for a soldier who committed suicide in a Christmas Day crash in 2013. We all have calls during our service that stick with us, and there is nothing strange about remembering those we have helped, but how healthy is it to be reminded daily of certain calls? Perhaps we could move on from some of those memories if it were not for these roadside displays?I wonder if others think about these memorials in the same way. Do they even notice displays along the sides of roads? The memorials could very well hold back first responders from moving on so it’s worth asking: do they really help others with their grief? Are those families able to move on? Should these displays have time limits imposed on their placement?There is also an ongoing safety aspect that needs to be addressed. Many sites are very close to the roadside and can distract drivers, particularly if they are elaborate. If people who frequent the sites park roadside, there are now people in possibly dangerous positions – a recipe for further crashes.I really do not want to seem callous. I really do care about these families and their losses, but I also need to look after our firefighters at Redwood Meadows. Public safety and roadside safety at these sites are also our responsibility. Maybe if those skis at Josh and TJ’s memorial went away I would be able to see them pumping my gas at the local pumps and not inside the SUV.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
Aug. 27, 2015, Toronto – Something to ponder: a directive from Ontario Fire Marshal Jim Jessop – his first (and likely only given his imminent departure) – says that when incidents occur that require OFM investigations, “media releases should be kept to a minimum” and all reporters’ requests deferred to the investigating agency. This, as you can imagine, got my blood boiling. The Fire Marshal’s Directive 2015-002 was released July 21, a month or so after Jessop took over from former fire marshal Ted Wieclawek. Clearly, I’m a bit behind in my Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management news (I don’t usually go trolling for OFMEM directives – it was a slow news day!). But whoa, let’s think about this for a minute. Not telling the media what happened was the problem in Elliot Lake, Ont., after the Algo Centre mall collapsed in 2012, killing two women: the way I see it (I’ve said this before), had reporters been told that there were two victims rather than led to believe there were multiple bodies in the rubble, the province could have avoided a $20-million inquiry and two years of upheaval for families, firefighters and townspeople. What’s more, if you’ve read this space before, you’re well aware of the OFM’s abysmal track record with (my) media requests over the years. It’s appalling (but not surprising, really) that the OFM wants to control media, particularly when the recommendations from the Elliot Lake inquiry specifically say that teams with media expertise should be available to municipalities during declared emergencies. The OFM in its present chaotic state (that’s a blog for another day!) neither communicates with media nor has the necessary expertise to do so. Harsh? Maybe. But I speak of what I know. Furthermore, the document instructs fire chiefs to provide a list of documents – firefighter statements, dispatch chronology, incident-commander reports, and fire-prevention files – to OFM investigators post-incident. Which is exactly what others in this province have been telling fire chiefs not to do, in order to protect themselves if there is potential for charges to be laid. Remember the Meaford trial, when it came to light that a Ministry of Labour investigator told the then fire chief that there would be no charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after two firefighters were injured during a restaurant fire? The chief complied and handed over documents, charges were laid, and the evidence was used – by the prosecution. Think about it: essentially, the province is telling chiefs that they do not have the same rights as other citizens. (In any other situation, the investigating authority must get a search warrant to obtain evidence.) Is that a bit over the top given that fire chiefs in Ontario are designated assistants to the fire marshal (they are not, however, OFM employees) and must comply with OFM directives? Look more closely at the directive: it says it is the duty of the fire marshal to investigate cause, origin and circumstances of any fire or explosion that meets certain criteria (fatalities, serious injuries, large-loss fires, for example). The Office of the Fire Marshal helps police determine if fires were set purposely and it is important that security be maintained, the directive says. Fair enough. Do firefighter statements after the fact, the dispatch chronology, incident-commander reports detailing suppression and overhaul activities, and fire-prevention files help to determine cause, origin and circumstances? Maybe fire-prevention files would help (smoke alarm violations, for example); the others, I’m not so sure about. I am sure, however, that like not telling reporters the truth – or anything else for that matter – this isn’t going to go over well.
Aug. 27, 2015, Whitehorse - I was anticipating attending the 23rd Annual Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs conference because it’s great to meet old friends and, with the conference being in Whitehorse, I was really looking forward to attending the sessions held in the Whitehorse fire station. This year’s theme was Saving Those Who Save Others, with the focus on mental health.One of the benefits of speaking at conferences is that I get to sit in on other educational sessions. The conference committee had Jeff Dill, founder of the Firefighter Behavior Health Alliance, speak on firefighter suicide and retiring from the fire service. Jeff brings incredible credibility to his presentations; he retired this year from the Illinois fire service and while working full time he took his master’s in counselling and became a licensed professional counsellor.It was great to see Jeff again and listen to his two sessions. I first met Jeff at a conference last year in Lethbridge and immediately picked up on his passion for educating the fire service about firefighter suicides. One of the things that Jeff stressed is that firefighters need to be involved in their employee assistance programs by getting the counsellors involved in the profession. Simple things such as ride-alongs and getting familiar with the fire service culture can make a big difference for the credibility of the counsellor and helping the counsellor understand the profession. He also suggests that firefighters and fire departments find out what resources are available at a local level and create a resource list that is available for firefighters – he referred to this as the fire department’s mental health pre-plan.In Jeff’s first session, he gave a high-level view of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and firefighter suicide. I knew three firefighters who committed suicide in the last three years; I suspect this is why I found myself taking a lot of notes.What is bothersome is that firefighter suicide is hard to track because it’s not something that people want to talk about, nor is it something that is officially tracked. Jeff collects data and information through surveys and direct calls from family members across North America of firefighters who have committed suicide or attempted to, and he uses this information as a tool to educate the profession to help prevent firefighter suicide; when Jeff starts rattling off numbers he definitely has the room’s attention. I wonder if there is some way that the Tema Conter Memorial Foundation here in Canada and FBHA could team up and share information and develop programs?I was able to spend a few hours with Jeff talking about our careers and the fire service and how the profession has bought into the brainwashing stigma of asking for help. It is getting better but during lunch one day Jeff told me it’s still difficult in the United States to get support to educate the fire service about suicide prevention because it’s just not a sexy topic to talk about. I found it disheartening to hear that procuring funding support for his foundation, from U.S.-based sources, is challenging because even today there are organizations that do not want to provide financial support for firefighter suicide awareness.When Jeff said, “if you have been in this job you have post-traumatic stress,” I just about fell out of my chair. I was to give the keynote at the closing banquet and in the last four weeks while writing and rehearsing my presentation, many of my bad calls just seemed to pop into my head.In his second presentation, Jeff talked about retirement. This was an interesting topic because he has data of 142 retired firefighter suicides in North America and what is particularly bothersome is 35 of these firefighters took their lives within the first weeks of their retirements. This was a very interesting session; many firefighters find themselves lost when they retire and have not prepared themselves for the day they leave the profession. Jeff even emphasized the fact that retirement from a volunteer fire department can impact a firefighter the same way it does a career firefighter. I like the fact that Jeff suggested that an individual must prepare for retirement years in advance and that retirement from the fire service doesn’t mean you can’t start another career or begin another phase of your life.After being in the profession for more than three decades, I have to admit that I have talked to my share of politicians who couldn’t care less about the fire service. What was refreshing for me was that Yukon’s Minister of Community Services Currie Dixon was not only visible during the conference, he was engaged. It was refreshing to see a politician take a real interest in the profession and when Dixon spoke at the closing banquet, I was convinced that he is truly interested in helping and doing his part. It was a nice breath of fresh air and I appreciated Minister Dixon making it a point to thank me for what I said in my keynote.The best part of presenting at this conference was the fact that when I was writing my speech, I did so with the hope that there would be some key political players in the room. There were some things I felt they needed to hear about the great men and women who unselfishly give of themselves to protect others and who better to say these things then the outsider who doesn’t live in the community?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 
Aug. 24, 2015, Toronto – A former fire chief I know often says that whatever matter he’s working on with a certain agency is moving at the speed of government –painfully slowly. That frustration with the bureaucracy was clear in Rama, Ont., the week before last, as some new board members with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC) vented about perceived lack of progress on issues and the revolving door through which federal policy makers come and go, leaving organizations to start from scratch with new appointees (in this case, five in the last five years). That’s the point at which AFAC executive director Blaine Wiggins gently interjected, explaining that, in fact, the association and the government have made remarkable progress on myriad fire-service issues from transportation of dangerous goods to fire prevention on First Nations, and that the task at hand – building a new legislative framework for First Nations in order to establish and enforce building codes – is overwhelmingly complex and requires time and patience. Sure, fire fatalities on First Nations grab headlines and the good work of the association rarely merits a mention, but that’s the way news works. As for government, portfolios change, people move on, and it’s up to First Nations fire chiefs to lead regardless of the machinations of the bureaucracy, Wiggins said. The challenge, Wiggins told me a couple of times, is finding strong First Nations leaders with the necessary support to push a fire-safety agenda, educate politicians and policy makers, and work relentlessly at home to improve conditions. Steve Nolan and Billy Moffat are two of those leaders. As fire chiefs around the table during a morning strategy session detailed the goings on in their provinces, Nolan and Moffat, from Ontario and Quebec respectively, talked about empowerment and initiative – for example, starting a health program for First Nations firefighters through a partnership with Fit for Life, and improving standards on reserves. “We want a better, more progressive system, “ said Nolan, the new chief in Garden River, Ont. Agreed, said Wiggins. But amending the Indian Act – a decades-old piece of legislation – and building that framework necessary to raise building standards and therefore increase fire safety is a measured and meticulous process. In the meantime, the association has been collaborating with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to update the First Nations fire-protection strategy, which sets objectives for the next five years to help communities reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries through fire prevention, and the more complex level-of-service standards. LOSS – which everyone agrees is an unfortunate acronym – define the minimum level of service that Ottawa is willing to support for fire-prevention programming, capital and equipment investments and operations and maintenance funding. AFAC has been working with government to update the standard for two years already. While all this is going on, AFAC has committed to establishing standards for fire prevention, and it’s making progress. A national poster contest draws hundreds of entries from school children who are incorporating previous years’ fire-safety messages along with the current mottos and slogans – a small step forward that makes Wiggins beam with pride. A fire-safety radio campaign in conjunction with Aboriginal Affairs has also been successful, but even it presents challenges because of political divisions north and south of 60. A national fire marshal would help, Wiggins said. “That’s the other thing we lack,” Wiggins said, “a national fire marshal and one of the things we’ve been trying to push as an agenda item is the creation of a national aboriginal fire marshal that will take some of the work we’re doing and formalize it.” Another significant positive, Wiggins said, is AFAC’s strengthened relationship with parliamentarians. “Three years ago we could not have gone to Ottawa, to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs’ door, and get a meeting if our lives depended on it. We have worked with partner agencies from coast to coast, we come with solid information – not political agendas – and now those doors are open to us. “The gaps that exist – pretty much every MP is aware of them now. So if a bill were introduced, the MPs know what the issues are. And we recognize that working with the bureaucratic component of the federal government and working with the political component . . . our role is to educate, not to lobby. It’s the political component that really needs to do the right thing and have the political will to make changes.” Still, Wiggins said, although many First Nations communities are, as he says, over subscribed – meaning that under self-government they are responsible for social programs, taxation, health services and myriad other programs – they need to take responsibility for fire protection, or the lack of it. “We believe in accountability at all levels,” Wiggins said, “right from those who live in the homes to the local First Nations fire departments, to the band chiefs and councils, to the regional INAC [Indian Northern Affairs Canada] that supports the communities, to ourselves as a national organization, and to Aboriginal Affairs. “If we don’t bring the awareness of the accountabilities to those who live in the homes, we can’t have everybody else take care of them, so that really is an important component, and we hold ourselves accountable for that as an organization.” Six years ago, Wiggins was part of an investigation into a fire that killed a grandmother, her daughter and her grandchild. That, he says, inspires him to work 18-hour days and take vacation time to attend AFAC-related events. Wiggins has committed to five more years as AFAC executive director. He already has a plan for educating new MPs after the October election. He will, in his words, hold feet to the fire until a new legislative framework is in place. Even if it happens at the speed of government.
Aug. 12, 2015, Toronto – The worst-kept secret among Ontario’s fire services is out: Jim Jessop is the new deputy chief in Toronto. Jessop fills the spot vacated by Ron Jenkins, who left Toronto Fire Services (TFS) several weeks ago to become chief in Georgina. The Ministry of Community Safety announced Jessop’s departure this afternoon; he joins TFS Sept. 18.Jessop, for those who may not know, was the province’s interim fire marshal, having taken over from Ted Wieclawek, who left office June 19. Actually, that may have been the worst-kept secret given that everyone also knew about Wieclawek’s departure long before it was announced. (Interestingly, the word interim disappeared from Jessop’s email signature and on official communications a few weeks ago, leading to confusion – which, as far as I can tell, was never clarified – about whether he had been given the job permanently.) Regardless, Jessop’s move to TFS leaves a gaping hole at the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) at a critical time. The office has devoted myriad resources to a review of the provincial incident management system and other recommendations from the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake in 2012; its response to the report is due Oct. 15. An inquest into two fatal fires – three deaths in Whitby and four in East Gwillimbury – begins in late September. And the province is in the throes of transitioning to NFPA professional qualification standards from the Ontario curriculum – a complicated process that includes grandfathering and that no one seems to thoroughly understand. Indeed, seemingly the only person who fully grasped the province’s certification processes – Doug Goodings – left the OFMEM in the spring for the United States. Jessop’s departure leaves Al Suleman (who is on leave) and Barney Owens (who is close to retirement age) as the OFMEM’s senior staffers – both took on new roles when Jessop’s appointment as deputy fire marshal was announced in early 2014, Suleman in prevention and risk management and Owens in emergency response. Former assistant deputy fire marshal Shayne Mintz left the OFM two years ago, for the NFPA, and Trevor Bain, also an assistant deputy fire marshal, left the office in 2013 for the City of Greater Sudbury Fire and Paramedic Service. Nancy Macdonald-Duncan left to go to Mississauga Fire and Monique Belair moved to St. Catharines to be a deputy chief. I’m hard pressed to come up with a list of potential fire-service candidates to become the province’s chief fire officer, particularly following the amalgamation of the OFM with emergency management in 2013. Mind you, you can’t throw a stale hotel bun in a conference room in this province without hitting someone who used to work for the OFM – Richard Boyes, executive director of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs; Cynthia Ross Tustin, chief in Essa Township; Brad Bigrigg, program manager for the OAFC’s candidate testing service; Andy Glynn, deputy chief in Oakville; Rob Browning, a former fire chief and city manager; Jamie Zimmerman, deputy chief in Mississauga; Olaf Lamerz, the deputy in East Gwillimbury, and others who’ve left over politics, salary and red tape – but I bet none of them has much interest in returning given the modest civil-service salary, the gag orders and the headaches that come with the job. Carol-Lynn Chambers, who is still with the OFMEM, has her hands full trying to resuscitate the Ontario Fire College. Which leads me to believe that the Ministry of Community Safety may look to the policing side of emergency management for candidates – potentially a tough pill to swallow for the Ontario fire service. Back to Jessop. He’s well known in Ontario as a fire-safety advocate, was deputy chief in London before moving to the OFMEM, and deputy in Niagara Falls for 12 years before that. There is little doubt that Jessop would have been named fire marshal after an appropriate time had passed since Wieclawek’s departure (if, in fact, he hadn’t already been), so why the move to Toronto to become a deputy for a third time? Salary, no doubt. And potentially a shot at becoming chief of Canada’s largest fire service. Jessop is young, he has an MBA, experience in different-sized communities, is a solid speaker and has a proven track record, having led the call for mandatory sprinklers in seniors homes. It’s a big loss for the OFMEM.
Aug. 11, 2015, Toronto – I first met Blaine Wiggins, executive director of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC), a few years back, on a bus, travelling between downtown Calgary and a rodeo ground somewhere outside the city for a conference “fun” night. (I learned way too much about bulls but also got to meet country-music superstar Paul Brandt, so it wasn’t all bad!) On the bus ride, I wanted to know more about the challenges of fire prevention, protection and suppression on First Nations. Wiggins obliged. (I didn’t get a word in edgewise on the 45-minute drive, but that was fine; reporters are supposed to listen, not talk!) That was in 2011, when Wiggins was a firefighter in Iqaluit. He’s now superintendent at the BC Ambulance Service and the voice of the AFAC. He’s been quoted a lot recently, by the likes of the CBC, The Canadian Press, the National Post and other major newspapers, mostly following fatal fires on First Nations. Not much has changed in the four years since we (he!) talked on the bus; over the winter two toddlers died in a fire on the Mawka Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan. You probably remember the discussion and debate that followed, about a fire-service agreement with nearby Loon Lake, unpaid bills, funding and resources. “First and foremost, we need a national building and fire code on reserves,” Wiggins told CBC News in February. “Most people aren’t aware that that doesn’t exist.” More money, Wiggins said, would also help. Then, in April a keen, young Canadian Press reporter interviewed the fire chief at Six Nations of the Grand River here in Ontario – where my older offspring played a fair bit of lacrosse, where I trained a few years ago with instructor and columnist Mark van der Feyst, and which I pass every time I drive to our Fire Fighting in Canada head office in Simcoe – who said the department is “hanging on by a thread” with too many calls and not nearly enough volunteers or resources. The Six Nations story went national – because many other First Nations fire departments are in exactly the same challenging circumstances. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reminds us often that it provides $26 million annually for fire departments on First Nations. Yet, as is reported often, First Nations people are 10 times more likely than everyone else to die in a fire. Wiggins is in Ontario this week, at the AFCA’s annual general meeting hosted by Chippewas of Rama Fire and Rescue, a well-funded and progressive department with strong leadership by Chief Mike French, Deputy Chief Jeremy Parkins and Assistant Chief James Simcoe. I’m heading up there for training (and lots of picture-taking) with M&L Supply on Thursday, a strategy session – the FireSmart program and the transportation of dangerous goods are on the agenda, among other things – and the AGM on Friday. In February, after the fatalities in Saskatchewan, AFAC president Leon Smallboy put out a press release listing the association’s targets for working with Ottawa: to establish a national fire-service standard for First Nations communities to establish standards for mutual aid and fee-for-service fire-protection agreements to establish standards for fire prevention/public education The AFAC also wants more support from provincial fire marshals and fire commissioners. All are lofty goals that require considerable commitment, time and perseverance. I’m anxious to hear more. Once again, I’ll be doing the listening.
Aug. 4, 2015, Simcoe, Ont. – Almost everyone I spoke with during my time at the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario’s (FFAO) annual convention on the weekend, had pretty much the same thing to say: “We’re a family.” And, frankly, the convention basically looked like a giant family reunion. Hundreds of campers filled a soccer field next to a massive covered picnic area, and everywhere volunteer firefighters and their families sprawled, chatting with their neighbours and watching the activity. The training was over by the time I arrived for the annual general meeting on Saturday, but I made it in time for the trade show and firefighter games. And as anyone would when crashing a family reunion, I sensed the love and support the members have for each other. Touring the grounds with FFAO board member and Township of Centre Wellington Chief Brad Patton after the morning meeting, we were warmly greeted by everyone we came across. With more than 300 firefighters from 55 departments, and almost 100 visitors (i.e. spouses and children), it was the biggest family reunion I’d ever seen. FFAO president and Port Colborne firefighter Chris Karpinchick explained the value of the casual and friendly convention best when he said that yes, formal training and education are important, but, “You learn just as much walking around talking to everyone. ‘We had this call.’ ‘Oh, what did you do there? Oh, we did this and this and this. Hmm, never thought of that, maybe we’ll try that at home.’” Karpinchick is going into his second year as president of the association after taking over from long-time member Dave Carruthers in October. Karpinchick honoured his predecessor during the AGM by presenting him with the president’s award. Karpinchick told me several stories of Carruthers’ dedication to the FFAO and of his continued assistance to him as president. It’s clear the award is well deserved. The association also welcomed three new executive members on the weekend. Next year’s convention is happening again in Wainfleet and organizers are expecting an even larger turnout after word spreads of this year’s success. Now boasting a new, attractive website and a focus on training and education, the association is going places, and it’s hoping to pick up new family members along the way.
July 28, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - As a follow up to my last posting, my nephew received his prosthetic leg yesterday. Although he went through a period of feeling useless after the motorcycle accident, he now appears to be doing well. He still has a long road ahead but I’m confident he’ll excel. As for me, I’m doing better as well. My books have been revised in line with fire code revisions and my projects are coming together. I was slightly unnerved by my difficulty dealing with my nephew’s accident. After all, I have 25 years in the fire service and have responded to numerous MVCs. Further, I am a chaplain and assist others with their trauma. I am usually cool during these types of events. This just shows that traumatic events can affect anyone. Running calls and helping people can overwhelm a person. Don’t go into denial. Deal with your emotions and then you can move on with life. Every now and then in life we hit bad squalls and spend most of our time bailing out our sinking boats. Yet as fast as we bail out our disconcerting thoughts, others flow back in. We need to take what life offers and make it positive. So instead of just bailing out our boats we need to repair the leaks. As a chaplain, when a squall blows in I turn to my faith and a couple of favourite authors for comfort. Where or to whom do you turn? Just any port during a storm is not always a good idea. I wish no one harm, but people often do stupid things that perhaps seemed like good ideas at the time. Accidents happen and fires occur, so first responders will always have vital roles to play in society. Fighting fires and saving lives is the greatest job on the planet, but it’s not easy; it takes physical and mental preparedness. I do a lot of my writing in a café and just as I was finishing this blog, and my dark-roast coffee, a beautiful young woman walked in with her boyfriend. The woman had a prosthetic leg and it did not appear to deter her from life and happiness. Remember, you are more than just the job and more than just flesh and bone. You are a full and complete human being and you can grow through traumatic events. 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
July 27, 2015, Toronto – On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper posed in Kelowna, B.C., with wildland firefighters working the Westside Road blaze, ostensibly to show support for wearied crews. No announcement, no big news, just a pre-election campaign photo op. And rather a shameless one at that (similar to former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ visit to flood-ravaged Alberta in 2013). Ottawa has a minimal role in wildland fire fighting, or most other types of fire fighting, for that matter – save for military. It provides one-third of the operating funding for the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre – a private, non-profit corporation that tracks and disseminates forest-fire management information. Federal bureaucrats sit on the centre’s boards of trustees and directors. My politics lean slightly left of centre, and, as a reporter/editor who used to work in Ottawa, I have little patience for Harper and his media policies (and some other policies, but we won’t go there today), so you’ll forgive me for saying that the PM looked ridiculous in a sport coat and dress shoes in July, in front of a line up of sooty firefighters, while the hill behind him smouldered. Clearly reporter Adam Proskiw, who writes for Kamloops InfotelNews, doesn’t have much time for Harper either – although his story was a straight-up news account. Proskiw refused to get sucked into the vortex around the PM’s visit. “After more than an hour wait, the press conference was over in less than five minutes,” Proskiw wrote. “The prime minister would not take questions about why he was there, how much time the photo opportunity took from firefighters, or what resources were used in the photo effort.” What’s more, InfotelNews declined to name Harper, posting a headline that said simply, “Man in blue suit thanks firefighters.” Proskiw’s editor, Marshall Jones, told The Huffington Post that the event wasted everyone’s time. “The photo op smelled like electioneering and we didn’t want to play a part in that,” he said. “We didn’t go to B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s media show the day before, even though that seemed appropriate since she is the local MLA and the premier of the province responsible for fire fighting. We thought she could thank them without the photo op.” Clark and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall have asked Ottawa for a national wildland firefighting strategy after weeks of fires, and Harper alluded to that. "We know these are tough and dangerous jobs and these efforts really are appreciated by everybody," Harper said. "When the dust settles, so to speak, on all of this we're obviously going to sit down and assess what new or different needs to be done in the future, what we can do in terms of better co-ordination of resources, mitigation, we'll look at all those things." I’m not holding my breath. First, as I said, Ottawa has a minor role in wildland fire fighting, which is a provincial responsibility. And its record on the fire side of emergency management isn’t so hot either. The Harper Conservatives cut funding for Canada’s HUSAR teams, cancelled the Joint Emergency Preparedness program, closed the Emergency Management College and effectively told the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) to shelve its requests for a national fire advisor. Yes, a meager $850,000 in federal funding has been allotted for a national fire incident database – it’s a three-year pilot project that may or may not even begin as planned in the fall. And Transport Minister Lisa Raitt – a fellow Cape Bretoner who was three years behind me at Sydney Academy – has tackled the dangerous goods file, but only after countless derailments, Lac-Megantic, and a lot of work by CAFC and others. What about the abysmal state of fire fighting and fire prevention on First Nations? What happens when there’s an earthquake in B.C. and there aren’t enough trained urban search and rescuers? Many of you won’t remember a blunder by Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who hefted a sandbag at a dike in Winnipeg in 1997 as the Red River raged and asked, “What do you want me to do with this?” As Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dan Lett (a fellow Carleton journalism grad) wrote in a lookback piece in 2011, “Several locals no doubt thought of several things Chrétien could have done with that sandbag, but they were too polite to say anything.” Even then, editorials called for politicians to stay away from disaster zones, just like former Alberta Fire Chiefs Association president Brian Cornforth lambasted Toews for disrupting the work of emergency responders in High River two years ago. “Coming into the site, it’s pretty hard to deal with those guys because they require a lot of resources to provide them security,” Cornforth told PostMedia. “Unless they’re directly in charge of the military and have a functional role, it’s really just posing.” Which is exactly what Harper did. As the anti-Tory website pressprogress.ca asked on Friday, is it ethical to use firefighters as props while a forest burns in the background? Not in my book.
July 21, 2015, Toronto – A month ago I wrote about a proposal by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) asking the province to fund a pilot project under which some of its members would become fire-medics. While the Ministry of Health considers the proposal to have career firefighters provide symptom-relief such as nitroglycerin spray, Ventolin, epinephrine and glucagon following 20 hours of training, groups with a vested interest are voicing dissent. On July 8, Ontario’s base-hospital physicians decried the proposal in a letter to the province. Now, the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs has dissected the OPFFA’s proposal, and fairly harshly. There’s a lot to report. First, though, something worth considering. OPFFA president Carmen Santoro has noted to me several times that the province has, unsuccessfully, poured millions of dollars into land-ambulance service to try to improve response times. Indeed, as Santoro pointed out, the 2013 auditor general’s report lambastes the province for its inability to fix the problem. Whether or not you agree with the OPFFA’s proposal, and no matter what ulterior motives others say may be at play, the association has put considerable effort into a proposal it believes will improve pre-hospital patient care – more than any other group has accomplished. That said, the base hospital doctors have disassociated themselves from the submission, citing potential harm to patients should the province go ahead with a pilot project, and the paramedic chiefs have methodically discounted many of the OPFFA’s arguments. The base hospital doctors say the mere 20 hours of training – combined with a lack of clinical experience – could put firefighters in situations in which they could potentially misdiagnose patients and, therefore, incorrectly administer symptom relief.“The Ontario Base Hospital Group . . . does not support the OPFFA proposal as outlined,” says a letter to Tarmo Uukkivi, director of Ontario’s Emergency Health Services Branch. Paramedics, the doctors note, train for two years, write certification exams, and their work is overseen by the base hospital group. Firefighters require no post-secondary education, many are not certified, and, under the OPFFA proposal, would require just the 20-hour course to become fire-medics. (As an aside, I’m waiting for the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management to let me know how many of the OPFFA’s 11,000 firefighters in Ontario are certified to NFPA 1001 Firefighter. I asked last week, was told the number wasn’t available because of the grandfathering process under the transition to NFPA from the Ontario curriculum. I asked Friday for specific numbers for the end of 2012, 2013 and 2014 and was given those stats – a total of 134 over the three years. I asked again Monday for the total.) The base-hospital letter also says that while firefighters can and should help patients suffering cardiac arrest by using a defibrillator, or patients experiencing an anaphylactic reaction by administering epinephrine, firefighters do not have the skills or experience to provide other symptom relief and could hurt people. The letter is signed by Dr. Michael Lewell, chair of the Ontario Base Hospital Group’s medical advisory committee. Lewell said in an interview that the group’s regional directors collaborated on the content of the letter, and that it was written to ensure that the province is aware that the doctors were not involved in the OPFFA’s proposal, not as a political tool. The OPFFA wants funding for a pilot project that would put one fire-medic on every front-line pumper (in career departments). It says that 42 per cent of calls are medical, that firefighters arrive on scene well before paramedics, and that more than 1,000 of its members – about 10 per cent – are already fully trained as paramedics. The paramedics say the firefighters’ case for fire-medics is weak.“We are concerned about public safety . . . and duplication of service given the small subset of calls where patient outcomes can be improved,” paramedic chief Norm Gayle says in a document shared on Google Drive. The paramedic chiefs say there is no evidence that firefighters delivering symptom relief would make a difference to patients. The document cites the 2005 study that indicated the only statically significant benefit of the participation of firefighters in pre-hospital care is for life-threatening cardiac events. “Other calls that are truly sensitive to paramedic response times in minutes or seconds comprise less than two per cent of total call volume,” the document says. Those calls include heart attacks and stroke and severe, life-threatening trauma. “The fire union proposal would not change response to these types of calls.” The chiefs also note that in 2014, just 6.6 per cent of calls required the type of symptom relief the OPFFA is proposing, and they dispute the assertion that quick firefighter responses would make a difference. “Rapid response times in minutes and seconds to medical 911 emergencies are important less than two per cent of the time,” the paramedics say. Frankly, I’m a bit confused by the whole thing, and from what I hear, the government may be too, and may direct all parties to collaborate on a revised proposal. Organizations such as the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Emergency Services Steering Committee and the base hospital physicians say that while they are aware of the fire-medic proposal now, they were not all formally consulted or advised of the proposal by the province, and now they’re scrambling to respond to media inquiries and develop positions. There’s conflicting information about which groups were or were not consulted and at what stage that occurred. Clearly not everyone is playing well in the sandbox. Not to mention that municipalities set levels of service, not the province, so I’m not clear how this would all play out. In Ontario, many EMS organizations are regional, while fire services are municipal, which, it seems, would present an organizational conundrum. Santoro said in an interview that a couple of base-hospital doctors were indeed consulted – medical directors who do oversight for firefighters regarding medical certification. He also said he’s disappointed by both the base-hospital doctors’ letter and the lack of acknowledgement by various groups that they were aware of the proposal. As for the paramedics’ response, Santoro said he has little interest. “The bottom line,” he said, “is the public deserves the quickest trained emergency responder, regardless of what colour truck they arrive on.” True. As long as those responders know what they’re doing.
July 13, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. - I recently had the opportunity to present “Influencing leadership through change” as the opening keynote session for the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) conference in Summerside, P.E.I. This was my first trip to P.E.I. and everything that people told me about the province is correct. I’m a big believer that Saskatchewan people are very friendly and it didn’t take long to discover that people in P.E.I. are the same. When Summerside firefighter Lindsay MacLeod picked me up at the Charlottetown airport I knew this was going to be a great experience. She welcomed me with her infectious smile and sincerely wanted to know how my flights were. As we chatted about P.E.I. during the 45-minute drive to Summerside, I could feel myself relaxing after my flight. While I was having a late supper on the outside deck of the Silver Fox restaurant, I received a text from Canadian Fallen Firefighter Foundation (CFFF) director Wayne Jasper. At the British Columbia fire chiefs conference in Penticton in June, he promised to give me a Many to One challenge coin at the MFCA conference. His text invited me for a drink at the Silver Fox. Hey, wait a minute, I was at the Silver Fox! An audible laugh turned a couple of heads in my direction and I responded to Wayne to let him know that I was outside on the upper deck eating. We both had a good chuckle when he came to my table. One of my enjoyments at conventions is walking the trade show and talking to vendors and building friendships with many of them. I’m a firm believer that the vendors are key stakeholders in the conference and I feel it’s our duty to visit them, chat with them and buy from them. Many chuckles are exchanged when you see familiar faces. When looking for the best places to eat, the vendors usually have this figured out and they can point you in the right direction to get your fresh lobster and oysters. Oh, how I love P.E.I.! I never thought a three-hour time-zone change would make a difference, but let me assure you, it does! After a long day of flights I was tired and I went to bed around 10 p.m. The only problem was that I woke a few hours later, at around 1:30 a.m., when my internal clock was telling me, “Dude, it’s 10:30 p.m. at home and you actually went to bed at 7 p.m., therefore you are no longer tired.” Have you ever found that the harder you try to sleep, the more frustrated you become and you work yourself into a state of frustration? Yes, thought so, and that is exactly what happened to me on my first night. So, what does any Prairie boy do when he can’t sleep? He picks up the phone and calls home at 1:30 a.m. and talks to his wife about the forest fires happening in Saskatchewan. Hey, remember it’s only 10:30 there and the late news isn’t even on yet.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria357d7205ce On my second night I really thought my internal clock would figure itself out, but I was wrong. The same thing happened, only this time my frustration hit a new level because I wanted to have a good night’s sleep before my opening keynote presentation for the conference. I wish I could say I figured it out, but I actually got very little sleep before my keynote. When I was in the restaurant having breakfast feeling sorry for myself, my body was telling me it’s 4:45 a.m., “What the heck are you doing eating breakfast, and why are there so many cheerful people in the restaurant at this hour?” The best part of having breakfast before giving my keynote was hearing a fire chief’s phone ring at the table next to me. I have never heard cows mooing as a ring tone and I was trying to figure out how to get his number so that I could get someone to call him during my keynote and use it as an icebreaker. On my third night in Summerside, I woke up at 1:35 a.m. and yes, you guessed it, no more sleep; it was time to start writing my blog. Many of my friends and family will want to know about P.E.I. and I will tell them how friendly the people are, how awesome the lobster is (and how I love it cold) and how great fresh oysters taste. I will also tell them how the firefighters, officers and chief officers whom I met have incredible passion for the fire service and want to make their departments better, the profession better and their communities better. I will also tell them that I have now set a personal record for eating freshly shucked oysters. I stopped counting when I hit 50. What can I say, I couldn’t help myself. 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
August 2015 - At 8:20 p.m. on Saturday, June 20, Barrie Fire Control in Ontario received a call for assistance – a hiker had become trapped in a crevasse in a popular recreational area. Little did I know when my pager activated that approximately 50 firefighters from Clearview and Barrie and, later on, from Toronto, would spend the next 14 hours involved in a rescue – the most challenging rescue of my 20-year fire-service career.
I first met Toronto Fire Services Capt. Chris Rowland on March 8, 2013, at a symposium about the Elliot Lake mall collapse. The inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre and the emergency response to it had started four days earlier.
Most of us indulge over the summer months in barbeques, ice cream and perhaps the occasional cold beer or margarita.
Aug. 12, 2015 – California-based HigherGround is now offering speech analytics and mobile recording to its Capture911 solution for emergency dispatch facilities and 911-call centres. The new features were introduced during the National Emergency Number Association conference in Denver, Co., in late June. Speech analytics converts recorded interactions into text and identifies and categorizes trends, while the mobile recording app allows users to view, replay and analyze mobile calls. Learn more at www.higherground.com
Aug. 12, 2015 – Mississauga, Ont.-based TOA Corporation has introduced the world’s first voice evacuation system to meet both American and Canadian standards for mass notification systems. The VM-3000 is an integrated system that incorporates paging matrix/mixer with DSP, digital messaging, a priority microphone and zone-switchable power amplifier section. VM-3000 complies with UL 2572 Standard for Mass Notification Systems, and CAN/ULC S576 Standard for Mass Notification System Equipment and Accessories. Learn more at www.toacanada.com
Aug. 12, 2015 – Portable lighting systems manufacturer, Pelican Products Inc., has unveiled its latest emergency lighting solution, the Pelican 3310ELS emergency lighting station. The station is a wall-mounted, clear polymer enclosure that houses a Pelican photoluminescent LED flashlight. The lightweight flashlight is made of virtually indestructible polymer material that glows in the dark, making it easy to locate in blackout situations, and provides up to 190 hours of light. The Pelican 3310ELS emergency lighting station retails in Canada for $59.87. Learn more at www.pelican.com/lights_detail.php?recordID=3310ELS
Firefighters and all those who respond to crisis situations are subject to enormous stressors in the field. On Aug. 11, join mental-health educator and former police officer Debbie Bodkin for a FREE one-hour webinar to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder, its effects and developing coping mechanisms. Speaker: Debbie Bodkin, principal, Inspiraction Presentations Date: Aug. 11, 2015 Time: 2:00 p.m. EST Duration: 45 minutes (with 15 minute Q&A) Cost: FREE As part of their work-related activities, firefighters may face stressful circumstances or find themselves engaged in crisis situations. Such encounters can take a toll on a person's mental wellbeing, potentially leading to post-traumatic stress or occupational stress injuries. As a speaker, trainer and educator, Bodkin will address the causes of these types of injuries, offer advice and provide coping mechanisms for sufferers in a one-hour webinar. Bodkin has more than 20 years experience in the policing field and also participated in overseas missions in Kosovo, Chad and Sudan. She is currently an instructor for the Mental Health First Aid Course. Join Bodkin and moderator Neil Sutton, editor of Canadian Security, on Aug. 11 for an opportunity to explore this sensitive and important topic. Participants will engage in a 45-minute presentation and be able to direct their questions to Bodkin in a 15-minute Q&A session. Register today!Brought to you by:          
Aug. 12, 2015 - Hurst Jaws of Life Inc. has introduced a new portable multipurpose tool for fire, technical rescue, FEMA and urban search and rescue. The StrongArm has a built-in Picatinny accessory rail and a four-position handle to cut, lift and spread. The tool’s compact, portable design is easy to carry and fit into tight spaces, replacing the need for crowbars, Halligans, wire cutters, axes and more. The StrongArm weighs 9.7 kilograms (21.4 pounds) to 11.7 kilograms(25.8 pounds) depending on attachments, and comes with two sets of tips, two reachable batteries and a charger. Learn more at www.jarwoflife.com
Aug. 12, 2015 – Canada’s railways are behind a new invitation-only app that gives first responders real-time information about the contents of rail cars involved in an emergency. The AskRail app was developed by the Association of American Railroads and its members, including CN and CP, and allows users to quickly search the rail car’s ID to determine its contents and view company contact information. The app is available in Canada in English, and a French-language version is expected later this year. Learn more and request the app at www.askrail.us
The Surrey Fire Service in British Columbia, under chief Len Garis, took delivery in June from Safetek Emergency Vehicles of three Smeal Fire Apparatus-built tankers. Built on Freightliner M2-112 chassis and powered by an Allison 3000 EVS transmissions and Cummins ISL 9 450-hp engines, the trucks are equipped with a Darley PSM 1,500 IGPM pump, a 2,000 IG UPF water tank and a Darley Purifire 4S10F water purification system.
It’s the second Monday of the month, and for members of the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario, that means it is a training night. I have missed the last couple of training sessions and I am about to miss another one. Does that mean that I have lost interest? That I am not as dedicated as I once was? Or is it simply a reflection of the myriad things going on in my life and my efforts to somehow maintain a sense of balance?
Due to the numerous positive advancements in the fire service – better detection, public education and stricter building codes – departments respond to fewer structure fires. The reduction in fires is positive for our communities but negative for firefighter development and safety. Less exposure to fires means that it is more important than ever to be creative with your training.
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.
My department’s philosophy for making everyone a public educator is to create partnerships within our own Brampton Fire and Emergency Services.
You know the kid: he or she is practically a woven pattern around mom’s leg, peaking out then darting back for cover. When asked a question or prompted to (heaven forbid) touch something, the chin lowers to the chest and the body twists even closer to parental flesh, as if dad will risk his life to protect against . . . a firefighter helmet.
You’re the fire chief – what can you tell me about residential fire sprinklers? Did you know the NFPA can help?
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.
If a large incident happened in your response area, would you and your officers know what to do? Train on incident management systems and discuss the recommendations from the Elliot Lake mall collapse with Brad Bigrigg, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs program manager – absolutely free! Obtain your IMS-100 certification through this four-hour program with a qualified instructor, plus spend an extra two hours on lessons learned from Elliot Lake. IMS 100 – Introduction to Incident Management Systems, is one of two courses still open for registration at our annual Firefighter Training Day at Toronto’s Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute – FESTI – on Sept. 26. Spots are also running out for our second open course – patient packaging and triage – so don’t wait to register! It’s free training, no strings attached!REGISTER NOW
I really enjoy training the members of Greenwood Fire and Rescue in British Columbia. I also enjoy the fact we are a volunteer department; it gives me a lot of leeway when it comes to practice nights.
Getting water to and on the fire in a one- or two-storey residential building involves basic skills, but many firefighters struggle to proficiently execute those skills. Members of an engine company must work together to properly secure a water source, advance the hoseline, get water from the truck to the hoseline and then advance the hoseline inside to suppress or control the fire.
There are many different rapid-intervention team (RIT) techniques for rescuing a downed firefighter from a structure. Most techniques are employed based on specific situations, such as ropes for a sub-level rescue or the Denver drill for a narrow aisle and high window sill. But there are some commonalities among different techniques that can be applied in a very basic way.
July 2015 – Is your department using an aerial master stream to full advantage at major fire incidents? Effective and timely use of a master stream can make all the difference to the outcome.
Responders on the scene of collisions see the direct results of safe or unsafe vehicles. While motor vehicles are much safer than they were 30 to 40 years ago, the death rate due to crashes is still very high.
Thermal imaging cameras (TICs) have been used in the fire service for interior structural firefighting since the 1990s. Every fire department that participates in interior firefighting operations should have at least one TIC in its equipment arsenal. The TIC should be used regularly at incidents and in training.
In April, Greenwood Fire Rescue held a practice night that was based, in part, on Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer’s Q&A in the March issue of Fire Fighting in Canada. A quote from Chief Officer on page 16 caught my attention; “I think probably the lesson for my officers is the note-taking and detail that is required.”
Standpipe systems are designed to supply firefighters with water at any height and at a constant flow and pressure.
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.
My daughter graduated high school in June and, like most parents, I was a proud member of the audience for the ceremony. As I observed all her fellow graduates and heard their accomplishments, my thoughts wandered to the future of my community’s fire service. I thought about the next generation of firefighter candidates hitting the streets and hopefully volunteering in their communities or seeking fire-service careers.
Too often I’ve heard that things are just not the same as they were back in the day. In fact, I’ve caught myself saying that on more than one occasion. I suppose that comes with age and, in the fire service, it’s always easy to compare the way things are with the way things used to be. Our world is constantly changing and, at times, it’s hard to keep up.    
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.

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