Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - Feb. 12, 2016

Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - Feb. 12, 2016

An investigation is underway into a fatal Toronto fire, Laura King reports from R2MR training, and more.

Selling safety

Selling safety

The Minto Fire Department in Ontario uses popular images, hashtags and contests to draw attention to fire-safety messages. Tanya Bettridge interviewed Minto Fire’s administrative assistant and chief about how they market safety in their community.

Trainers Corner: February 2016

Trainers Corner: February 2016

Instructors who challenge recruits physically and mentally during their training, writes Ed Brouwer, will find that they turn out higher numbers of successful candidates.

Firelines: February 2016

Firelines: February 2016

The demands on volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters just seem to keep ratcheting upwards – and the same is true for their chiefs. As Dave Balding writes, chiefs, too, need support.

Editor's blog

Editor's blog

Editor Laura King is feeling a bit stressed over Road-to-Mental-Readiness testing later this week, but stress is relative and, in this case, everyone goes home.

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 4, 2016, Mississauga, Ont. - Day four of five at the Garry W. Morden Training Centre for the R2MR (Road to Mental Readiness) train-the-trainer course.If I thought my brain was full by Tuesday, it's definitely jam packed now. There's not even room for air up there. On Wednesday, we continued to practise and get comfortable with delivering content in what are known as micro-teaches at different times throughout the day.We also continued to review the content in the modules and were provided with background info and research on the material in order to deepen our understanding of the concepts and content. At the end of the day, we were assigned partners and our modules for the practical evaluation component on Friday.This is where stuff got real. The goal now was to spend time getting intimate with our assigned modules in preparation for our evaluations. However, we were also continuing to work on familiarization with program content as a whole. Actually, familiarization isn't the right word. The importance of fully understanding and knowing the material we will be delivering was emphasized throughout.Having sound knowledge of the material and the way it's presented and facilitated leads to credibility. Credibility leads to being open to new information and understanding. Understanding raises awareness. Awareness can save lives.This is not a fluff course, nor is it another notch in the belt that is our resume. This is real. Very real. This program has the power to save lives, and everyone in the course realizes the impact it can have on the lives of emergency services personnel.With each day, the knowledge, understanding and awareness permeates us and becomes a part of who we are. Our tolerance for counterproductive attitudes and behaviors surrounding mental-health issues decrease.We've progressed from learning about it to living it.Thursday we spent most of the day reviewing (again) the entire leadership package, which is the eight- hour course, and the primary package, which is the four-hour course. We reviewed, questioned, reiterated, verified and cemented the absorption of the material.And then we wrote a test.I couldn't help but think that the timing of the test may have been off because we were all experiencing full-brain syndrome from the fast-paced review of the two packages, and many of the participants commented on experiencing brain farts during the test.It also became apparent that it was likely set up that way for a reason. As I mentioned before, the course has been in the works for a very long time. This version of the Mental Health Commission of Canada's program was adapted from the Department of National Defence and Calgary Police Service's Road to Mental Readiness programs. There is a ton of history, research, implementation and evaluation that has gone into this.Every part of the program has been set up the way it has for a specific reason and I can tell you without a doubt that this is one of, if not the most, impactful courses I've ever taken.I joked about the week being like a boot camp, and that having us write the test when we did was the equivalent of some of the Navy Seals training video clips we'd seen in the course. Just when you think you've got a handle on everything, the instructors throw something new at you.That's how committed the instructors are are to ensuring that we're learning, absorbing, recalling and delivering the information correctly.We're being trained be the catalyst for change by raising awareness and ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues.And save lives.A special shout out to our instructors, Valerie and Sergio; your dedication, professionalism, passion and sense of humour inspired us all. Thank you.Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and follow her on Twitter @georgianbayjen
Feb. 3, 2016, Mississauga - Yesterday was Day 2 at Mississauga Fire's Garry W. Morden Centre for the R2MR (Road to Mental Readiness) train-the-trainer program, and after two full days of learning, my brain is full.Program facilitators spent the first day and part of the second day teaching us about the curriculum, going through the entire program delivery, and providing many opportunities to put into practice the concepts and ideals that we were learning about, most of which was done through group work, but at the end of the day yesterday we started to work on actually delivering the program ourselves. We were each given a couple of slides from the presentation and instructed to deliver the content to our fellow group members.To quote one of our instructors, "It was a little like driving a standard for the first time, wasn't it?" Everyone laughed. It was a completely accurate description – maybe not for everyone, but definitely for many of us. It did feel a little jerky, not that smooth, and uncomfortable. But that was the point. It wasn't meant to feel easy because at this point, it's all still very new to us. We're all working on wrapping our heads around what we're learning, as we would in any course, but we're also learning to be facilitators of the program, so we're learning two different aspects.As one of the instructors said, "You have to be the student before you can be the teacher." So we began as students of the program, and then we transitioned into becoming facilitators of the program.The curriculum development has been in the works for a very long time and the research behind it is extensive. The program is very structured, but not without some leniency, and it's very focused, but not without fun. It's also very powerful, both personally and professionally, for me.As many of you know, I've had my own experiences with depression, anxiety and PTSD in the past, and that was a strong motivator for me being here this week. Over the past two days I've experienced many emotions and reactions to the discussions we've had in class, and it has served as both a reminder and a reason for why this is so important.Just to clarify, it hasn't been overwhelming for me at all. In fact, quite the opposite: some of the discussions have helped me understand things that I've experienced in the past that perhaps weren't ever explained to me in that particular way. Having that understanding is such a valuable tool (if not a necessity) for supporting and helping others struggling with mental-health issues.It's also shown me how far I've come from where I once was. I said a silent thank you to the good Lord for my courage and resilience (because make no mistake, it takes courage to face your demons), and solidified my determination to help bring awareness and efforts to ending the stigma surrounding mental-health issues.At the beginning of the course, I was hesitant to say too much. As I explained to a classmate, "I'm afraid that if I say too much, they'll know right away that I have a history. They'll see right through me." I also admitted to realizing that I was judging myself, in that I was worried that my classmates would see me as weak, or soft, or even damaged goods, as I had often thought of myself as in the past.The irony is that this is the exact talk that we're trying to prevent, in an effort to end the stigma. And here I was doing it to myself, right in the middle of course teaching us not to do that to others.As the day winds down, in my retrospective, introverted way, I review the past two days and their impact on me. There's been a morning chuckle each day; Monday's was having Mississauga Chief Tim Beckett smile and come over to say hi and shake my hand: I thought he was smiling at someone behind me, because I was sure he wouldn't remember meeting me a couple of years before at the Ladders Up for the Foundation fundraiser. Silly introvert!)Yesterday's funny was waking up to strange sounds coming from the neighbouring room in the hotel I'm in (we'll leave it at that), and then having the hairdryer short out and start spewing out smoke. I ran to the window and opened it up while trying to vent the room by waving around the heavy curtains. I was more concerned with tripping the fire alarm than I was with being seen half dressed. Good thing it was early in the morning because I don't think the patrons at Chuck E Cheese next door would have appreciated such a sight.You really have to be able to laugh at yourself in times such as those because life can be hard enough on us, which why I'm so proud to be a part of this pilot course, a program which, as I said to editor Laura King, is going to change people's lives.Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow her on Twitter @georgianbayjen
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.
Jan. 5, 2016, Waubaushene, Ont. - I came across a post on Facebook recently about the acronym ;IGY6 on a page called Stop the 22 A DAY (which is dedicated to raising awareness about suicide from PTSD). The people who started the Facebook page were made aware of the acronym through a member of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association in Texas – it's a patch that many of them wear. However, many people are also having the acronym made into a tattoo, which is how it caught my eye.The meaning behind ;IGY6, according to the Stop the 22 A DAY Facebook page, is this: "The semicolon is from the Project Semicolon. When an author writes a sentence and is at the point of ending it, but wants to continue, they can use a semicolon. It creates pause. Almost like a thought, a reconsideration of the cessation of a sentence, or in this case, your life."IGY6 stands for I Got Your 6 (back). The colours also carry a meaning. Teal is for PTSD awareness, black is for the heavy hearts that many of us carry – those who suffer from PTSD and those who have lost loved ones to suicide because of PTSD. Red is a symbol of the blood that has been shed.So when you combine it all, the acronym it is a way of saying that if you are thinking about taking your life, PAUSE, it is not time to end, I've got your back and will help you through it and stand by your side. If you ever see someone wearing ;IGY6 as a patch or tattoo, know that they will help you.The tattoo is usually on the right arm so it is easily visible when shaking someone's hand, which will lead to a conversation and hopefully help for someone in need.I had to ask my husband to explain the connection between the number 6 and the word back; he explained that it's a military thing related to the clock, as in when you're behind someone, you're positioned at his or her 6, or back.Words cannot even describe the depth of what I felt when he explained this to me.Not only am I very aware of what the semicolon means; having experienced PTSD, the impact of what IGY6 meant hit me like a ton of bricks.I sat there speechless for a moment and my husband looked at me and said, "What's up?"I explained to him that I was amazed by how something so simple could have so much meaning on so many levels. Sometimes it's hard to describe what the fire service means to firefighters and for me, this phrase said it all.Even though we may not always see eye to eye with fellow firefighters, there is no doubt in my mind that each and every one of the guys and girls on my department would have my back if things went south on a call. And I would have theirs – 100 per cent.We should have each other's backs all the time, but we are human after all, and we are all unique individuals with different perspectives and opinions, so sparks are bound to fly once in a while.But when it comes down to it, whether it's a friend in a time of need or a firefighter in a time of chaos, ;IGY6. And I know that you've got mine.Special shout out to my fellow firefighters on Georgian Bay Fire Department for having my 6 all these years.Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it @georgianbayjen
Jan. 3. 2016, Winnipeg - If you’re thinking of getting your 2016 off to a great start you could make one of those new year’s resolutions to get in shape – where you work out hard for about two weeks, then start slowly making excuses as you miss workouts and rationalize away your fitness goals to the point at which it is everything else and everyone’s else’s fault but yours that you failed. Sounds harsh I know, but I’ve been there; I speak from experience on this one and I know some of you have also struggled with goals at some point in your own lives. What if we got past these minor mental letdowns and we turned them around to be connected strings of successes? This could add up to our best year ever! This new year, instead of making a physical commitment for better health, maybe it’s time to make an ideological change. Maybe it’s time we train our brains to move past the temporary failures of promises not kept and take control of our lives for once and for all. Imagine what that kind of power could do for your goals. Maybe this is your year to take responsibility for your life and truly achieve what it is you’re after! I wanted to share with as many firefighters as possible a new book that teaches you how to take ownership of your life. Now I will never profess to being a professional book reviewer, however my own journey of development has allowed me to read too many leadership, management and improvement books that all start to say the same things, with the same ideas, and the same objectives that ultimately form the basis for a murky picture of what self leadership truly is. The problem is most of the books are not for firefighters, or do not have the linkages to our culture and way of thinking. I don’t have to tell you that our way is unique to almost every other vocation out there. So finding resources that can inspire us is a tall task. Until now.  I received and quickly devoured Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin as a gift this Christmas. Willink and Babin didn’t know they were writing a book specifically for firefighters; in fact they actually were writing the book for everyone because in my opinion they see at times a problematic world which, in their words, a lack of extreme ownership is the No. 1 issue. There has never been a book not written for firefighter that is so truly intended for firefighters. Extreme Ownership does not make any groundbreaking revelations about leadership. Truth be told, no one has made any major advancements in academic theory on the subject in years, so what we are left with is who can best clearly explain the concepts in a way that resonates for your unique situation. The book’s power comes from the simple and clear messages told through epic stories of battlefield conflict in the United States-led Iraq war on terror in the city of Ramadi, and how the lessons learned relate to your life and business. Both the authors were there as Navy Seal leaders who led SEAL Team Three’s task unit Bruiser. Their stories will make every firefighter take a good hard look at his or her own personal accountability and ask if he or she has the ownership required to succeed. How SEALs think, operate, and maintain a culture teamwork and discipline is not unique to just their profession as the fire service embodies much of the same thinking. However, Navy SEALs take leadership to the extreme. For this reason it makes perfect sense for SEALs to coach firefighters on teamwork, leadership and brotherhood. I remember being in a bar in New York City just blocks away from Ground Zero called Suspenders on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 when a about half a dozen Navy Seals came  down the stairs to where more than 100 firefighters from all over North America were enjoying a few beers and celebrating the lives lost 10 years ago. Within a few minutes, word had spread around the bar about who these gentleman were, then the line started. I’ve never seen firefighters star struck; certainly no other emergency service workers would command so much respect, but these men became the focus of the evening much to their chagrin. The SEALs were humble and respectful, shaking hands and accepting the appreciation.  Their team took a corner table in the back of the bar, backs to the wall as if to scope out the exits and survey the room. It will always be one of my fondest memories of my NYC trip. So if you have ever wanted to learn, grow, and expand your knowledge on leadership but were hesitant to dig into what you might think is a management book or a dry academic text, this book will be your new mantra. One of the authors, Willink, has already inspired me with his 5 a.m. postings of photos on social media of his militant discipline for taking charge of his life. It is my goal to challenge this man and make myself better by getting up before him and posting my work out before he even gets out of bed! There are no direct references to the fire service in the book but there are more than a dozen fully applicable tactics and strategies that will have you thinking these naval specialists wrote the book on some of our traditional rules and methods that have been a part of us for more than a century. One of the best chapters is Chapter 2, No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders, which uses story of switching the leaders of two opposing boat crews that are on complete opposite ends of the success spectrum. How it turns out and the lesson learned are so applicable to our own fire service issues that I think the authors might have written the story about us. So this is where I turn the page and leave you with your own ability to choose. Will you take extreme ownership? I know what I want to do; this book has given me the fuel to make some positive steps through which I take ownership. Happy new year and here’s to owning our futures!Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Email him at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and follow him on Twitter @firecollege
Jan. 3, 2016, Mississauga, Ont. - My phone had been buzzing all afternoon, with texts, whatsapps and Facebook messages from my friends around the world.
Nov. 19, 2015, Niagara Falls, Ont. – I don't think Matt Pegg quite scared the daylights out of delegates to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) midterm meeting during his president's address Wednesday morning, but he certainly got their attention with that six-letter word the fire service loves to hate: change.By a show of hands, about one-third of the 180 chief fire officers in the room will retire within five years. Everyone has a succession plan, right?Other fear factors?Government: Liberal majorities in Toronto and Ottawa, which has considerably altered the OAFC's (and CAFC's) government-relations strategy.The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM), led, temporarily we're assured, by an OPP inspector whose mandate is to shake things up, rock the boat, clean house, streamline – choose your cliché.Taxpayers, who are tired of hearing about firefighters sleeping in the halls and having $500,000 trucks respond to medicals. "Is the public love affair with the fire service over?" Pegg asked, rhetorically.And jet packs. Pegg isn't known for levity, but his PowerPoint slide showing a fire officer in Dubai with a $150,000 jet pack to be used in high-rise fires was certainly an entertaining diversion.All of which was interesting given the lengthy roundtable sessions Tuesday at which issues such as recruitment-and-retention incentives, platooning in volunteer halls, daytime coverage, adequacy standards (there's a can of worms!), cancer prevention (do your firefighters have two sets of gear?) and myriad labour-relations issues were dissected, discussed, debated and determined to be crucial to maintaining vibrant and healthy departments.With the focus on doing things differently it was no surprise when interim Fire Marshal Ross Nichols showed up in a suit (not a uniform), backpack slung over his shoulder, spoke for three minutes following a preamble by Matt Torigian, the deputy minister of community safety, then opened the floor to questions.Interestingly, Torigian acknowledged the chiefs' frustration over the pace of change – or lack thereof – within the OFMEM, and with policies and procedures (such as, I thought, the review of the provincial incident management system as recommended by Elliot Lake Commissioner Paul Belanger). "Bureaucracy," Torigian mused, tends to move slowly.And while it was rather amusing to have two cops on the stage – Torigian was police chief in Waterloo, Ont. – given the number of fire chiefs in the room who had traded guns for hoses (their phrase, not mine), Nichols and Torigian were frank, knew the issues and the problems, and seemed fully aware of the angst among chief fire officers over standards and training and support and communication from the OFMEM.Perhaps the 45-minute presentation/Q&A was the feel-good session fire chiefs needed after years of frustration with the OFM, essentially since Bernie Moyle retired in 2006 after 16 years as fire marshal.There were some blunt comments from the floor – about the mass exodus from the OFMEM, about chaos in the office, the lack of support, the absence of communication.There were also tough questions – about the status of the Fire Marshal's Public Safety Council, which no one seems to understand ("It's my council," Nichols acknowledged, and promised to deal with it), about communication, which Nichols said would – and already has – changed, about the Ontario Fire College and how to keep it accessible to volunteers given the government's commitment to full cost recovery.While neither Torigian nor Nichols had many well-developed answers given the fire marshal's matter of weeks on the job, they told fire chiefs what they wanted to hear: they understand the challenges, they are listening, they will work with the OAFC and chiefs across the province.Change indeed.
Nov. 19, 2015, Port Severn, Ont. - They say there is always something to be learned from every experience you have in life. At least, that's what I like to think.
Nov. 17, 2015, Niagara Falls, Ont. – Accountability; to most of us, it means systems and boards and tags and making sure everyone goes home.
February 2016 - As a training officer, I believe that e-learning dramatically improves fire-service training, which, in turn, allows us to serve our communities more effectively.
February 2016 - In our fire departments, we throw around terms such as leadership, accountability and management. Why do these terms matter and why do we always talk about them?
Firefighters may be injured while performing actions for which they have been trained, but injuries while getting on or off the rig or while removing a piece of equipment can be avoided. Understanding a fire truck’s ergonomic features and their maintenance can help prevent unnecessary injuries.
There is a sort of cliché that Americans and many Canadians say to returning military: “Thank you for your service.” Some soldiers appreciate it; many hate it because they figure that it’s easy to say but doesn’t begin to reflect an understanding of what they’ve been through.
This time last winter, when my younger offspring was looking for a place to live in Toronto for the 2015-2016 school year, he went with a buddy to see a basement apartment. I was less than enthused.
January 2016 - Sitting in a boardroom at Toronto Fire Services, Jim Sales recounts an anecdote offered by a member of the fire chief’s council on equity and diversity.
When I set out to write Tim-Bits, I try to pick a topic that centres on modifications I’ve learned over my years of fire fighting that simplify an ordinary task. This column, however, is a bit of a stretch; I’m going to broach the topic of technical rescue.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time working out has experienced boredom or lack of motivation. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. The good news is that we benefit from variety. Your body is very smart and adapts by finding easier ways to complete routine tasks. Mixing things up is ultimately an advantage and should improve your results.
There are very few ingredients in the cooking world that have the versatility, mass appeal, and recipe variation as the incredible edible egg (thanks for that one, Canadian Egg Farmers!).
January 2016 - We had just finished a two-week drought – zero calls for the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service in Alberta. It was Friday night, Nov. 15, and we were all talking about how people must have settled down and we were finally going to enjoy some quieter times. A couple of hours later, at around 6 p.m., we were paged to a confirmed fire at a single-family dwelling. Off we went, loaded up our initial attack truck with a few guys and blazed over, loaded up our ladder truck and tried to find a spot, and finally took the main fire truck and a few extras in a pickup. 
When I looked in the mirror on the morning of my 44th birthday, I had a profound thought: it wasn’t the wrinkles I noticed, although I knew they were there; it was much deeper than that.
On that worst day, when Mrs. Smith – or Mrs. Singh or Mrs. Ahmad – calls 911, does it matter who shows up as long as the responders are properly trained and do their jobs to the best of their abilities?
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.
Leadership is about sharing knowledge and demonstrating a clear vision; it is also about inspiring others around you. Imagine starting each shift with a clear understanding of our purpose – our why. I want to share a simple idea that can bring you and your fire department to greatness.
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.
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.
October 2015 - You can see them coming. It’s almost comical that they think you won’t notice their evasive manoeuvres. There are the power-walkers who blow by your entire row, there are the if-I-don’t-make-eye-contact-I’m-safe folks, and then there are the ones who glance in your direction, their sensors picking up the safety aspect of your display and they high-tail it to the next area of booths. If my chief would let me, I’d post a sign that says, “We see you. We know you’re avoiding us on purpose.”
My department’s philosophy for making everyone a public educator is to create partnerships within our own Brampton Fire and Emergency Services.
You know the kid: he or she is practically a woven pattern around mom’s leg, peaking out then darting back for cover. When asked a question or prompted to (heaven forbid) touch something, the chin lowers to the chest and the body twists even closer to parental flesh, as if dad will risk his life to protect against . . . a firefighter helmet.
You’re the fire chief – what can you tell me about residential fire sprinklers? Did you know the NFPA can help?
Three Breast Friends put one foot in front of the other and set off on an adventure they never expected.
How do we help every member of the fire service educate the public about fire safety?
Earlier this year, the National Geographic channel aired a six-part documentary, titled Inside Combat Rescue.
Being in the fire service seems to imply to others that we are tough and armour plated.
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.
Firefighters responding to motor vehicle collisions (MVCs) rarely think about scene preservation. The No. 1 concern for first responders is to get to the scene as safely as possible and to gather relevant information from dispatch while en route to help determine what actions are required by rescuers.  However, every significant MVC is potentially a crime scene, therefore it is essential that evidence can be collected. Preserving evidence is often difficult at large incidents because the first priority of emergency services is to save lives and take care of casualties. Inevitably, establishing control posts, rescuing and treating casualties, and taking steps to prevent escalation of the incident disturbs the ground at the immediate site of the incident. To prevent unnecessary destruction of evidence, incidents must be co-ordinated to protect scenes. Traffic-collision investigators jokingly refer to first responders as evidence-eradication teams. Crucial evidence from MVC scenes is often moved or destroyed by either emergency medical personnel or firefighters who are simply performing their jobs as they have been trained to do. First responders should be aware of what is involved with traffic-collision investigations in order to, when possible, preserve evidence at crime scenes. Traffic investigators often arrive at the scene when emergency-response crews are in cleanup mode, well after they have finished the job. Post-incident cleanup is one of the most crucial periods during which to preserve evidence. First responders can be great resources to traffic investigators by identifying the initial positions of patients in vehicles, seatbelt use, road and weather conditions, and providing details about how the scene was found and what was moved. With data from the rescuers, investigators can document the original position of physical evidence. Scene preservation for evidence collection is needed to: Ensure that any evidence is not contaminated. Physical evidence must be protected from accidental or intentional alteration from the time it is first discovered to its ultimate disposition at the conclusion of an investigation; Help in establishing the cause of an incident; Gather information to prevent a further incident from occurring; Accurately identify and assess the damage attributable to the incident. Evidence is gathered in variety of ways, including photographs, videos, forensics and witness statements.There are two principle types of errors that damage scenes under investigation: commission and omission.Errors of commission: occur when emergency personnel destroy existing evidence or add evidence. Examples are: Smearing fingerprints on the steering wheel, seatbelts, inner-door handles Stepping on evidence of skid marks, alcohol containers Adding your own fingerprints on the steering wheel, inner-door handles Rearranging the scene, such as picking up a cell phone from the floor of the vehicle Errors of omission: occur when personnel fail to recognize evidence. Examples are: Failure to notice odours Failure to listen to occupants or persons standing near the scene discussing the event Failure to take efforts to protect existing evidence that may otherwise be destroyed Failure to notice unusual actions or behaviours Most of these types of errors are unintentional, but they still complicate the investigation. First responders should be aware of the problems commonly found at scenes and the needs of the investigating officers to help to prevent some of these difficulties.When should first responders expect an MVC investigation? According to protocols, MVC investigations will occur when death or serious injury is expected, imminent or known to exist, someone has fled the scene and injury or death has occurred, an involved driver is believed to be intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the incident is major and of an unusual nature (coach bus, school bus, train), or the collision involves hazardous materials.First-arriving crews should: Make mental notes about the scene upon arrival. Take note of weather conditions, heat, cold, light dark/dusk, smells, noise. Make a note or inform an investigator if you need to move something such as a vehicle or pole and include it in the report. Move vehicles and debris only if a real potential danger exists. Disturb the scene as little as possible. Take photos or have a higher-ranking officer take photos as the scene or situation progresses if your department policy allows (always follow your department’s procedure for photography at scene!) Take photos if things must be moved and investigators are not yet on scene. Leave all bodies and body parts as found if possible. If bodies need to be moved to gain access to live patients, make a mental note as to the location and relay that information to the investigating officer, and included in your witness statement and fire report. Cordon off the affected area and limit access (when it is safe to do so). Do their best to preserve the integrity of evidence. Physical evidence can be very fragile; objects can be easily broken, misplaced, removed, cleaned up, destroyed and distorted. Preserve the scene until it has been photographed and recorded. Do not spread sand or hose down the road until after the scene is examined. The condition or appearance of seatbelts is also critical information for an investigator because it can reveal facts about high-speed collisions (less so for low-speed collisions). If a seatbelt is cut it is a good indicator that it was worn during the collision. However, if a person was ejected it may suggest that the belt was not worn. If rescuers cut the belt, crucial information such as blood, hair, dirt or glass can be hidden as the belt recoils back into the spool. Bruising on the patient’s shoulder closest to the door side is an indication of seatbelt use. Depending on the severity of the collision forces, a deformed steering wheel may indicate that the driver was not wearing a belt. Note that if the seatbelt pretensioners were activated during the collision, the belt will not recoil. Burst threads or fibres on the belt indicate it was under load and possibly stretched. Even the floor-mounting plates that attach the lower belt sections to the vehicle could be deformed from severe force during the collision. Other signs of seatbelt use or non-use can be verified if there has been occupant impact within the vehicle; for example, hair stuck in the plastic trim on an upper A/B pillar or dash area may suggest a person was not wearing a seatbelt during a roll-over. If rescuers use their tools in any of these areas in order to extricate a patient the metal could be distorted and evidence destroyed. If possible, the investigator should be made aware of any observed evidence. A good rule of thumb for an extrication officer is to designate dedicated debris piles of dismantled vehicle parts for each vehicle involved, facing upward to preserve crucial evidence. Rescuers may often decide to move a vehicle from its original position to reduce extrication time or to gain access to critical patients. The officer in charge should make this decision. After a vehicle is moved, mark the former positions of the wheels on the ground if possible. Tire-pressure monitoring systems – Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 138 – are mandatory on all new cars sold in the United States and while they are not required in Canada, most late-model vehicles have them. If a rescuer lets the air out of the vehicle’s tires, let the investigator know this was done intentionally for rescuer/patient safety and not as a result of the incident. Depending on the vehicle manufacturer, tire-pressure monitoring in late models will help determine tire inflation or blowout, which is recorded in the vehicle’s event data recorder (EDR) – also referred to as the black box.An EDR is a device that records technical information about the occupants and the actual vehicle for a brief period of time prior, during and after a crash, typically for a few seconds. Crash data is hard written in an EDR, meaning once it is recorded it can’t be erased, even if the battery is disconnected after the crash. However, rescuers with hydraulic tools can inadvertently crush the box, which can make it more difficult to access the information stored inside. Rescuers must do their best to avoid damaging the EDR and protect the crucial evidence. With crash data, an accident reconstructionist can determine facts about the cause. (Watch for more on EDRs in a future column.)After the extrication, the officer in charge should stop unwanted visitors from entering the cordoned-off areas. If extraneous people do have to enter the scene (i.e. tow-truck operators), make sure they are escorted to prevent them from inadvertently destroying any valuable evidence. Emergency personnel have a responsibility to properly record all of the facts surrounding a crash/incident. As difficult as it may be, firefighters must do their best to emotionally detach themselves so that reports of the incident are rational and accurate interpretations of the events. Each firefighter’s conclusions must be centred on the facts and statements gathered, heard and known to be true. For example, if I’m rendering medical care to a patient, part of my initial assessment is to establish level of consciousness. If my patient smells of alcohol and shows signs of intoxication I would need to ask certain questions to establish this fact. I cannot assume that just because I smell alcohol on the person or in the vehicle that they are indeed under the influence of alcohol. I must ask the patient if he or she have been drinking alcohol and how much had been consumed in the last couple of hours. If the patient confirms that he or she consumed alcohol, only then can I state that in my report as fact rather than an assumption. I can write, “The patient admitted to drinking alcohol,” or, “Patient had slurred speech, blood shot eyes and his breath smelled of an alcohol-like odour.” Both statements are facts and not conclusions.Traffic crashes are not accidents, but are avoidable events caused by a single variable or chain of variables. When an investigation is complete and the cause has been determined, anyone found guilty of causing the collision can be prosecuted. Investigations do not only apportion blame; from a rescuer standpoint, they can also highlight the need for improvements to road and vehicle safety to help prevent collisions. The goal of rescuers should be to assist traffic investigators in reducing traffic injuries and fatalities by addressing the factors that cause them.Randy Schmitz is a Calgary firefighter extensively involved in the extrication field. He is the education chair for the Transport Emergency Rescue Committee in Canada. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. 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For the past eight years, this column has explored the rapid intervention team (RIT) and the many aspects of that important fire-ground assignment. As we begin a new year, I want to turn our attention from rescuing other firefighters to rescuing ourselves.
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.
A common rescue incident in the fire service involves a person trapped underneath a motor vehicle; this may be a result of a pedestrian being struck at a road crossing, or a weekend mechanic working on the underside of a raised vehicle unattended when the support method fails. There are a few options to remove a patient from this intensive situation quickly and effectively with the least amount of danger to the victim.
In the world of technical rescue, the Stokes basket is a main piece of equipment. The basket is used for patient packaging and transfer from one elevation to another during a rope rescue, confined-space rescue, or even water rescue if it is equipped with floatation devices. Many fire departments carry Stokes baskets on their fire trucks for rescue scenarios, but this versatile piece of equipment is also valuable for the rapid intervention team (RIT).
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
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
There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses.

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