Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - April 22, 2016

Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - April 22, 2016

Alberta cuts its wildfire management budget, Laura King reports from FDIC in Indianapolis, and more.

Editor's blog

Editor's blog

There is consensus among those who have testified at the inquest into seven fire fatalities in Ontario that responders did everything by the book. As Laura King writes, maybe the book needs to be rewritten.

Incident Report: March 2016

Incident Report: March 2016

Firefighters in Swift Current, Sask., quickly secured an evacuation zone around a multi-vehicle collision site after confirming the presence of yellowcake uranium in an overturned container. By Denis Pilon

Volunteer Vision: March 2016

Volunteer Vision: March 2016

Facebook, Twitter and the like have changed the media game for firefighters. Tom DeSorcy recommends chief officers discuss social media risks and benefits with their teams.

April 19, 2016, Toronto – There is consensus among those who have testified at the inquest into seven fire fatalities – three in Whitby, four in East Gwillimbury – that responders did everything by the book but couldn't save the three teenagers and the four members of Dunsmuir family who perished in the separate blazes in 2012 and 2013.Maybe the book needs to be rewritten.Public education – that first line of defence that successive Ontario fire marshals have preached – came up short; other than calling 911, neither the teens nor the Dunsmuirs were adequately armed with the necessary know how to give themselves a chance of survival, and in the latter incident – a fire that started in the main-floor laundry room – there was no smoke alarm.A landlord shirked his duties – and the second line of defence collapsed in the Whitby case when an inspector failed to thoroughly ensure necessary fire-protection measures were in place.Response times were discussed at various points in the three weeks since the inquest started on March 29 – eight minutes for Whitby Fire to arrive on scene despite the hall being 260 metres down the street, and 12 minutes for East Gwillimbury's volunteer firefighters to reach 72 Howard Ave. in the community of Sharon, both well within the norm.Career versus volunteer? Not an issue, despite some gentle pokes by Mark Train, a Mississauga firefighter who represents the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (but is not a lawyer), at the East Gwillimbury firefighters who testified last week – mainly about fire-ground staffing and the fact that the incident commander also drove the first-in engine.Train tried in vain on Monday to poke deeper, this time at East Gwillimbury Chief Phil Dawson on the stand, but lawyer John Saunders objected to questions about budgets and levels of service as irrelevant to the inquest, and coroner Dr. David Evans agreed.Training? More of it, and standardized, for 911 call takers and fire dispatchers, witnesses told coroner's counsel Frank Giordano; and maybe cross training for police who might be the first to arrive at a working fire – particularly about fire behaviour and understanding what happens when doors to a burning structure are breached. Indeed, East Gwillimbury and York Regional Police are already doing just that.Whitby Chief David Speed, in his April 7 statement to the five-member jury – which will make non-binding recommendations when the inquest wraps up, likely next week – threw political caution to the wind, calling for mandatory sprinklers in all new residential construction.East Gwillimbury Fire Chief Phil Dawson proposed a more conservative approach on Monday – focusing on education and early detection, asking that the jury consider recommending fire inspections whenever ownership of a home or tenants change, possibly through municipal bylaws."Sprinklers are a good idea but they're reactive," Dawson said. Indeed, he added, all firefighters – even those in suppression – should be involved in the first two lines of defence.Both fire chiefs urged the jury to consider broader public education, to make recommendations that focus on reaching particular demographics and with strong messaging.Earlier Monday, the Dunsmuir housekeeper of 12 years, Valerie Schmidt, testified that there was no smoke alarm on the main floor of the home and only one on the second storey, in the hallway outside the bedrooms. (There was an additional alarm in the basement but Schmidt wasn't aware.)The fire on March 29, 2013, started in the laundry room, in a plugged vent to the outside, which, during renovations, had been reconfigured to go through the floor and along the basement ceiling, to the outside.The purpose of questions by coroner's counsel about an oily substance in the laundry room area – linseed oil, perhaps – which Schmidt said she was unaware of, were not explained, the details likely to come later this week from representatives of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management who investigated the incident.Friday, the jury heard from Dunsmuir neighbour John Hems, who said he heard screaming from the home but no smoke alarms."The whole street," Hems said, "replaced their smoke alarms right after the fire."Public education of the most tragic kind.
April 15, 2016, Toronto – Miscommunication during a 911 call placed by 19-year-old Robert Dunsmuir from his parents' burning home in East Gwillimbury on March 29, 2013, resulted in the fire-department dispatcher prematurely terminating the call.As disturbing as that miscommunication might be, it had no impact on the outcome.Hearing the young man's final words and his last breath on the 911 tape played for a coroner's jury on Thursday was gut wrenching. But the miscommunication about the nature of the call once it was transferred to the Richmond Hill Fire & Emergency Services dispatcher from a 911 call taker turned out to be moot.The five-person coroner's jury heard last week in testimony from representatives of Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) – several are in court daily as observers – that without sprinklers, occupants have fewer than four minutes to escape a burning building before they succumb to smoke inhalation. Although the communication mix up may not have affected the outcome, training for 911 call takers about fire procedures, and mandatory training for fire dispatchers, is likely to be among the jury's recommendations.York Regional Police 911 call taker Danielle Migueis answered Dunsmuir's cell-phone call at 5:29:35 a.m. Dunsmuir, his parents and his brother were trapped in the master bedroom of the burning two-storey home in the community of Sharon in East Gwillimbury. An investigation by the OFMEM determined that the fire originated in a plugged dryer vent and that the main floor smoke alarm was faulty."There's a fire at 72 Howard Ave.," Dunsmuir tells Migueis. The statement is clear on the digital audio recording, but, it was noted for the jury, background noise made it difficult to hear."Sorry, what address?""72 Howard Avenue, in Sharon.""What's going on there?" Migueis asks."It's a fire. I just woke up in the middle of the night and can't see," Dunsmuir says, frantic and disoriented.Migueis transfers the call to the Richmond Hill Fire dispatcher, but stays on the line. (Richmond Hill dispatches for East Gwillimbury and three other communities)."Don't hang up, OK," Migueis says to Dunsmuir, calm and rational even though the call was the first of the sort she had experienced (911 call takers require no training to help people trapped in burning buildings). Of the more than 233,600 emergency calls a year in York region, structure fires with people trapped are extremely rare and are passed over to fire dispatch, the jury was told.Richmond Hill Fire picks up the call. "Fire and emergency for what town?""Fire, he's at 72 Howard Avenue," Migueis tells the dispatcher."I can't breathe," Dunsmuir says to the fire dispatcher. "I have asthma.""We're on our way," the fire dispatcher says."OK. So are we," Migueis says, indicating that police are en route, and at 5:30 a.m. the fire dispatcher hangs up, presumably believing he is sending trucks to a medical call, having heard Dunsmuir say only that he was asthmatic and having difficulty breathing."Sir. Hello? Hello?" Migueis says, still on the line and trying to communicate with Dunsmuir but getting no response.Migueis – who was named York Regional Police call taker of the year in 2015 – calls back but gets no answer. She tries again."Hi," Dunsmuir says."Did you get out of the house?" Migueis asks. "OK, you've got to get out of the house.""I don't know how," Dunsmuir says. "We are trapped in the upper floor."You don't know how?""No, we can't see and it's pitch black and everything."Migueis asks how many people are in the house. "The four of us . . . and the dog," Dunsmuir says."I'm choking. I have asthma . . . I can't breathe. I can't breathe.""Where are your parents?" Migueis asks."With us," Dunsmuir says. "Can you please . . . ""Can you get to the door?""No.""Hello? Sir? Can you guys get out the window? Sir? Hello?"The line goes dead. Migueis calls again. No one picks up."It's not our obligation to call back if it's a fire call," Migueis told coroner's counsel Frank Giordano, explaining that once a call is transferred to fire or EMS it's the purview of the other agency. Calling back was just common sense, Migueis said;she "just wanted them to get out."Asked by Giordano to explain what happened when the phone went dead the first time, Migueis said, "I do believe the fire call taker may have hung up," which is standard procedure for a medical call.Subsequent 911 calls from neighbours alerted dispatch to the fire, and according to the OFMEM investigation report, the first truck arrived in 12 minutes from the East Gwillimbury volunteer department.Migueis was the only witness to testify Thursday. Lawyers for other parties with standing at the inquest had no questions for Migueis, who gave impeccably clear and deliberate testimony. Migueis was cross examined only by York Regional Police lawyer Jason Fraser, who outlined for the jury the hundreds of hours of training, testing and re-testing Migueis has completed and that are required, by law, for 911 call takers.There are no similar adequacy regulations for fire dispatchers in Ontario, and no mandatory training provided through the OFMEM, although it has the authority to teach NFPA 1061, Professional Qualifications for Public Safety Telecommunications Personnel; the standard was developed with input from an Ontario group of communicators, and communicators have pushed for years for such training.The inquest adjourned at mid-day Thursday, having no witnesses lined up to testify. The Richmond Hill Fire dispatcher was not on the original witness list distributed by coroner's counsel, lawyers having reached an agreed statement of facts about when, how and by what means the Dunsmuirs died, and the dispatcher's testimony was deemed unnecessary. The frenzy of activity in the courtroom yesterday afternoon may have indicated that has changed.Six witnesses are to testify today – neighbours, police and firefighters.
April 12, 2016, Toronto – The coroner's inquest into seven fire fatalities that started March 29 and has focused thus far on the deaths of three teenagers in a Whitby apartment turns this week to the 2013 blaze that killed Kevin and Jennifer Dunsmuir and two of their sons. The proceedings, to this point, have been curious.To summarize, Whitby Fire Chief David Speed, bizarrely, testified from notes provided by a former fire prevention inspector that landlord Andrew Strzelec had complied with an order to install fire-resistant drywall in a stairway – the apartment's only exit. There are no notes to that effect: Speed based his testimony on a conversation with the inspector; the inspector based his assumption of compliance on a conversation with the landlord. No one checked to ensure that the ordered renovations had, in fact, been completed, and it became clear after the fire that the drywall – necessary to create a proper fire separation between the upstairs and main-floor apartments – had never been installed.The fire inspector, Wayne Bray, has not been called as a witness and no one I've spoken with seems to know why. Bray is not among the fire inspectors listed on the town's website. Coroner's counsel Frank Giordano has not yet replied to an email asking for an explanation.The landlord's testimony was inconsistent, according to reports, and, in fact, photos of the building show that Strzelec, sometime after receiving approval for the ordered renovations, converted the house back into an illegal three-unit dwelling.Yesterday, an experienced fire-protection engineer with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) testified that the Whitby Fire Department misinterpreted the fire code and the small apartment should never have been approved as compliant – a rather damning statement from a senior staffer with the organization that helps fire departments interpret and understand the code.Even more puzzling, perhaps, to the five-person jury, is the fact that the province requires no specific training for fire inspectors who, as Chief Speed testified last week, are considered assistants to the fire marshal; NFPA 1031 Levels 1 and 2 are recommended but not mandatory. Whitby, however, now requires its inspectors to have a three-year fire-protection diploma from a community college, the chief said.There is, as Speed testified, no regulatory body for fire inspectors.What's bugging me, though, is a statement Chief Speed made under questioning by coroner's counsel, about alternate means of egress, and whether the windows in the apartment were the type that would allow for escape if the exit – the stairway – was blocked."We didn't even look at that," said Speed who, as chief fire prevention officer, was Bray's supervisor, referring to the windows."Because," he said, "it met code."In other words, the single, (un)renovated stairway exit was sufficient and the only escape route required.Not so, according to OFMEM fire-protection engineer Christine Mak, who testified this week that the apartment was, in fact, required to have a second exit, because the windows were too small to allow for escape.The testimony is damning – to the department, the province, the system.And we're only part way through.
April 8, 2016, Toronto – It was apparent yesterday afternoon at the inquest into three fire fatalities in Whitby in 2012 that to be a chief in this province, it's necessary to have skin as thick as the tires on an aerial truck.Whitby Fire Chief David Speed suppressed innuendo, accusations and inaccuracies lobbed by lawyers for the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management and the families of the three deceased teens – Benjamin Twiddy, 19, Marilee Towie, 17, and Holly Harrison, 18 – during a full day of testimony in a coroner's court on Thursday.Politics clearly at play, the lawyer for the OFMEM, Claudia Brabazon, tried to trip up Chief Speed, to discredit his evidence – although it's not quite clear why.The details and nuances are complex. Chief Speed was, in part, testifying from notes made by a Whitby fire inspector. The inspector told Speed – before he became chief, back when he headed the fire-prevention division – but did not write down the fact that the owner of the apartment in which the teens died had earlier complied with a fire-code inspection order, and the required work had been completed.After the fire on April 29, 2012, it became clear that fireproof drywall had never been installed in the unit's stairwell as specified in the order, and the combustible wood panelling ignited along with carpet and wallpaper, blocking the teens' only way out. The three friends were found huddled under a living-room window, trying to shield themselves from the blaze that started when a towel caught fire and was tossed into the stairwell.Given that the inspector, Wayne Bray who, strangely, has not been called as a witness, had made thorough notes about every other aspect of the case but none detailing his conversation with the landlord about the drywall, perhaps Mr. Bray and the landlord had not, in fact, discussed that issue, the lawyer said."Isn't it possible," Brabazon asked, "that the conversation never took place?""No," Chief Speed replied, without hesitation. "Mr. Bray told me that it took place and I believe him."Still, it's curious that the chief, who kept his composure even after several hours on the stand and provided detailed evidence, testified from another's notes, hence, perhaps, the hard line by the lawyers. When asked, other parties involved with the inquest and some of their lawyers couldn't explain Mr. Bray's absence or Chief Speed's use of the inspector's notes.Later, the OFM lawyer asked if the inspector should have taken the landlord's word given his blatant disregard for fire-code compliance before he was earlier fined for another violation."In the beginning [the landlord] was difficult but after he was charged he started to comply," Speed said. "I have a lot of trust in the inspectors . . . "As one courtroom spectator put it, no good deed goes unpunished – in this case, the inspector having given the landlord the benefit of the doubt. Clearly, it was noted, it's crucial to go by the book regardless of political pressure to relax the rules for tax-paying property owners – do what's right, not what's popular, and, as is well known from the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry and other proceedings in Ontario, take precise, detailed notes, always.The lawyer for the Town of Whitby clarified with Chief Speed that the municipality treats everyone equally – that, for example, landlords with a single conviction are not red flagged, targeted or profiled, as the OFM lawyer had suggested might have been appropriate in this case given some of the conditions in the apartment.Those conditions, Chief Speed said – low ceilings, no sprinklers, extinguishers or fire escape (none of which is required) – are normal and are found in hundreds of similar apartments across the province.Earlier, Chief Speed had provided jurors with his recommendations to consider: mandatory training for fire inspectors – who in Ontario are considered assistants to the fire marshal but for whom there is no required standardized provincial training; better public education; and – of course – sprinklers."In this case," Speed said, "and in about 80 other fires every year in Ontario, the three lines of defence did not work."Sprinklers, Speed said, would likely have saved the lives of the teens, whose screams, and subsequent silence, were heard on the 911 tape played in the courtroom last week."Firefighters followed all practices and policies," Speed said. "Yet I struggle to find a recommendation to improve this, except this one; I urge the jury to recommend the installation of sprinklers in all new residential construction."Given that earlier witnesses testified to a "textbook" response that took more than four minutes even though the fire hall was fewer than 300 metres down the street, and, as Speed told the inquest, Whitby has 104 suppression firefighters but just six fire-prevention officers, the recommendation is reasonable.Thick skin indeed.
March 29, 2016, Toronto – It's coincidence that an inquest into seven fire fatalities, including four members of one family who died in a horrific house fire in East Gwillimbury, Ont., starts today, exactly three years after that awful incident.The coroner's inquest was delayed six months for procedural reasons, which, to me, is code for the government didn't have its ducks in a row, and which is no wonder given the complexities of holding two inquests (sort of) simultaneously.Technically, the inquest – which is scheduled to run eight to 10 weeks – is in two parts, which, apparently, is rather unusual but is necessary to accommodate lawyers' schedules and religious holidays, according to coroner's counsel Frank Giordano, who graciously provided as much detail in an email about the inquest as he was able to given that crucial documents such as the witness list still seemed fairly fluid late last week.First, Dr. David Evans, a retired regional coroner and surgeon, and the five-person jury will hear about a fire in Whitby, Ont., on April 29, 2012 – almost four years ago – that killed three young people: Benjamin Twiddy, 19; Marilee Towie, 17; and Holly Harrison, 18. Some evidence introduced in that portion of the inquest – about, perhaps, fire behaviour when fresh oxygen is introduced into a burning structure – will likely be applicable to both incidents.If your recollection of these seven fire fatalities is foggy – which is likely the case given the gap between the incidents and the inquest(s) – here's a refresher.The three teens died in their second-storey Whitby apartment. They had called 911 from their cell phones. According to news reports, police arrived first and kicked in the door but couldn't reach the three friends – there was too much smoke, heat and fire. Two Whitby firefighters were awarded bravery medals for attempting to rescue the teens, who were found huddled together. The fire started when one of the teens used a towel to take something out of the oven. Reports indicate that the unit had working smoke alarms.The Dunsmuir family also called 911, presumably from the upstairs master bedroom of their two-storey home in a small community called Sharon in the Town of East Gwillimbury (part of the Regional Municipality of York). Kevin Dunsmuir, 55, his wife Jennifer, 51 – who was mobility impaired after having had a stroke – and their two sons, Robert, 19, and Cameron, 16, may have been trapped in the bedroom. (A third son was away at university.) A report by the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal concluded that the fire started as a result of a clogged lint filter in the dryer on the main floor of the home. There was no working smoke alarm on the first floor. News reports said police arrived first and entered the home to try to reach the family, but couldn't.There was lots of talk in news reports – and by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association – after the East Gwillimbury fire about response times, automatic aid and levels of service.I expect, though, at the inquest(s) we'll hear more about fire dynamics than response times given that the issue has settled down in the three years it has taken to get to this point, although I do find it bizarre that the inquest is happening in urban Toronto rather than in the rural part of York Region, where everyone is familiar with volunteer fire departments and understands that calling 911 does not elicit a three- or four-minute fire response.The last fire-fatality inquest in Ontario, in 2012, explored the 2009 Muskoka Heights retirement-home fire in Orillia that killed four people; it resulted in mandatory, retroactive sprinklers and multiple other changes – including new legislation – to better protect seniors and other vulnerable occupants.Few fire-service leaders or organizations are beating drums about sprinklers for residential structures, despite almost 100 fire deaths in Ontario last year, so I'm interested to see the direction in which lawyers take this proceeding.It's not clear – at least publicly – whether the occupants in the Whitby apartment and the East Gwillimbury home died before or after police arrived.I expect we'll know the answer to that fairly early on.* Follow @FireinCanada on Twitter for live updates from the inquest today.
March 24, 2016, Toronto – Advocacy is a tough game; it requires patience, persistence, data, evidence-based analysis, time, and political savvy.Kudos, then, to those who have worked so long and so hard to persuade Ottawa to restore its share of funding for HUSAR teams, as the Liberal government did in Tuesday’s budget – $15.5 million over five years.There are four HUSAR teams – Vancouver, Calgary, Manitoba and Toronto –although I’m hearing there’s talk of restoring the collapsed Halifax team and creating a new team in Quebec. Each team requires about $1.1 million to run annually, including equipment.Which means that for the four HUSAR teams to function, provincial and municipal money will continue to be required to supplement the $400,000 to $600,000 per team, per year, that will be provided by Ottawa.Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney, who has been instrumental in discussions with Public Safety Canada about HUSAR since the Conservative government announced the cut in 2012, says while the teams are pleased with and excited about the restored funding, Ottawa’s contribution is “a bargain given the expertise, readiness and commitment” of the highly trained team members. What’s more, McKearney says, all three levels of government need to participate in funding and policy to sustain the response capabilities.McKearney has scheduled a conference call in early April with Public Safety Canada and the team leaders to discuss next steps and details, which are sparse.Should a Halifax team be reinstated, and a Quebec team developed, the $15.5 million would be further stretched. Although it’s not clear even to those fire-service leaders who have been involved in discussions with Ottawa if new teams are indeed being considered, the budget certainly alludes to expansion.“Budget 2016 provides $15.5 million over five years, starting in 2016-17, to restore funding to heavy urban search and rescue task forces in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Manitoba, as well as to work with provinces to expand this capacity in underserved regions,” the document says.While the restored federal funding is certainly a win, the advocacy required to ensure a national HUSAR response strategy, continued and consistent training and equipment, and ongoing federal, provincial and municipal support is daunting. - As expected and as promised by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Tuesday’s budget also includes a compensation benefit for firefighters, police officers and paramedics who are permanently injured or die in the line of duty, although the initiative merited just a single sentence.Even the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs neglected to mention the program in a press release this morning hailing the HUSAR funding and Ottawa’s $143 million for enhancements to rail safety and transportation of dangerous goods, and noting the development of a national action plan for PTSD.The PTSD program, too, seems to be a bit of a mystery.“We look forward to hearing the details of the government’s plans,” CAFC president Paul Boissonneault said of the national PTSD strategy.I find it frustrating that Ottawa (and Ontario, which has just launched a PTSD prevention plan for employers) is focusing specifically on post-traumatic stress disorder given that experts tell us anxiety, depression and substance abuse comprise the bulk of mental illness – even among first responders. Fire-service leaders made this clear to Goodale during a roundtable in Regina late last year, so let’s hope it’s simply semantics at play.Certainly all the first-responder initiatives in the budget are wins given the gargantuan efforts required to educate and convince politicians and bureaucrats of their value. The devil may be in the details.
Feb. 25, 2016, Milverton, Ont. - The recently released movie Deadpool broke the superhero mold, broke box-office records, and even broke the biggest film risk of all: the fourth wall (the imaginary barrier that separates actors from the audience). Ryan Reynolds' adaptation of the Marvel character was soaked up by everyone who saw the leaked footage, the movie trailer, and then the film itself. Suffice it to say, Deadpool is just as much a social-media success as it is a box-office bonanza.Why?Because it grabs and holds on to people's attention. The movie is funny, raunchy and irreverent. Cast and crew took a cookie-cutter Marvel comic superhero action flick and took the safety off. The finished product is something audiences have never before seen.There's a lesson in Deadpool for fire-service public educators, including me.We obviously cannot suddenly make our smoke- and CO-alarm messaging contain F-bombs. But we can twist the predictability out of it.The general public is exposed to the most vulgar, arguably funny, violent and sarcastic humour ever produced. Every day. Which means any lame attempts to get a fire-safety message across are largely ignored. In fact, your fire department's tweets could be purposefully un-followed because your "Make sure you test your alarms" message is just plain boring.Your first piece of homework is to watch Deadpool. Watch it knowing that, although it is an R-rated film intended for the 18-or-older audience, there are probably more teenagers than adults in the audience. Now look at your public-education messaging and materials, which are likely unchanged from decades ago. While your audience's maturity levels have increased severely for each age group, the fire service's messaging has not kept up the pace.Your next piece of homework is to go on YouTube and watch the popular videos of the day or week. These videos are how today's kids are learning. Videos are how companies introduce us to products. Want to see a tent from Canadian Tire set up? Go on YouTube. Want to know how to remove a battery or change a SIM card in that exact type of cell phone? There are multiple video how-to guides to choose from.While you're on YouTube, search for Slap Chop. This seemingly corny infomercial-type video went viral, because its star, Vince, twisted the predictability out of product demonstration. The energy and enthusiasm of the Slap Chop videos are contagious and make the audience want to try the product. Your next bit of homework is to think about what it would look like if Vince were testing a smoke alarm instead.Finally, your last bit of homework on YouTube is to watch any and all Budweiser commercials, especially ones created for the Superbowl. These videos will teach you what Budweiser has perfected; there may be only one product or one behaviour, (i.e. buy beer) you want to promote, but there are multiple ways to get the message across. From baby Clydesdales to donkeys to beautiful people having a good time, Budweiser hits its target audience from every angle.Now for the final exam. Think about a movie that you saw two, three or even four decades ago. Think E.T. or Ghostbusters. As relevant as those stories are, chances are your kids are absolutely groaning at the so-called special effects or action sequences. That's pretty much how audiences react to our predictable, mainstream fire-safety materials. Your final exam is to Deadpool, Slap Chop or Budweiser at least one set of public education materials. Do something your community has never seen before. Bring new energy and enthusiasm into your project. Send one message using multiple angles.Your next video might not be a summer blockbuster and your materials might not make you millions in revenue, but a cutting-edge take on public education could save lives.
Feb. 16, 2016, Toronto – We passed. All 21 of us in last week's Road to Mental Readiness course in Mississauga stood – or rather circulated, standing still is bad – and taught entire modules of the eight-hour R2MR leadership program on Friday, after four days of intense learning.We were critiqued (constructively, of course), sized up, roundly encouraged, and graded (on fives pages worth of criteria!) by the masters who had led us all week.And now that we all know the massive R2MR manual inside out, we're ready to take the show on the road, so to speak.Piece of cake? Not quite. It's easy to stand – rather, circulate – in front of peers and talk about what you know, firefighting techniques or, in my case, social media or coverage of the Elliot Lake mall collapse; not so much an overwhelming volume of mostly new and, often, sensitive information.Last Monday I couldn't spell amygdala, let alone identify the almond-shaped fear receptors in the brain connected with the fight, flight or freeze response.I couldn't have told you that fire-service leaders should shield, sense and support their crews, that we should all use the Big 4 – goal setting, visualization, self-talk and tactical breathing (which was employed a fair bit in advance of Friday's presentations), or that there's a mental-health continuum to identify when to help colleagues.I knew about PTSD but not PTSS – post traumatic stress syndrome.I didn't realize that most mental illness among first responders is anxiety, depression or substance abuse and that cumulative stress at home and at work is the worst.I learned about stigma and moral stressors and keeping our rain buckets empty so they don't overflow when things get rough. (How's the water level in your rain bucket?)We laughed – a lot (mostly at trainer and retired cop Sergio Falzi's myriad anecdotes). We listened more. Those who felt comfortable told their own stories of treatment, time off work, challenges getting back on the trucks.We learned that the earlier people living with mental illness get help, the sooner they come back to the halls. And, we were told, for so many people, work is everything – who they are, how they identify, what keeps them going.We discussed the 24-hour shift; maybe seeing colleagues just seven times a month isn't ideal after all?We memorized steps in the ad hoc incident review – acknowledge, inform and respond, or AIR – which a particularly perceptive member of our group (who happens to write a blog) likened to the first line of defence to bring some firefighting terminology to the program.We were told from the outset that R2MR is evidence based – that it has been evaluated by more than 100,000 users, and it works.R2MR is a tool to help fire departments build awareness and resilience; there are others. Find a program that works for your department and your people – and use it.The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs announced a partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada on July 30 to roll out R2MR, and started training two weeks ago – a pretty remarkable timeline for anything in fire let alone a mental-health training program.I heard from Sergio-the-retired-cop on Sunday, asking me to include a word of thanks to the OAFC for bringing him and R2MR to Ontario firefighters – he even admitted to enjoying the (seemingly never ending!) cop-firefighter banter, despite being outnumbered 21 to one.As Sergio reminded me in the email – our brains do not differentiate between physical and mental pain, and neither should we. Not bad for a copper, eh.Let's get the show on the road.
Feb. 10, 2016, Mississauga, Ont. – We've learned a lot about anxiety in two days of Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) training (read my first blog), mostly because we're all experiencing it given the magnitude of material to absorb before we are tested later this week.And by tested, I mean a written quiz Thursday, then a 25-minute presentation – with a partner – on Friday, on one of the 11 modules of the massive R2MR training manual.So, as we've been taught to do to manage stress, I'm setting a goal, visualizing, self-talking (which is pretty much constant anyway) and using tactical breathing to get through to Friday at noon. (There, I've just answered one test question!)OK, I'm exaggerating a bit; the course material is being taught brilliantly (buttering up the instructors?) and rather humorously, by trainers from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in digestible bits, and we started practice teaching yesterday so that by Friday we'll all be comfortable with our units.Still, some in the course are better in front of a room than others – fire chiefs, deputies, captains and firefighters here from Whitchurch-Stouffville, North Bay, Burlington, Mississauga, Paisley, Orillia and a handful of other municipalities, for example, are better than, say, editors of fire magazines.We've learned a ton about stress this week – organizational stress, personal stress, operational stress (test question 2?). Two things have stuck in my mind: that stress comes and goes – I expect to experience it any minute on the drive to Mississauga on Hwy 403 but once I reach the Garry W. Morden Centre, it will have dissipated; and that cumulative stress from calls, work-life balance and stuff (or that other s word) leads to exhaustion, which leads to burnout, "which can be a significant but underappreciated problem with firefighters."Perhaps the most surprising revelation so far is the fact that there are no Canadian studies – yet – that point to higher levels of mental illness or PTSD among first responders than among the rest of the population; mind you, mental illness (not just PTSD, but anxiety, depression, substance abuse) affects one in five Canadians and, therefore, one in five responders, but organizations are now tracking responder suicides, media are reporting them, and we're all hyper-aware of them.Here's what else we've learned: people get back to work sooner if they receive treatment early – so it's important for managers to shield (help to prevent), sense (observe, ask questions) and support (provide resources to) their employees. (Another test question – you see where I'm going with this?)How can they do so? By using the ad-hoc incident review, or AIR, to acknowledge, inform and respond to firefighters who may need help.OK, I'm feeling better now that I wrote all that without looking at the 500-plus page manual or my notes, so I'm off to Mississauga to no-doubt embarrass myself several more times in front of my (wonderfully supportive, articulate and confident) group before I master the material.Stress, of course, is relative. Today, I may sweat through my socks but no one gets hurt, no property is damaged or lost, and everyone goes home.
Feb. 9, 2016, Mississauga – The best line I heard yesterday during Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) training came from the table behind me: "The only way to change things in the fire service," a classmate said, "is through peer pressure."There were nods all around.Twenty-one students are in the R2MR program this week, offered through the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and run by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.Blogger Jennifer Grigg, a volunteer firefighter who has experienced some of what we're learning about, took the course last week; my perspective is different.I have no experiences to share about calls involving children or gruesome extrications, fire fatalities or the cumulative stress from a 20-plus-year career as a first responder.But as I mentioned to the group during Monday morning's introductions, people tell me things; I'm trained to listen and observe, to get interview subjects to open up, to ask probing questions so I can write detailed stories.Problem is, I have no idea what to say to people who tell me they are living with – not suffering from – mental illness (see, we're learning already).Another interesting takeaway from Monday's session was the absence of the phrase occupational stress injury; the mental-health commission dropped the term from its parlance because, according to master trainer Sergio Falzi (a retired cop in a room full of firefighters, which makes for some entertaining moments), it's impossible to separate work stress from home stress.Remember the onion analogy from the movie Shrek? "Ogres are like onions," Shrek tells Donkey (a sentence I never thought I'd type!). "Onions have layers; ogres have layers."Well, turns out stress is more like onion soup, French onion soup, to be precise; onion-filled broth with a slice of burnt toast and a mess of gooey cheese, and it's impossible to separate one ingredient from the other.We talked a lot about stigma – think about the words prejudice and discrimination and whether the former can exist without the latter – and statistics: by 2030 depression will the leading cause of disability claims worldwide.We watched compelling video of an OPP officer who ignored his symptoms for years then crashed and and burned (figuratively); he had been afraid of what his peers would think. Familiar, eh?"Through my fear I neglected to address that trauma the same way I would [have addressed] getting a knife to the kidney," he said, in other words, as an injury.We also learned that despite what many in fire think, it's not up to human-resources departments to deal with employees' mental illness – everyone in the hall or department has a role to play.Then we got into the nitty gritty – resilience, goal setting, visualization, tactical breathing, and the ad-hoc incident review that's a critical part of R2MR.Even after eight full hours, though, I was still thinking about the first few minutes of the day – the obligatory ice-breaker exercise during which we were asked to stand in groups according to our vacation-destination choices, then our food favourites (sweet chocolate or salty chips!), and, lastly, our pet preferences.In the end, half the group ended up on either side the room – as logic dictates would be the case.Finally, we were asked to place ourselves at one end of the room if we knew someone living with mental illness, the other end if we didn't.One half of the room filled up; the other half emptied. And, thus, we all had something in common.Hook, line and sinker, the instructors had made their point, and we sat down for the next 7.5 hours to learn – in Falzi's words – to sell cars to people who want to buy pick-up trucks, to change a culture, shift a paradigm.The mental health commission is teaching R2MR to more than 250,000 emergency-services workers in the next 12 to 18 months. Those trainers will, in turn, teach their departments and others.As Falzi explained (the man has a gift for analogies), R2MR creators knew flood gates would open once police and fire started to understand that mental illness is a injury that can be treated, managed and, in so many cases, healed."It's not a flood gate," he said, "it's a tsunami."A tsunami of peer pressure for which your department better be ready.
Feb. 8, 2016, Toronto – It's a cliché, but it sure seems as if in Ontario, at least, the more things change, the more they stay the same.Three examples.1. Four fire fatalities (and multiple injuries) in 24 hours in Toronto, three of them in a five-storey, Toronto Community Housing building inhabited by people 60 years and older; the other in a separate apartment fire.The seniors building, according to Toronto Deputy Chief Jim Jessop, "fell through the cracks" when the province mandated in 2013 – after a slew of deaths in retirement homes – that certain facilities be retrofitted with sprinklers.Which is an interesting way to put it: a cynical blogger might surmise that "fell through the cracks" is a euphemism given the volume of community housing units, the costs associated with retrofitting and political correctness. (Jessop had been instrumental in the retrofitting initiative as a deputy chief in Niagara Falls and London before moving to the Office of the Fire Marshal, then Toronto Fire Services.)The Toronto building is 25 years old; when it was built, sprinklers were not required in all areas.The province can enact legislation requiring any type of building to be sprinklered; it has chosen not to. - 2. It came as no surprise that the Ontario Ministry of Labour laid no charges against a trainer under whose watch a student drowned during a swift-water exercise in February 2015; the ministry has a year in which to do so.In the case of Adam Brunt, a young, aspiring firefighter, and trainer Terry Harrison, the Occupational Health and Safety Act didn't apply because there was no employer-employee relationship.That another student died under Harrison's tutelage in Point Edward, Ont., in 2010 had no bearing – Harrison was acquitted of those OH&S charges because, technically, the fire chief, not the trainer, was the supervisor of record; the municipality paid a fine.Police months ago determined that no criminal charges would be laid. But as I said a year ago, how many students have to die before the training industry is regulated and simple standards become mandatory? More than two, apparently.Sure, it's complicated; private training companies do not fall under the purview of the Office of the Fire Marshal, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities or – we now know for sure –the Ministry of Labour.But consider: both deaths happened at the same time of year, during the same type of training, conducted by the same trainer.That, alone should warrant a thorough examination, but given the delay in the inquest into fire fatalities in East Gwillimbury and Whitby, which happened three and four years ago respectively, and the politically motivated timing of the release of the Elliot Lake inquiry recommendations, I'm not holding my breath. - 3. You're all familiar with the phrase local needs and circumstances.So are the municipal politicians in a tiny region of Ontario, the Municipality of the United Townships of Head, Clara and Maria, which is home to about 230 people and, therefore, a very small tax base.In fact, there are so few homes and buildings in the municipality off Highway 17, the Trans-Canada, west of Ottawa and east of North Bay, that there's no fire department – there is a municipal fire-safety officer, but no chief, no trucks, no suppression firefighters, no extrication.Indeed, there hasn't been a fire service since 2008, when council rescinded the bylaw that created it, and sold the equipment as surplus. Simply, the cost outweighed the risk.Which is a problem for the Ministry of Transportation because it owns and operates the province's highways, including the 30-kilometre stretch through Head, Clara and Maria.As is the case in most other provinces, the ministry pays fire departments to respond to collisions on provincial highways and perform extrications. But where there are no fire departments, the ministry – which builds and maintains the highway – has relied on neighbouring departments to do so, in this case Laurentian Hills and Deep River.As Laurentian Hills Fire Chief Kevin Waito told the Ottawa Sun after a collision on Jan. 15 to which the department responded, then was called back, "It's not really every other municipality in Renfrew County's problem to look after them."Provincial police and ambulance services respond but fire, of course, is a municipal responsibility, paid for with municipal tax dollars.Bit of a conundrum.
Feb. 2, 2016, Toronto – There has been a lot of chatter about first-responder mental health since #BellLetsTalk raised more than $6 million last Wednesday: both the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Ontario government have made announcements about partnerships and plans.Talk is great. Action is better.Yesterday, in Mississauga, the first group of 20 firefighters and fire officers (career and volunteer) from across Ontario started a week-long train-the-trainer session run by the Mental Health Commission of Canada – the now-familiar and lauded R2MR program, or Road to Mental Readiness."It's going to change people's lives," said one student, a longtime volunteer firefighter who has, by times, struggled with anxiety and depression and, therefore, has first-hand perspective."Sounds dramatic," she said in an email last night, "but the right tools in the right hands will help so many people. I'm very proud to be part of this."Already in 2016 four first responders and one member of the military have died by suicide, according to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust website.In May, members of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs passed a resolution to institute mental-health training and education. In July, the OAFC announced a partnership with the mental-health commission. Training started Monday; the program will immediately roll out to departments across Ontario. The uptake has been overwhelming – there are four chiefs in the course this week, several officers, firefighters and municipal staff. A second course runs next week (I'm sitting in).Meantime, the CAFC announced last week a separate agreement with the mental-health commission. I wasn't clear on the details from the brief press release but CAFC president Paul Boissonneault clarified in a phone interview that the association will neither develop nor deliver training; rather it will connect interested provincial chiefs' associations or fire departments with the commission.In addition, CAFC representatives participated last week in a roundtable on PTSD in Regina, organized by Public Safety Canada. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has been tasked by the prime minister to create a national action plan on PTSD – lots more talk.And, yesterday in Toronto, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn spoke, briefly, at the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) annual health and safety seminar. The OPFFA, which campaigned for the Liberals in the 2014 provincial election, has been instrumental in the government's introduction of presumptive legislation and had hoped the minister would at least allude to the addition of PTSD to the list of illnesses covered. Flynn, instead, focused on prevention, announcing a four-point strategy that, essentially, and interestingly, aligns with the OAFC's position on occupational stress injuries.Flynn did commit, I'm told, to reviewing the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act once the house resumes sitting (although that bit is not included in the online press release), "to ensure that first responders who become ill from occupational stress injuries have the help, support and treatment they require absent of barriers." I'm not quite clear on that, either.I wasn't in Toronto for Flynn's announcement but OPFFA president Carmen Santoro said later by email that firefighters recognize the importance of prevention and education, but want more."We respect that, but we expect this government to enact legislation to recognize PTSD in first responders and to provide immediate care and help to our members," he said.So, the CAFC has developed plans and partnerships; the union wants presumptive legislation similar to that in Manitoba and Alberta; the OAFC supports preventative measures rather than compensation, in line with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (because, of course, the municipalities pay for the claims under presumptive legislation, and would have to do so for all first responders, not just firefighters) and has begun training firefighters and officers to teach other firefighters and officers about resilience and mental-health awareness through the R2MR program.All of this is happening in the context of minimum, standardized requirements for hiring firefighters. That's another blog for another day but, if resilience is the new buzzword then, just like physical testing, there ought to be systems in place to evaluate a potential recruit's ability to cope with the job, and intense training from the get go to build on those skills (another added cost for municipalities).As for firefighters already in the system – 106,000 of them – most hired or signed on long before #BellLetsTalk or awareness of PTSD, it’s time to take action.Just down the road from me, in Mississauga's Garry W. Morden Centre, even longtime chief officers who have been there and done that have embraced the training."As R2MR spreads across the province, we will develop awareness, resiliency and a culture that supports one another," said one deputy in this week's program, "ending the stigma surrounding mental health."We're already talking. Let's do this.
Purchasing the latest technology is not always the right choice for a fire department. Brad Harvey, a member of Scott Safety's business intelligence team, suggests three keys to success when it comes to understanding technology applications in fire services: stay grounded, engage in innovation and leverage data.Harvey discussed what's involved in those measures during Fire Fighting in Canada's webinar Exploring innovation, held on March 24.Toronto Deputy Chief Darrell Reid, the webinar's second speaker, shared details about his department's recent technology advancements, including the Toronto Radio Infrastructure Project – a radio system designed for the city's fire, police and EMS services – and performance and analytics technologies such as DarkHorse Analytics and LiveMUM move-up module."We are a department that maybe hasn't always embraced technology as quickly as we might have," Reid said, "but in the past few years there has been a real step forward in terms of getting the right people into important positions who have that knowledge in terms of analytics, business intelligence, how to make business cases that are really developed and derived from evidence."Missed the webinar? Register and watch it for free now!
March 2016 - Jan. 11 started much the same as any other Monday morning. The crew members on duty at the Swift Current Fire Department in Saskatchewan completed their morning checks and had prepared for some fire inspections.
Good fire-service leaders know the benefits of a solid and comprehensive strategic plan; it provides the opportunity to analyze the current state, identifies what risks or threats may exist or lie beyond the horizon, can help highlight future opportunities and pitfalls, and can provide the organization with vision, goals, and objectives to pursue in a world of continuous improvement.
In the past few months I have conducted many firefighter physical exams for a number of fire departments. As I was going through the medical assessments, I observed an interesting trend: a significant number of firefighters still smoke.
March 2016 - A college in British Columbia has developed a program to help first responders learn to be more resilient.
Training props are something fire services want and need, but unfortunately not always something they can afford. Getting money from the federal or provincial government seems logical, but that means competing with other departments in your own municipality. What if there are other ways to amass training supplies? The Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service has come up with a few solutions that are worth sharing.
Back in 2008, I was flabbergasted to learn that the Sunrise Propane depot that blew up in Toronto was in a residential area, across the street from ordinary homes.
Feb. 26, 2016 – Hamilton, Ont.-based Quickstop Fire Sprinkler Tools has designed a new product that is an all-in-one tool for firefighters to stop the flow of water from activated or damaged fire-sprinkler heads. The multi-purpose tool, designed by San Diego firefighter Matt Scarpuzzi, is tested to hold 100 per cent water tight up to 2,400 KPA. The tool is designed to released when heated and to function as a temporary sprinkler head in the event of a second fire. The tool is also able to remove FDC caps, make standpipe connections, shut off residential utilities, adjust system pressures (PRV), open oxygen cylinders, block doors open and stop a variety of fire sprinklers. Learn more at: www.firesprinklertool.ca
Feb. 26, 2016 – Pelican Products, Inc., has improved its remote-area lighting system with Bluetooth capability using a smart-phone app (iOS and Android) and a high-efficiency lithium-ion battery. Further upgrades include doubled lumen output with high, medium and low settings, a full-time battery level indicator, and separately-sold external hot-swappable PowerPacks to extend use. The system features a 125-degree bean spread that effectively lights a large area, and a self-deploying tripod for easy placement. Learn more at www.pelican.com
Feb. 26, 2016 – Bayco Products, Inc., maker of Nightstick, has created three new LED safety light models with integrated lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. The models, NSR-2070, NSR-2072 and NSR-2078, combine full-size flashlights rated at 150 lumens and lasting 7.5 hours, with flood/flashing safety lights rated at 50 lumens lasting four hours. The compact, water resistant LEDs are lightweight and made from durable engineered polymer. Learn more at www.mynightstick.com
Feb. 26, 2016 – Holmatro has created a series of materials to teach vehicle extrication techniques. The series includes a 156-page training book written by Holmatro rescue consultant Ian Dunbar, an interactive app for iPads and Androids that explains technical-rescue techniques in detail, posters that illustrate various techniques, and an e-learning platform that can be used as an assessment tool by fire and rescue services. Learn more at http://www.holmatro.com/en/vet
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s Fort Chipewyan fire station in Alberta, under Fire Chief Harold Wylie, took delivery in March of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built pumper. This unit is built on a Freightliner M2 106 chassis and powered by a 330-hp ISL engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. It features a 1,250-gpm Darley PSP pump, a 900-igallon propoly water tank, a Foam Pro 2001 class A/B system, SL-442 Command light, Akron Deck Master monitor with 12-foot electric riser, FRC Q-70 LED 900 scene lights and PAC board lined compartments.
After retiring as fire chief for the City of Waterloo, Ont., I developed Fire Officer III and IV programs for the Ontario Fire College, and have the pleasure of teaching the programs at the college and to Lakeland Emergency Training Centre, in Vermilion, Alta. I am also finalizing plans to teach in Nova Scotia.
Look at any great and successful organization and you will find behind it a great team. The fire service has always been good at developing solid teams (brotherhood) but we shouldn’t take this for granted.
The demands on volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters just seem to keep ratcheting upwards. The results are better-trained, highly competent firefighters who are able to respond to myriad types of emergencies. If there is a downside to this change, it’s the increased demand on members’ time and the consequent effect on recruitment and retention.
In my past few columns I have focused on career development and the importance of post-secondary education for aspiring and current senior officers.
A leader knows that it’s the people – the firefighters in all branches of a department – who make a fire service creative, adaptable and responsive in saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing property damage. Three lines of defence – public education, prevention and emergency response – against the ravages of fire are the raison d’etre for any fire service.
Defining the steps necessary to get a chief’s position is more of an art than an exact science and depends greatly on your background, fire-service tenure and ultimate career goals.
While instructing a fire officer program at the Ontario Fire College, I noticed a shift occurring in the field of leadership.
There is a struggle these days at the top level of fire-service management. The struggle is internal; chiefs must decide whether to concentrate on public safety or support the political/fiscal war on spending. I hear rumblings that the cost of emergency services is increasing too fast. We need to cut costs; taxpayers can not afford to continue to pay high prices for fire protection.I also hear the concerns from the public when a toddler dies in a house fire. Such was the case in January 2014 when a two-year-old died in a house fire in Langley, B.C., Shortly after a fire in May of 2015, Fire Chief Rick Ennis, chair of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition, asked on social media, “Why are we not giving the [recent] fire death of a two year old in a new home the attention it deserves?”I personally and professionally know the pressures and stresses of addressing the affordability of establishing and maintaining a fire service. I also know the importance of public fire safety and the stress of dealing with a fire death – especially one that could have been prevented. Why is it then that we in the fire service toggle so easily between concerns about public safety and those about affordability? Why do we not give potentially preventable fire deaths and injuries the attention they deserve, yet quickly turn to fiscal concerns, attempting to cut costs by reducing services to the public that funds us in the first place to protect them? Why is there a leadership gap or disconnect between affordability and public safety? Are we fire-service/public-safety leaders or are we fire-service treasurers? I’m all for keeping taxation as low as possible; however, I also believe that you get only what you pay for. I must temper that sentiment with the fact that my first priority as a fire-service leader is public safety. How can we give potentially preventable fire deaths the attention they deserve and attempt to cut costs? Can we bridge the gap?Fire Chief Cynthia Ross Tustin of the Township of Essa Fire Department in suburban Ontario has the taken up the challenge on this issue. She is leading the charge on the installation of home fire sprinklers and is adamant that having more homes outfitted with sprinklers is the way forward. She is steadfast in stating that residential sprinklers would not only help prevent fire deaths and injuries, but would also reduce firefighter cancer rates and health risks to homeowners.Saving lives, preventing injuries and lowering property loss through the installation of residential sprinklers may be the way to bridge the gap between enhancing public safety and reducing costs to municipalities. Just as a combination of education and legislation on the topics of seatbelts, smoking and drinking and driving has saved lives, the same could be true for home fire sprinklers.We need to implement massive home-sprinkler campaigns, coupled with strong municipal/provincial legislation mandating the installation of sprinklers in newly constructed homes.The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs also supports mandated sprinklers. According to the OAFC, 220 jurisdictions across North America already have requirements in place for residential sprinkler systems.Firefighters, officers and especially chief officers need to tackle the concerns about affordability of fire services by emphasising public safety through the installation of home fire sprinklers. We can’t keep trying to cut costs by reducing service levels through successive budget cuts. We can’t keep going to the store with $10 expecting to buy $20 worth of groceries, and then expect to eat healthy.Not only will home fire sprinklers save lives and prevent injuries to homeowners and firefighters, they will save money for home owners through lower insurance premiums when combined with public fire safety education and working smoke alarms. This will address affordability. As fire service leaders we have a mandate to be the leaders on public fire and life safety all the while being mindful of fiscal concerns. We need to eliminate the leadership gap between affordability and public safety through a pan-Canadian home sprinkler campaign. We need to get off our duffs, take encouragement from Chief Ross Tustin and be local champions in our communities on this issue. We need to foster stronger partnerships with our colleagues in the sprinkler, construction and insurance industries to save lives, prevent injuries, reduce property loss and be affordable at the same time. Just as most of us have embraced smart phones, eco/green technology in our fire trucks, and the use of tablets in our pumpers, it is time to install fire sprinklers in our homes; we can’t afford not to. You lead as you are.Doug Tennant is the fire chief in Deep River, Ont. Contact Doug at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
A few months ago I accepted the position of fire chief in the Town of Golden, B.C. As I learn and grow into my new role, I am reminded of important facets of leading a diverse group of people who make up a fire department.Over time I’m becoming more familiar with the community, the department and some prominent local issues; but getting to know the members of the department – those who make the organization tick – is of paramount importance. Of course I’m interested in the hard information such as strengths, weaknesses, qualifications and the like, but I also want to know members’ aspirations, their histories, what troubles them and much more. I want to know them like, well, family. One of our members lost his father to a medical emergency a few weeks after I started. I had not met the father, but I, along with a number of our members, attended the service. Why? So we could support our colleague when he likely needed it most. As I work with our officers, I gradually learn their leadership styles, their insights about the department, its way of operating, its challenges and its strengths. My relationships with the officers are much more than operational; they’re personal too. I enjoy hearing anecdotes about previous calls and meeting the partners who support our members; these are vital ways to become part of the fire family. A rapport is also developed with my supervisor as we get to know each other’s work styles and priorities. Elected officials have significant impacts on many aspects of a fire department, from budget considerations to capital projects, levels of service and much more. Those relationships are works in progress and may need to start anew after an election season. A cardinal rule with CAOs and councils is that they don’t like surprises; approach them with solutions rather than problems. Building relationships also extends beyond the municipality to leaders of other emergency organizations, industry representatives and other governmental and regulatory folks. It will take some time to acquaint myself with everyone, but it will be time well-invested.Getting to know the community here is not only a treat, it’s essential too. There is a ton to learn about historical and current issues as they relate to the fire department. I need to gauge whether we’re delivering the right services at the appropriate levels. Are there risks that are not being addressed? Is there public appetite for other changes in our organization? The fire department should, in my view, be part of the social fabric of the community, which means it is critical for the fire chief to be immersed in the community outside of the provision of emergency services. We are a small enough community and fire department that I may occasionally have to operate our trucks or other equipment. I must be familiar with the department’s engines, quint, rescue truck and all other equipment. Because it is a small department, I would not expect my members to perform any task that I couldn’t. Another bonus of being in a smaller centre is engaging with citizens while promoting fire prevention; that might mean presenting to a class in one of our schools or conducting fire- and life-safety inspections in our businesses and other public buildings. Relationships are built in the community, too, as we educate building owners as to why compliance is so vital in order to reduce harm to occupants and minimize property loss. It was bittersweet leaving the community and department in which I had become an integral member, but it is an absolute thrill to create new connections and take on the challenge of leading and managing a new department. I will spend a lot of time observing and learning over the next little while. I will also be an agent of change in some respects. There will be procedures, equipment and philosophies that remain, and others that will change. Change for change’s sake is unwise; so is holding on to current practices simply because we’ve always done it that way. A move to a new department brings into focus many of the strengths and qualities that are needed for day-to-day and long-term leadership of a fire department. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the importance of leadership. Effective leaders, whether a day or a decade into their positions, continually build and strengthen relationships, are fully engaged in their organizations and their communities and are constantly striving to improve themselves.Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. Contact Dave at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB
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.
March 2016 - Public educator Tanya Bettridge has been to several seminars for her job over the years, but the latest one was different.
February 2016 - A shift is happening in the required skill sets of fire-service personnel: firefighters need to be more high-tech than ever, and non-suppression personnel are moving up the ranks. The fire-breathing dragon of the past is long gone, replaced by new challenges such as lightweight construction and alternative energy sources.
It’s that time of year again, when fire departments should start thinking about wildland fire awareness and Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.I know it seems odd that a discussion about wildland fire should begin in the dead of the Canadian winter, but very quickly winter turns to spring, and spring to summer, and – if the proper conditions develop – in many places across Canada that means wildland fire season.According to Natural Resources Canada, wildland fire consumes an average of 2.3 million hectares per year and causes millions of dollars in damage, not just to the forestry industry but also to residential and municipal properties. Wildfire responds quickly to fuels found in the forest, grasslands or backyards, and without proper mitigation and landscape management it will burn homes and any other vulnerable structures in its path.Kelly Johnston, the executive director of Partners in Protection, said unless Canadian communities take action, the threat of wildfires will only become worse.“Wildfires have always been a natural process in Canada’s forests,” Johnston said. “However, as we experienced in 2015, a changing climate, increasing large fire activity and increasing development trends create a serious threat throughout Canada – putting neighbourhoods, communities and firefighter safety at risk every year.”Wildfire is a part of natural ecosystems, however, interface situations can occur in all but the most heavy urban environments. It is important that fire services and their communities recognize that wildfire isn’t just limited to municipalities with towns built within or nearby heavy or dense forests. Wildland interface exists in many more settings such as urban forests, municipal green spaces, farms and recreational areas such as cottage or camp communities. Any place where trees, tall grasses, crops or natural vegetation grow and shed annually should be considered as fuel load that when coupled with an ignition source from human or natural activity all contribute to a wildfire risk.Wildfire management has traditionally been the purview of provincial ministries that work with Natural Resources Canada and co-ordinate with the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. However, there is a growing expectation that municipal structural firefighters will be trained and prepared to respond to and extinguish wildland fires that may or may not impact homes and structures that belong to local taxpayers. There is a great opportunity here for local fire services to take the lead by participating in the second annual national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 7. The national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day program centres around the promotion of wildfire community protection awareness activities. This day is an excellent public-education opportunity for fire services to help community members recognize the hazards of wildfire; suggest ways they can mitigate or prevent wildfire from impacting their community; and teach them ways to minimize any damage done. Partners in Protection Association (the non-profit organization behind FireSmart Canada), in partnership and support from the NFPA, the Co-operators Insurance Group, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction and several provincial natural resources ministries have pooled together $23,000 to award communities that organize Wildfire Community Preparedness Day activities.Beginning Jan. 25 through to March 12, anyone 19 years or older can apply for an award to conduct wildfire-preparedness activities or events. There will be a total of 20 nationally awarded and 14 provincially awarded $500 prizes available. Acceptable projects should focus on reducing the risk of wildfire in a community through education, hazard reduction or advanced-preparedness activities. Projects may include working with neighbours to clear leaves and other combustible debris from gutters of homes and buildings, raking leaves and combustible debris from under decks, moving woodpiles away from buildings, using a chipper service to dispose of slash or winterkill, or distributing wildfire-safety information. Groups of all sorts and individuals of all ages are encouraged to participate.For those communities that may still have snow on the ground on May 7, it is the perfect chance to engage community members in pre-planning and public-education sessions for activities to take place when the snow is gone.To learn more about Wildlife Community Preparedness Day in Canada and how to apply for funding, please visit www.firesmartcanada.ca, or feel free to contact me.Shayne Mintz is the Canadian Regional Director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 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 @ShayneMintz
As public educators we teach, but we are always learning from our audiences. To get our messages across, we need to understand our audiences and determine the best ways to reach them.
A partnership between Regina Fire & Protective Services and a family-advocacy agency has helped to reduce the number of child-caused fires in the city.
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?
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
A strategic partnership has emerged in British Columbia with the intent to reduce fire injuries and fatalities among at-risk populations.
The number of fires and break-ins in an at-risk neighbourhood in Surrey, B.C., dropped significantly after a one-day education and safety blitz conducted by firefighters and RCMP officers.
Aug. 19, 2011 – Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Texas A&M University have devised nanofiber-filled coatings that have outperformed conventional flame retardants used in the polyurethane foam of upholstered furniture and mattresses. The Polymer journal reported test results, which suggested that coating polyurethane foam with this experimental coating seems to create a fire-resistant shield on the foam. ScienceDaily reports.
March 2016 - Say the words Lac-Megantic and a flood of images, feelings and thoughts come quickly to mind. The July 2013 train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Que., was a watershed event in Canada, particularly as it relates to the transportation of flammable liquids and the regulations, policies and actions that producers, shippers and consignors must now consider.
As I got out of my truck in the Walmart parking lot, I heard a voice behind me say, “Hey buddy, any change?” I don’t remember the fellow saying, “Do you have any change?” and so as I went about my shopping, I thought about the way the question was phrased and applied it to my role as a training officer.
Rapid fire development (RFD) is a concern that all firefighters face whether they are undertaking engine-company or truck-company functions. RFD refers to occurrences such as flashover, backdrafts and smoke explosions, and can take place at any structure, at any time of day, anywhere in the country.
The transitional fire attack is a relatively new tactic by name, but some of its practices have been around for many years. This tactic gained traction in the last two years as a result of the studies completed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) in New York and Chicago.
It’s a new year and a new batch of recruits. I have the pleasure of instructing a lot of very able and smart men and women. But, to be honest with you, there will be a few recruits this year who will simply be head and shoulders above everyone else; they don’t just do things, they do them incredibly well.
I’m an old-school gearhead and I take pride in my tools. My standard wrenches are hung in precise order from 1/4 inch up to 1 1/4.
Advancing a preconnect hand line into a structure is a common offensive attack to get water to and on the fire quickly. Another option for engine companies is the blitz attack.
The summer’s wildfire season in British Columbia’s Southern Interior was unprecedented: multiple fires started in our drought-ravaged area and kept us busy well into September.
The final part of this series on the basic skills of engine companies to get water to and on the fire focuses on the process by which water is sent to the nozzle from the truck.
I sat down to write this column between wildfires in late June. Our wildland fire-suppression crew based in Osoyoos, B.C., had just returned from actioning one of the dozen or so fires that resulted from a lightning storm that passed through the area two days before. While we came off reasonably well, our neighbours two hours south in Wenatchee, Wash., suffered tremendous loss. A fire there scorched about 1,194 hectares (2,950 acres), destroyed 29 homes and damaged four business complexes in the commercial area to varying degrees. Although it is now thought that the Wenatchee fire was human-caused, the speed of fire spread is evidence of the tinder-dry conditions we were facing at the time.Our crews remained on standby so I had a limited amount of time to work on this column (it was well overdue). One of my crews is made up mainly of Indo-Canadians who have names like Harsimran, Shiraz and Gurvir, and so I got tagged as Bindar Dundat. These guys crack me up. I have, in fact, been there and I’ve probably done that. And this, as strange as it may sound it, was the basis for this column.I’m 62 years old and still completely sold to the Canadian fire service. I’ve been an officer for more 24 years now. My two sons, Aaron and Casey, and I were often the first ones geared up in SCBA and making entry. Both these guys are still active firefighters; Aaron with Prince George Fire Rescue and Casey with Osoyoos Fire Department, both in British Columbia. And, so my wife and daughter don’t feel left out, I have to tell you (proudly) that they have both spent hundreds of hours on the fire line as wildland firefighters.The fact I’ve been there and done that has enabled me to be a successful trainer, and hopefully an equally successful mentor.Although some folks say 60 is the new 40, my body tells me differently. More and more I find myself choosing the roles of incident commander and safety officer (lookout) rather than the gazelle running up the hill to dig a guard. I think subconsciously I have resisted that change. In many ways I have struggled with this aging thing. It bothered me that I wasn’t the best choice for the entry team.And then the other day on the fire ground I realized that I failed to see the importance and necessity of my role change. In conversation with my crew I discovered that I do have valuable insight and experience to share. Many of you are in or entering this same season in your lives. Don’t sell yourself short, for you too can be a Bindar Dundat.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriaa9182a12a3 Please know that true mentoring isn’t in a group setting; it is generally between two people. As a mentor, you shouldn’t let the new guy struggle to reinvent the wheel. Help him or her, and invest time and energy into his or her progress. Spend time sharing your insights, struggles and victories. Challenge pupils with questions, and get them to think.I noticed that there are a number of departments that send their senior members to various training events. Consider this: training can easily turn into a cost without return when we send someone for training who already has those needed skills or knowledge. I suggest choosing a younger firefighter; one who shows an interest in learning. Send him or her to as many training events as your department can afford. Invest in youth now and the dividends will be big in the future.Every once in a while you come across students who actually want to learn more; they are curious. There are a couple of firefighters I’ve actually taken under my wing. Mentoring can become useless and frustrating when it is forced on individuals, so I have invited them to assist me in running our department’s training program.Mentoring is a long-term path and is limited only by the experience of the mentor. You certainly cannot give more than you have to offer.In the long run our job as training instructors is to make sure that our teams can function without us. It’s your responsibility to make sure that someone is ready to take your place, and that takes time and effort.What if something were to happen to you, and you were unable to return to the department? Who knows where the training records are? Who would fill your role? Would your department have to start over?And if you haven’t already, prepare others to take your place. Don’t wait too long. If you are old enough to remember the Ed Sullivan Show, eight tracks and the Friendly Giant, then you should begin mentoring others immediately.Yes, it is scary to switch roles, but, brother, it will without doubt be one of the best investments you’ll make.Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue. He is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor/evaluator and an ordained disaster-response chaplain. Ed has written Trainer’s Corner for 13 of his 26 years in the fire service. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
September 2015 - The wildland/urban interface is a tricky area as it encompasses forested areas and the urban sprawl.In Alberta, we are lucky to have a state-of-the-art wildland training centre in Hinton. We are also lucky to have many qualified schools, and fire departments that provide instruction to become NFPA 1001 structural firefighters.All agencies try to tackle the wildland/urban interface problem with some type of training – NFPA 1051 (wildland) or Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) S-215 sprinkler training – which is tough, because no agency focuses solely on structural protection during wildfires.I can say from the experience that we had in May 2011 when 40 per cent of our town was burned by wildfires and another 45 homes lost in the surrounding area, that we were unprepared.I have spoken across Canada about what happened that day, and in the years since. I like to think that our regional fire department has done phenomenal work to try to get ourselves to a new standard. I am not saying we are the best, or that we are the only ones who can do it. What I’m trying to say is that there is a need, and firefighters from both wildland and structural departments are trying hard to fill that need.The solution, as I see it, is simple: get firefighters from both sides, who are already the best at what they do, and bridge the training between wildland fire fighting and structural fire fighting. (Let’s call it cross training.)As I stared at 12 Avenue SE in Slave Lake while 35 houses, dozens of campers, and even more vehicles burned around me, I remember two distinct thoughts: 1. We were never taught to expect anything like this. 2. I will do my best to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. These thoughts were later joined by another: this happened in Kelowna in 2003, why didn’t we all learn from that?Since 2011 the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service has been involved in several projects to better train our firefighters and make our community safer.The government of Alberta spent $20 million in and around our community to FireSmart the area and make it safer for the future. I can tell you from the grey hair and stress that this has been no easy feat, but I will also say it had to be done, and the pressure to provide accountability was immense.The project hinged on the seven disciplines within the FireSmart Canada program: fuel management, education, legislation, development, planning, training and inter-agency co-operation. Within each discipline there were dozens of projects, committees, meetings and discussions. After four years I can also tell you that I could not be more proud of our government here in Alberta, our municipalities, and all of the people and agencies that came together. Is the FireSmart project done? No. But I will say that we are headed in the right direction, with the right people, equipment and knowledge. We have tried very hard to share what we have learned and to engage new agencies along the way.Which brings me to this 2015 wildland fire season. It doesn’t take long looking at news articles to recognize that this wildland season has been a bad one, and, as I write this on July 27, I understand that it is a long way from over. We have a young team of fire-service professionals here that was custom built after the 2011 fires, as part of the FireSmart program. This FireSmart crew is trained in all aspects of the fire world including wildland fire fighting, NFPA 1001 structural fire fighting, 1002 aerial ops, 472 dangerous goods, Emergency medical responder, S-215 structural protection, search and rescue, basic fire safety codes officer, technical rescue, ICS 200, emergency preparedness and chainsaw faller certification.At first glance I always get the comment, “These guys are over trained!” That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It has taken all these courses and more, combined with practical, hands-on experience to get our firefighters to a level that allows them complete access to all fires and emergency incidents. We use this crew to train our other full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters. We use this crew as a first-up team to deploy to all types of incidents in our area and throughout Alberta. This team is our connection to dozens of agencies that make up our regional protective-services team.Since 2011, this team has deployed to 11 separate large-scale incidents in Alberta. We have worked from High River in the south to High Level in the north, trying to pay forward all the help that people sent us in our time of need. We work very closely with Alberta Environment Sustainable Resources Development to supply this crew as a helicopter attack crew, and to do structure-protection deployments for ESRD.Working closely with ESRD has given us training, experience and insight that we could not have amassed on our own. This FireSmart crew has led all of our firefighters to new levels of success; this year we have done five deployments, with 40 different firefighters from our region, helping other communities protect their citizens. We have learned a ton at each deployment, and I hope that we have spread some of our knowledge.Everywhere we go our firefighters know that the message is simple: work together, help the people, put your ego in your pocket. This might sound simple but egos and personalities can jeopardize any well-meaning operation. We were very lucky to be called on to assist the Wabasca Fire Department and the Bigstone Fire Department in the Wabasca area north of Slave Lake to protect both of these areas from a wildfire that was just a few kilometres from homes. Thousands of people were evacuated and we were part of a privileged team of structure firefighters, wildland firefighters, RCMP, EMS, and emergency management/municipal/First Nations people who stayed behind to protect the homes. We worked hand in hand, all firefighters, forestry personnel, and emergency agencies. While all of this was going on we had a fire two kilometres from residences just outside of Slave Lake in Municipal District 124. This fire caused the evacuation of dozens of people and crews had to get in there and provide structure protection to nine homes. After just a few days off, ESRD asked us to head to the High Level district to assist with structure-protection duties. After a six-hour drive it was straight to a 50-home structure-protection job with the High Level firefighters.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriad8248fd809 Our FireSmart crew was excited to be able to help such hardworking, dedicated firefighters. The crews worked together and accomplished the job while bombers flew over, and helicopters bucketed, and wildland firefighters fought fire just 500 metres from their location. Fire Chief Rodney Schmidt asked us to send a few more firefighters and some trucks to help with the fight. Three days in, we sent more people and more equipment to join High Level, Peace River, Grande Prairie County, Greenview County and Fort Vermillion firefighters. We all trained together, we all learned from each other, and we all were given the opportunity to help protect the citizens in the area.This firefighting operation was headed by the dedicated professionals with ESRD, in this vast area – three complexes under the management of an area team (a first for me for sure). The daily work keeping hundreds of people, dozens of aircraft and dozens of pieces of heavy equipment all under control within the ICS model was amazing. ESRD’s team pushed through the chaotic days and nights in some of the worst forest-fire conditions on record.During this High Level deployment, a group of firefighters from many towns and First Nations was sent to the Tall Cree Reserve about 120 kilometres from High Level to do structure protection of 39 homes on the north reserve, while 144 people were evacuated. The First Nation firefighters were very gracious and allowed us the use of their fire hall and then their main office as a bunkhouse. There were scary times as the fire sped toward the mixed team of firefighters. Bombers, helicopters and wildland firefighters did the daily battle with the fire to keep it away from all the structures. No homes were lost and no one was injured. Another reserve, at Meandering River, was on standby; this community started its preparation and crews attended the reserve to make an attack plan and do a structure-protection plan. Luckily the wildland firefighters were able to keep this fire away from the community.On the long drive home we watched as fire columns spotted the skies around our area and wondered when the next fire would need us. It came as little surprise when a fire 30 kilometres north of Slave Lake threatened a wildland campus owned by our local college. Wildland firefighters were waging war against this fire that was burning in conditions and had fire behaviour unlike any other season.On the way to this fire we drove through the wildland fire to get to cabins while the ESRD wildland firefighters were doing structure protection on remote sites to the north. Eventually we also worked together to sprinkler a camp, and as per our unusual bad luck, a helicopter crashed close by while we were on site. (The pilot was saved by another pilot and engineer; he had a concussion and broken jaw but, fortunately, survived the experience.)This was the end of a very, very long spring and early summer: our first prescribed burn was March 29 and this fire finished up for us on July 21.I have seen firsthand how well all emergency service groups, governments and citizens can work together. I am proud to have been a part of this unforgettable year. I have also watched in horror as thousands of people were evacuated while emergency workers from all types of groups fought to save their homes in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and other areas of Alberta. We have been able to work with firefighters from Alberta, Ontario, Idaho, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa this fire season. We have the privilege of working in many areas with many groups, all of whom did an unbelievable job of protecting communities and extinguishing wildland fires.In our area, we are trying to do a better job moving forward. We have plans to train more people, expand our training centre and share our knowledge with all who will take it.  We strive to improve ourselves, and to absorb as much as we can while we continue the war on fires. Continued work with all emergency and government groups, and First Nations, will only add to our region’s abilities. As always, I hope people will read this, share their stories and get out of their comfort zones to become bigger participants in the emergency world. Don’t wait for them to come to you – go to them first.Jamie Coutts is the fire chief of Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
It is vital that firefighters hone the skills necessary to get water to and on a fire in order to avoid interruption of suppression efforts. Part 1 of this series, in the August issue, covered the steps and skills needed to get water from the hydrant or water supply to the truck. The next step is advancing the preconnect hand line.Most fire trucks in service today have at least two pre-connected hoselines ready to go when needed. The main purpose of a preconnect is to reduce the time it takes to unload the hose from the truck, roll or deploy it out, hook it up to the pump discharge outlet and then charge the line with water. With a preconnected hoseline, firefighters need only pull off the hoseline from the hose bed and flake it out so that it is ready for water. These two steps can be practised with the following drill.There are a few options available for loading a preconnect hoseline. All options are all variations of the flat load with perhaps a loop or two for easy pulling, or perhaps a minuteman load with easy pull off and easy deployment. The basic hose load is the flat load with no loops or variations. As you can see in photo 1, the basic flat load has all of the hose ends lined up evenly at the edge of the hose bed. The nozzle lies on top of the hose load. Advancing this basic type of hose load can be done in one of two ways: the efficient (right) way or the long (wrong) way. Photo 2 shows the long way. One firefighter grabs the nozzle and starts to walk toward the door of the building or fire location. The single action produces a spaghetti noodle. Just as a spaghetti noodle is produced from a press, a pre-connect hoseline that contains 60 metres (200 feet) of hose will produce a very long line of hose as it is pulled off of the truck. As the firefighter with the nozzle pulls at the hose, the remainder of the line is pulled off the truck by either the backup firefighter or the driver/pump operator. This method is a time-consuming way to pull hose off the truck and ready it for advancement into the structure. Also, at the door of entry for the attack, the nozzle is attached to a straight line of hose extending back to the truck. It will now take a great effort to advance the line into the building. This method of hose deployment is a waste of time and resources. The efficient or right way to pull the load off the truck is to use the folds of the hose as leverage. As you can see in photo 1, the flat load has many loops from the folds that are the perfect size into which to insert fingers. With gloved hands, a firefighter can use three of four fingers per loop to pull a half portion of the load off the truck in one movement. In the same movement, the hose is thrown on the ground to the firefighter’s left side.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria6303573a55 Repeat the motion with the remaining folds to pull the rest of the load off of the truck. The second section of the load is thrown to the ground on the firefighter’s right side. In two quick movements, a firefighter has the entire hose load on the ground and ready to be flaked out. Now, lying on the ground with the nozzle are the couplings of the line. Depending upon the number of hose lengths that were packed for the preconnect, there will be three or four couplings on the ground: two on one side and one or two on the other side. A firefighter grabs the nozzle from the one side and looks for a coupling on the other side. Once both are in hand, the firefighter starts to walk toward the door for entry. If the hose load is pulled off the truck the efficient way, the entire hoseline should flake out by the time the firefighter gets to the door of the structure. The firefighter will also have the nozzle and one coupling in hand. Depending on which coupling the firefighter grabbed, he or she will have either 30 metres (100 feet) or 15 metres (50 feet) of extra hose. Having the nozzle and coupling at the door is a more efficient and easier way to advance the line into the structure. Marking the middle coupling in your hose load will help ensure the firefighter grabs the right one every time. Once the hose is stretched to the door, the backup firefighter can help by flaking out the line so that there are no kinks. At this point the firefighters are ready for water. Photo 3 shows an example of the improper way to flake out hose. The hose should be lined up perpendicular as opposed to parallel to an entry point. Try pulling/advancing a hose around the corner of a building – it will work against you and you will fatigue quickly. Firefighters should line up their hoses in the direction of their travels to ease advancement. In the next issue, we will look at getting water from the truck to the nozzle and then making entry to get water to and on the fire.Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. Mark teaches in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an Instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. He is also the lead author of Pennwell’s Residential Fire Rescue book. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
By now all firefighters are aware of the benefits of social media and many of us are proficient on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. I think it’s time to discuss the risks and hazards associated with social media and what I consider a somewhat disturbing trend in its use.
We all volunteered to become firefighters for a multitude of reasons, and we all have stories about why we chose to help our fire departments. We accept the fact that the role of a volunteer firefighter has changed and includes fighting fires and answering emergency calls for everything from medical calls to hazmat incidents.
Have you ever heard a member of your crew say, “This is not what I signed up for”?
The recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters is critical to the successful and efficient operation of a volunteer or composite fire department.
My life has been built around philosophies – I try to treat people as I wish to be treated and I constantly tell myself that any problems I might have are really not as important to most others.
My daughter graduated high school in June and, like most parents, I was a proud member of the audience for the ceremony.
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

Subscription Centre

 
New Subscription
 
Fire Fighting in Canada
 
Canadian Firefighter
 
View Digital Magazine Renew





Most Popular