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Although there can be a heaviness surrounding the profession of fire fighting – PTSD, injuries, fatalities, cancer – there is an equal, if not greater, lightness. The laughter, the friendly banter, the rich history and tradition, the brotherhood. By Jennifer Grigg

Guest Column:  November 2014

Guest Column: November 2014

It was a phone call that all chiefs dread: a firefighter had collapsed while getting on a truck to respond to an emergency call, was being rushed to hospital in serious condition and may not make it. By Terry Gervais and Bonnie Boomhower

Efficiency in design

Efficiency in design

Lance Spencer, a regional account manager for Fort Garry Fire Trucks, says there has been a definite shift in the trend in trucks toward multi-purpose vehicles – apparatuses that combine pumpers, tankers and more in one unit. By Olivia D’Orazio

Firelines: November 2014

Firelines: November 2014

Change is something progressive fire-service leaders must embrace to help keep firefighters safe and do the best job they can to protect their communities. By Dave Balding

Back to Basics: November 2014

Back to Basics: November 2014

The portable fire extinguisher is one of the most undervalued tools in the fire service. Every fire truck is equipped with at least one of these devices, and many trucks carry a variety of extinguishers. By Mark van der Feyst

Nov. 26, 2014, Port Severn, Ont. - I was watching A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY on TV. Vincent Dunn was talking about when he was promoted to district chief 10 years after 12 FDNY firefighters lost their lives in a building collapse, and he began writing book after book about structural collapse. He told his wife that information just kept pouring out of him, and it became his post-traumatic stress debriefing.
Last Friday I was tasked by the chief of the household, my wife Jennifer, to pick up our two younger children, Nick and Michaela, at school. When I was met by Michaela’s aide – as a child with autism, Michaela has special needs – I was given the synopsis of her day and was told she had a great day baking brownies and took particular joy in handing them out and sharing with her classmates.
Nov. 11, 2014, Toronto – There’s still so much to say about the report into what happened in Elliot Lake in June 2012, when the roof of the Algo Centre mall collapsed. But I’ll stick to what I find most frustrating.
Nov. 6, 2014, Toronto – We know you don’t like change. (Neither do we – don’t tell our bosses!) But technology and a demand for more original content from our writers and columnists that you can more easily access on your smartphones and tablets led us to redesign our website. It’s change for the better!
Nov. 6, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - This past weekend, everyone should have rolled their clocks back an hour (unless you are in Saskatchewan) to observe daylight savings time. On Friday, my dad and I took it a step further and turned the metaphorical clock back by going to watch an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators. The outing took me back to a time when I was a kid and we would go to Maple Leafs Gardens to watch Dave “Tiger” Williams take the fight to visitors on Carlton Street. Sadly, over the weekend, turning back the clock could not help five people across the country who were killed as a result of residential fires in Sooke, B.C., Toronto and St. Catharines, Ont. The fatalities in Sooke occurred in a house without working smoke alarms. It’s 2014 and we are still responding to homes in Canada that do not have working smoke alarms. You all must feel as frustrated as I do when you read news articles about fire-related deaths and injuries every day on the Fire Fighting in Canada website. “Change your clocks. Change your batteries.” It is not a new program, yet we still do not seem to get the message across. With the prevalence of social media, have we, as a fire service, forgotten about those who may not be plugged in? The Alberta government announced changes to fire code last week, making it manditory to have sprinklers in seniors’ residences, which falls on the heels of the horrible fire in L’Ise-Verte, Que., last year. Ontario took similar measures in May last year. This is great, but other provinces have to follow suit before more of our vulnerable citizens fall victim to heat and smoke. Of course, these code changes only affect those seniors living in care homes. In Canmore, Alta., the fire department, led by Fire Chief Todd Sikorsky, has teamed up with the local Canadian Tire this week to promote fire safety within the community’s aging population. The town, department and store are offering smoke-alarm battery replacement for free to seniors and people with mobility issues. Canmore Fire and Rescue staff will visit homes and all people have to do is make an appointment by calling the fire station. This is a great program being offered by the mountain town of about 12,000, and hopefully other departments across Canada will follow this lead to promote seniors safety in their communities. Just as it was great, as a kid, to watch Maple Leafs take the fight to visitors of the Gardens, it is exciting to watch fire departments take the fight to fires that occur far too often across this country. But the consequences of losing this fight are far greater than adding to penalties in minutes (PIM) on the stats sheet. As we saw this past weekend, we need to win this fight to keep from adding to the death and injury stats – a far more important game. Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof
Oct. 30, 2014, Prince Albert, Sask. - I recently had the opportunity to present at the Southern Alberta Fire Department Conference in Lethbridge. I also had the privilege during the conference to listen to three men who are passionate about changing the fire service.
Oct. 29, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - Oh Canada, our national anthem. I have to admit, in recent years, any time I’ve been at a sporting event, I stood and shuffled from foot to foot, mouthing the words. Last week was very different. I think I sung the anthem at least a half dozen times in my car, at work, at home.
Oct. 27, 2014, Gravenhurst, Ont. – It was Day 2 of a courtroom procedures course at the Ontario Fire College. I had a great sleep, was up early, had been down to the dining room and grabbed my morning cup of coffee. Back in my room, Breakfast Television was live streaming on my laptop; I had a coffee in hand, and was ready to blog.
Oct. 20, 2014, Port Severn, Ont. - I had a conversation with a fire chief recently that I’m still pondering. The meeting had been arranged by a mutual acquaintance, and it provided me with a fascinating view of myself.
Oct. 15, 2014, Elliot Lake, Ont. – In case you had trouble reading between the lines earlier today when I wrote about the poorly executed emergency response to the mall collapse here in June 2012, let me spell it out for you.
Oct. 14, 2014, Toronto - Three of Canada’s four remaining HUSAR teams are likely to downsize and become regional response teams without renewed federal funding for the heavy urban search and rescue sector.
Oct. 12, 2014, Toronto – If a mall in small-town Ontario collapsed today, would the emergency response be any different than it was on June 23, 2012, in Elliot Lake? Probably not.
It was a phone call that all chiefs dread: a firefighter had collapsed while getting on a truck to respond to an emergency call, was being rushed to hospital in serious condition and may not make it.Twenty-year-old Jessica Boomhower was at the Greater Napanee Emergency Services headquarters station on June 25 waiting to complete a classification exam with other probationary firefighters when a call came in for a car fire. While getting on the truck to respond, Jessica felt ill and had to be helped off the truck. The crew began to provide medical attention to Jessica but quickly realized that something was seriously wrong. Capt. Matt Westhead, who is a paramedic, recognized signs of a brain injury and updated the paramedics who arrived to take Jessica to Lennox & Addington Memorial Hospital, where she was assessed and immediately transferred to the Kingston General Hospital. Jessica was unconscious and not breathing on her own. As I drove to the hospital many thoughts ran through my head. How this could happen to such a young person? How is the crew doing? Is the fire-service chaplain available? One other thing weighed heavily on my mind: how would our department handle another tragedy? On one weekend in 2010, two highway crashes killed the wife of one firefighter and seriously injured several other firefighters and their family members; we had also endured the sudden death of the two-year-old son of one of our firefighters. Several months earlier, longtime Fire Chief George Hanmore had died of cancer.   When I got to the hospital I was met by Assistant Chief John Koeing who updated me about the status of our firefighter: Jessica had a bleed in her brain. I then met with Jessica’s parents, Bonnie and Dale, who are both firefighters with our department; they were surrounded by other family members, friends and firefighters. This situation was very serious and I will never forget the words from the surgeon who had performed emergency surgery to relieve pressure on Jessica’s brain: “She will be lucky to live through the night.” These words tore at the hearts of everyone in the room, including me; after all, Jessica is one of my firefighters, a member of my second family, a family member for whom I was supposed to be responsible, and protect.  Over the next couple of weeks, Jessica remained unconscious and in critical condition, but during this time the remarkable started to happen: the Boomhower family and the fire-department family started receiving calls, cards, tweets and Facebook messages wishing Jessica and her family well. People in the community of Greater Napanee held fundraisers to help the family, and fire departments sent donations – from British Columbia to Newfoundland and as far away as Texas. I have always believed in the fire-department family. For us in Greater Napanee, as we once again faced potential tragedy, it was heartwarming to witness members of the fire service come together to help out one of their own, even one they didn’t know. Words will never be enough to thank members of the Canadian fire service for what they have done for Jessica, her family and the Greater Napanee Emergency Services.   * * * I have been a firefighter for a little more than seven years, as has Jessica’s father, Dale. And Jessica has been a firefighter for a little more than a year. I was not surprised by the support our department has given us, or by the support from our neighboring departments: we have always felt part of one big extended family. But the outpouring of love and support from firefighters across Canada and globally has been incredible. Jessica has received messages from across the United States and the United Kingdom, and from Australia and Spain. She has received a few very special gifts from Chicago Fire Ladder 13 Company and a care package from Texas, among others.We couldn’t be more proud that we are from Greater Napanee; we couldn’t be more proud to serve a community than we are to serve Greater Napanee. But also we couldn’t be more proud to say we are members of the fire-service family. This experience has taught us to believe in miracles, and the miracle stared with the medical treatment Jessica received from the firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and surgeons. They saved her life. We are happy to report that Jessica is doing very well – she aced her classification exam, and although she has a long road ahead of her, this young, strong woman can succeed with the continued support of her family and the fire-department family.Terry Gervais is the general manager/fire chief for the Greater Napanee Emergency Services. Contact him at
Lance Spencer, a regional account manager for Fort Garry Fire Trucks, says there has been a definite shift in the trend in trucks toward multi-purpose vehicles – apparatuses that combine pumpers, tankers and more in one unit. These all-in-one trucks alleviate the need for sizeable budgets and provide fire departments with everything they need to function efficiently.“With shrinking budgets, people want the most they can get [out of a truck],” Spencer said. “Carrot River is a perfect example of that.”Carrot River, Sask., is a five-hour drive north of Regina and is located in the southeastern corner of the Rural Municipality (RM) of Moose Range. The Carrot River department – which operates out of one fire hall with 16 volunteer firefighters, two volunteer medical first responders, and a fire chief, deputy chief and assistant deputy chief/fire inspector on retainer – covers a 3,108-square kilometre area that comprises 36 smaller townships and settlements, as well as Moose Range, and a combined population of about 2,150 people. The department also has six trucks – all but two of which were manufactured in the early ’90s or earlier.With efficiency in mind, Carrot River Fire Chief Scott Debienne worked with Winnipeg-based Fort Garry to build a pumper-tanker hybrid that replaces three of the department’s out-of-date vehicles.Debienne, a 25-year fire-service veteran who was promoted to chief in January, was looking to replace the department’s 1982 GMC 1,200-gallon tanker. During his preliminary research, he realized that two of the department’s other front-line apparatuses – a 1982 Spartan pumper and a 1992 Fort Garry pumper – were also out of date. The cost of a new tanker would be about $200,000, while a new pumper, which the department also needed, would cost between $300,000 and $350,000 – price tags that the Town of Carrot River was not likely to approve.“We decided to join forces [with the RM of Moose Range] and put together a tanker/pump for the town and the RM, essentially joining the RM and the town fire departments under one,” Debienne said.The result is a truck that fits the needs of a department that responds to myriad calls – everything from forest fires to industrial blazes, multi-vehicle collisions and urban house fires. Built on a Freightliner M2-106 chassis, the truck is powered by a 350-horsepower Cummins ISL engine and an Allison 3000 EVS automatic transmission. It has a 1,500-gallon water tank for rural firefighting operations and it has a 1,250-gpm pump for in-town calls.The truck also has a total of eight large compartments for storage and a bumper turret for fighting wildfires. With its four-man crown, the truck can bring a total of six firefighters – plus 1,500 gallons of water, a 1,250-gpm pump, various rescue tools and more – to the scene in one apparatus.“It, in essence, replaces three units, putting two of our old units as support vehicles,” Debienne said. “Instead of spending $800,000, we [spent] a little over half that.”Spencer understood Debienne’s situation; the tight budget, the need to do more with less. “Most rural fire departments have the same frustration,” Spencer said. “There’s not a lot of money to spend and everything else comes first.“Chief Debienne worked hard so that council had an easy decision to make. He had a truck in mind and did all his homework.”Spencer said Debienne knew the department needed “big water” for industrial fires – the town is home to forestry, horticulture and machinery plants – and recognized that a Class-A foam system and a compressed-air foam system (CAFS) would be useful to his department.“It was good timing,” Spencer said, “because our Waterous representative was up at the time [that Debienne was developing the truck].”That St. Paul, Minn.-based Waterous rep, Gregg Geske – who is the foam and CAFS product manager at Waterous – recommended the company’s new OneStep CAFS. It didn’t take much convincing: Debienne’s new truck is the first fire apparatus in North America to feature the device.Waterous’ OneStep takes the guess work out of CAFS operations, automatically mixing the foam solution and air so that firefighters don’t need to look at gauges or calculate proper air-to-foam solution ratios. “It makes CAFS much easier to operate,” Spencer said. “You just need to hit a button and it’s ready to go.”The CAFS doesn’t just sound good on paper; Debienne said the device can knock down a fire faster and with less damage than typical water-only methods.“The CAFS can take the capabilities of water and make it somewhere between four and 10 times [more effective],” he said. “Now, with the CAFS, this truck can put out a fire that would have taken 15,000 gallons of water with just the 1,500 gallons that are on the truck.”With this new CAFS, Debienne says the department in Carrot River will likely spend fewer hours on scene; CAFS injects compressed air into the foam solution, causing it to bubble and cool the fire faster, Spencer says. Both CAFS and water as extinguishing agents are effective, but water takes longer and a lot more of it is needed to completely extinguish a fire.Residents whose homes are affected by fire will incur less property damage, not only from the fire itself, which should spread less since it can be extinguished faster, but also as a result of less water run-off. The CAFS will also make for a safer fire ground for firefighters. Since it takes less time to knock down a blaze, Geske said firefighters will spend less time in a hazardous fire- and smoke-filled environments. “A lot of fire departments are purchasing a CAFS because of the benefits,” Geske said. “But some of the problems – it’s difficult to operate, you have to decide how far to open the valve, you have to bring up the pressure, but you have to control the pressure of the water . . . Those difficulties are what we’re addressing with this system.”The CAF system has pre-engineered and pre-defined settings that control the water pressure and mix the foam and air to the perfect solution-to-water ratio.“The entire system is pre-engineered so that [pump operators] don’t have to think about it,” Geske said. “It’s all about ease of operability.”That ease of use also translates to fast, effective and safe firefighting operations, Geske said. Operators aren’t wasting valuable time on the fire ground trying to calculate the best foam ratio or the proper pump pressure – and they’re not wasting even more time troubleshooting when their calculations aren’t correct. “It’s a more efficient use of the tools that firefighters have at their disposal,” Spencer said.Chief officers should keep that efficiency in mind when shopping for a new truck – and the new features that come with it. Spencer said these new technologies can result in a bit of sticker shock – Waterous’ new CAFS can be $30,000 more than traditional CAFS, depending on the size of tank and type of foam – but a balance between the budget and the best tools to keep firefighters and citizens safe is key. “Sure, (the OneStep CAFS) is more expensive up front,” Spencer said, “but the benefits and long-term value make it a wise investment.”Spencer also said more and more fire departments are choosing to trade off on the number of trucks in the apparatus bays so that the trucks that are there can be outfitted with new, efficient technologies.“We’re seeing more and more that fire departments are going for the multi-purpose vehicle, as opposed to two or three trucks,” he said.Ultimately, Spencer said, chiefs understand what the department truly needs in a fire apparatus. Bringing that list of needs – and that list of wants – to the manufacturer will help truck builders to better equip firefighters with the most efficient tools for the job.
The Milford and District Emergency Services in Nova Scotia, under Fire Chief Ralph Wardrope, took delivery in November of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built rescue. Built on a Ford F-550 4X4 chassis and powered by a six-speed automatic transmission and a 6.7-litre 300-hp engine, the truck is equipped with four Bostrom SCBA seats, and a Federal Signal camera system.
The Pouce Coupe Fire Department in British Columbia, under Fire Chief Chris Cleave, took delivery in November of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built pumper. Built on Freightliner M20106 4X4 chassis and powered by an Allison 3000 EVS transmission and a Cummins ISL 350-hp engine, the truck is equipped with a 1,000-gallon poly water tank, a Darley high-pressure 1,250-gpm pump, a Foam Pro 2002 system, a TFT Tornado HP turret, an Akron hose reel, FRC LED scene lights, a Federal Smart Siren, and KZCO valve controllers.
Nov. 18, 2014 – Larson Electronics has released a 4,000-megawatt skid-mount five-stage telescoping electric light mast. The tower features a 360-degree rotating boom, removable masthead, and skid pockets with four-corner pick eyes to allow for easy transportation. Four 1,000-megawat, metal halide lamps produce a wide spread of lighting, and an included 3,500-pound electric winch raises and collapses the 30-foot tower and assembly. For more information, visit
Nov. 18, 2014 – Holmatro has launched a new range of compact hand pumps for hydraulic rescue tools. The new pumps are lightweight, built with high-grade aluminum and fiberglass-reinforced handles. A high oil flow makes the pumps more responsive than ever. The new range of pumps all feature user-friendly extras such as oil level indicators, push-and-lock systems, soft grip, and built-in funnels. For more information, visit
The portable fire extinguisher is one of the most undervalued tools in the fire service. Every fire truck is equipped with at least one of these devices, and many trucks carry a variety of extinguishers. Photo 1: The majority of portable fire extinguishers found on apparatuses are dry-chemical ABC multipurpose devices. Photo 2: On Class-B or C fires (flammable liquid and gas) a dry-chemical extinguisher is the choice tool to use. Photo 3: A water extinguisher or water can is considered standard equipment on a dedicated truck company. Photo 4: A firefighter can control nozzle discharge pattern of a water extinguisher by using a finger or thumb.Photos by Mark van der Feyst Portable extinguishers are usually found at constructions sites and at several locations in industrial buildings. The industrial units vary in size according to need and application, from 10-pound units to extinguishers that require a wheel cart to move around. Municipal firefighters do not often encounter the large, wheeled extinguishers, but it is important to know the types of extinguishers and their uses; it is important, however, for all firefighters to be proficient in the use of 10-pound, 20-pound and even 30-pound extinguishers.The majority of portable fire extinguishers found on trucks are dry-chemical ABC multipurpose devices (see photo 1). These are great tools for suppressing Class-A, Class-B or even Class-C fires, inside or outside a dwelling. These small extinguishers are good tools to carry into calls for smoke in a building, a pot on the stove, an alarm sounding with nothing showing, or calls at which there may be a small fire that would require a quick and easy knockdown.The downside to dry-chemical extinguishers is that they are messy when discharged and leave a chemical spill to be cleaned up by the resident or building owner after the small fire has been suppressed. This factor should be considered when deciding between a dry-chemical extinguisher or a water can. On a Class-B fire (see photo 2) or a Class-C fire, a dry-chemical extinguisher is the choice tool for suppression, but for a Class-A fire, a firefighter can choose to use a dry-chemical extinguisher or a water can. A dry-chemical extinguisher does not provide cooling – only suppression. The extinguisher’s chemicals work by altering a fire’s chemical makeup in order to break the chain reaction and stop the flames from spreading, but they do not cool down the material that is already burning. I responded to a call in which a sofa chair that was on fire in a room was treated with a dry-chemical extinguisher. The fire was suppressed, but the contents of the room were still hot and I could hear the sizzling as we waited for a hoseline to be brought in. Water was still needed to cool off the objects and prevent re-ignition. This is a scenario in which a 2 1/2-gallon water extinguisher comes into play. On a dedicated truck company, a water extinguisher or water can is considered standard equipment (see photo 3). When a search team enters a structure, one member is usually assigned to bring along the water can. This allows the interior crew members to conduct a search; if they come across the fire, they can control it or knock it down enough to keep it in check. Now the fire in question here is going to be a fire that can be controlled by a 2 1/2-gallon water can – we are looking at a fire in a bedroom and coming out into the hallway and making its way down the hallway. The water can has enough water in it to be able to knock back the fire in the hallway and keep the fire in the bedroom. This is where the search team can close the door to contain the fire while the search is completed.A hoseline is necessary for any medium to large fire, but for a small fire in a room or building, the water extinguisher is all that’s needed. Once a small fire is knocked down, the burning item can be taken outside and hosed off further. A water extinguisher cools off both the item and the area around the item that was burning. This suppression tactic achieves two things: fire suppression and cooling. The water can is also good for overhaul operations since it is mobile enough to be brought into small areas, or to cool down or soak hidden fires in small, confined spots. With a dry-chemical extinguisher, a firefighter cannot control the pattern that the nozzle discharges; it will discharge the powder in a straight, stream-style fashion, eventually dissipating into a dust cloud. By contrast, a firefighter can manipulate the nozzle discharge pattern on a water can by using a finger or thumb (see photo 4). As with a garden hose with no nozzle, the firefighter can create a straight stream, a broken pattern, or a fog stream. This option allows the firefighter to apply the water in a way that is beneficial to the operation. The firefighter can also bank the water stream off of other objects to achieve an indirect attack. The 2 1/2-gallon water can may be a bit bulky and awkward to carry, but with practice and use, familiarity with the weight, size and height of the water can will become second nature. Knowing how long it takes to apply 2 1/2 gallons of water is also useful and will come with practice or training with the device. The next time you get a call for a small fire, a pot on the stove, or an investigation, remember to bring along a portable fire extinguisher. A well-prepared firefighter carries the extinguisher in one hand and a hand tool in the other.Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. Mark instructs in Canada, the United States and India and is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. He is also the lead Author of Pennwell’s Residential Fire Rescue book. Email Mark at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. 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There are many components to good health. Maybe now – given the volume of recent suicides among first responders – is a good time to be open about how long we have been fooling each other and letting personal dislikes, jealously, personal attacks or negative actions keep us from being healthy.Have we created an ill work environment?  We hear about mental illness and we understand that the cost of ignoring it can be high. No matter what the issue or challenge, we need to be there for each other. We boast to our communities that as first responders we are protectors and caregivers, but sometimes we overlook the most important people around us – our own fellow firefighters and our companions with whom we spend time every day. A personal tragedy in the mid ’90s changed my world forever. It has taken lots of communication, and strength and focus every day since then, to keep my personal health from crashing. I know many of you are in the same state. If it were not for my true friends, supporters, colleagues and professional help, I may not have the opportunity to write this column.  In a matter of minutes (or less) our world can be rocked; we never know when that could happen. We need to open up about the realities of our jobs or volunteer commitments or whatever connections you have to the first-responder business. Yes, you might get a few weird looks, or become red-faced the first time you open up about the internal darkness that you have experienced at some point in your life. However, remember what the alternative could be if you do not open up to someone. We all share in the cost if we do not start helping each other. Getting to know each other in a positive manner without crossing personal lines is critical. Leadership, caring and trust go a long way. Being that person with whom people can connect and chat openly might be all an affected firefighter needs. We all have heard that sometimes the best help is just to listen, no advice required; just be there and open our ears and minds. If we do not connect and open up about this unhealthy darkness we will pay a huge price personally and organizationally (we already have, haven’t we?). If we are willing to take the first step and start talking about mental-health issues, it might surprise us and our teams how much talking can help. Maybe we hide our realities out of fear that showing personal weakness will limit opportunities or promotions. Finding a trustworthy person and process is paramount. If you have taken a positive approach toward mental illness, well done!  If not, try connecting with someone who has. We have created a very tense, and in some cases a non-respectful, mistrusting culture that we have to change. Let’s agree to take the first steps toward being a healthier organization. If we do not take control of our own health and wellness we, and the future generations, will be the losers. Let’s find ways to start being internally honest, rebuild trust and connect openly.  Living a life or going to a job that is painful every day is sad and very unfortunate. In many cases, those who struggle inside cannot find a way to get out of, or change, the way they feel. There are success stories; we just have to be strong enough to ask, be supported and know that we can trust the process. Without this support we have destroyed or lost our greatest asset – a team of caring and honest people.   The world is changing quickly and the support process needs to modernize. Creating professional partnerships and safe spaces saves many lives; failing to do so causes loss of life. Take the challenge. Start building partnerships and start the discussions at the next crew, officer or department meeting about how mental illness is creating a sad history for us. We can make a difference but we need to adjust our personal beliefs and fears. It is time to talk, and talk honestly. We are looked upon as one of the strongest, most caring organizations within our communities. Let’s make sure we deal with our problems head-on. If we all commit to this we can say that from coast to coast we are a team, building a success story that will keep the process rolling in a healthier way. Our mental health affects every aspect of our lives so let’s value it and take care of it.This topic will not go away. To be fearful or punished for asking for help is wrong. It’s up to all of us to take that breath and think how we address the demons inside so many first responders. Take whatever steps are necessary to help to create healthy minds, healthier lifestyles, less stress, and fewer pains and fears.Tom Bremner is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island, B.C. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
I recently had the honour of visiting the Canadian Fallen Firefighter Monument in Ottawa. I must say I was overwhelmed and filled with emotions. My passion has always been about trying to prevent (#stopbad) firefighters from getting hurt or killed in the line of duty. In April 2006, a visiting 52-year-old firefighter suffered a fatal heart attack while attending a live-fire training exercise at our fire training centre. For us, in Comox, this changed everything.Before this tragic event we treated our firefighters as most other fire departments did. We worked them hard and gave them a water break every once in a while. Now we have a very formal firefighter-rehab policy. Now, at our training centre, students are assessed before they start training and if they don’t meet some very strick medical protocols they are not allowed to participate in the training. We find that about one in 10 students does not meet the accepted medical standards. During training, students are constantly assessed and if they fall outside of acceptable limits their training ends at that time, for that day. Also, all of our Comox firefighters have their blood pressure checked before our weekely training sessions. Anyone with a pressure above our acceptable standard (160/100) does not participate in strenous physical activities. On our fire ground, we have adopted a simlar approach; after approximately 30 minutes of strenous work, the firefighters are sent to a rehab area and rehabilited and assessed; if they fall outside of these acceptable limits they are not allowed to continue with their strenous duties (regardless of how bad the fire is). Rehab is now a function of every emergency and training incident we run. We researched what others were doing and put together a rehab program that works for us. Our program includes the basics, such as hydration and foods, and also includes medical monitoring of pulse, blood pressure, temperature, oxygen and carbon-monoxide saturations. Added equipment includes misting fans, rehab chairs, core-cooler vests, automatic blood-pressure cuffs, CO/Ox meters, coolers, and towels. We also added more drinks and food on our fire trucks. We have also put water bottles in the cabs of our fire apparatuses so our firefighters can hydrate on the way to incidents as well as during and after. This simple little step can greatly increase your firefighters’ safety. A complete rehab program should include medical monitoring during all incidents. This is a function we have taken on at the fire department operational level. Many fire departments use their local EMS service to provide this function, but we wanted to take our program to the next level. Because we are a small community, we can not always get EMS to attend our incidents; and if we do, they might leave with a patient from the incident, a firefighter needing advanced medical attention, or leave to go to another incident. EMS personnel often leave scenes while we are still doing mop-up or salvage, but rehab is just as important at this time and having our own program ensures that rehab is present and active. We include this very important function with our staging area and management; rehab is run by firefighters, for firefighters – that way we control it, but we still request that EMS stand by in case a firefighter requires more advance treatment.This kind of rehab program, of course, takes additional resources which could be provided using mutual aid or other members who may no longer be fit enough to provide suppression duties.We have also added a whole new focus to firefighter fitness. Not only do our firefighters and their families get free fitiness passes at our community fitness centre, but we have also added a firefighter-only fitness centre at our fire station that is accessible 24 hours a day. In addition, we have added fitness to our regular practice schedule; an entire company of firefighters can go to the fitness centre during a practice session.We have seen some of our firefighters change their diets and increase their fitness because they want to ensure they can pass the rehab protocols and, more importantly, stay alive.Fire fighting is an extremely challenging job. Firefighters (including chief officers) need to be in very good physical and mental condition to preform their duties. We are happy to share any and all of the rehab protocols that we have put together.P.S. This 57-year-old chief is heading to the gym right now!Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire
As budgets grow leaner and public expectations continue to rise, decision makers in the public service are increasingly seeking hard data to make sound and justifiable decisions. This trend toward evidence-based decision making is turning administrators into researchers. Those delving into public-safety topics can now access an extensive database of information about fire, police, drugs, and public safety through a new search portal created by the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in British Columbia.Available on the UFV’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research new website,, the portal provides access to thousands of reports, articles, books, legislation, and other data from Canada and around the world collected by the centre’s public-safety search database. The concept for the project was born at a meeting of Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (CSS) about two years ago. At that time, the Canadian public-safety experts and administrators involved in the CSS identified a lack of public access to the public-safety data needed to support evidence-based decision making. This gap had also been noted by British Columbia’s Fire Services Liaison Group, which represents all British Columbia fire-service agencies, in its 2009 report to the provincial government entitled Public Safety in British Columbia: Transforming the Fire/Rescue Service. The report had called on the provincial government to establish a mechanism for the collection of data, trends and best practices in order to support effective decision making and improved service delivery by fire departments.  The UFV’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research took on the challenge of developing the database and portal, which went live Aug. 1. The project dovetails with the centre’s commitment to increase the knowledge of those working in public safety and to sharing best practices and research. The centre regularly provides its research and consulting expertise to criminal-justice agencies, governments, public-safety agencies, and community organizations on issues related to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public-safety operations and proposed initiatives.According to the authors of a recent manual on the subject, it is worth expending the effort to collect the evidence needed for sound decisions – particularly difficult ones that may need to be justified with taxpayers or superiors. “Evidence-based decision making is one of the more effective tools you can use to rationalize why a particular approach or program option was chosen,” says The Right Decision: Evidence-based Decision Making for Fire Service Professionals, published in 2013 by Paul Maxim, Len Garis and Darryl Plecas and available on the centre website.The authors say that policies and strategies based on evidence often produce better results, which can increase decision makers’ creditability and support for their departments. On the other hand, policies and programs not guided by sound evidence frequently cost too much, waste resources or simply yield poor or unknown results. Additionally, a lack of compelling evidence may result in a funding request being turned down. Good decision making, the authors say, needs to be informed as much as possible by evidence, research, and sound information.“We make and justify evidence-based decisions by referencing independently supported and verifiable facts,” the authors say. “This approach helps ensure the decisions we make are sound and defensible. Used effectively, evidence-based approaches can help you produce the results for which you are searching.”With this in mind, the new search portal is an essential tool for decision makers seeking independent, verifiable evidence on which to base decisions related to public safety.Searches of the Public Safety Search Database can be initiated through the link in the top navigation bar on the website.The portal’s user-friendly search functions offer a variety of filters to allow users to quickly hone in on the information they require.Basic searches can be conducted by keyword, title, or author, or by using advanced options, such as Boolean searches – e.g. using “and” between words to combine all terms (house and fire), using “or” between words to view results with at least one of the terms (college or university), and using “not” in front of a word you wish to exclude from the search (fires not house). All entries include author and publisher details, and some can be read online for free. Users of the portal can filter their search results by publication date, source type (electronic resources, academic journals, books, reports and ebooks), subject, publisher, publication, language, location, and content provider.As an example, a basic keyword search for “house fire” on the portal brings up 271 entries, including 210 electronic resources, four academic journals, two books, two reports and one ebook. Digging deeper into one of the entries – Experimental Results of a Residential House Tire Test on Tenability: Temperature, Smoke and Gas Analyses – leads to a summary page including publisher and author information, the document type, index terms, a link to the web address to obtain the study, and other details.In another example, a basic keyword search for “marijuana” finds 932 entries. From there, an advanced search can be conducted using various search terms or phrases, or by limiting the results by publication date, author, language, availability and peer review.  Clicking the peer-reviewed option reduces the results to 208, for example, while adding the search term “Alberta” narrows the results to three entries. Alternatively, limiting the source types to academic journals brings up 236 results.The database will continue to grow over time as new research becomes available. In addition to using the portal, visitors to can peruse dozens of research reports that have been produced by the centre on a wide range of fire, police, drugs, and public safety topics. Recent reports address topics as varied as the safety of smart-meter installations, a risk-based framework for scheduling fire-safety inspections, intermodal shipping-container safety, police-based crime reduction, and the nature and extent of marijuana possession in British Columbia.Plans are in the works to add reports from other agencies, institutions, and organizations to the website, and to allow other researchers to submit their reports to be published by the centre and available to the public on the website.Len Garis is the Fire Chief for the City of Surrey, B.C., past president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC, an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, research professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice / The Regenhard Centre for Emergency Response Studies New York and a member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies, Simon Fraser University. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Dr. Irwin M. Cohen is an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, the holder of the University Senior Research Chair, RCMP for Crime Reduction, and the director of the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or follow him on Twitter @irwinMcohen.
You’re buying a new truck. What details are important to you? Do the features and creature comforts that concern you matter to the manufacturers? Are the manufacturers listening to their clients?You be the judge.In April, at FDIC in Indianapolis, Spartan Chassis unveiled its new, roomier truck body. Why the extra space? So firefighters wearing bunker gear have more room to move and are more comfortable – and safer – when they’re seated and responding to calls.The specifics were kept secret until the FDIC trade show, when Spartan’s re-engineered chassis with quiet-cab technology – and what it calls next-generation seats – was revealed.Essentially, without increasing the 251-centimetre (99-inch) width of the Gladiator cab, Spartan’s engineers made more hip room for firefighters wearing their gear. In addition, the seat cushions are better – the foam is a higher quality – the lumbar support has been improved, the weight distribution is more even, vibration has been reduced by 50 per cent, the shoulder harness is more easily accessible, there’s an E-Z Release SCBA system, the seat fabric reduces blood-born pathogen exposure, and the cab is less noisy (a 45-per-cent reduction in sound at 72 kilometres an hour – 45 miles per hour – with the windows up), which makes communication easier.The particulars? The cab volume has been increased by 5,827 cubic inches – which Spartan cleverly put into perspective at FDIC by piling up 118 12-ounce cans of beer, which, of course, take up 5,827 cubic inches of space, or fill about 95 litres; a 10-per-cent increase in hip room on the driver’s side of the engine tunnel; increase in hip room between the captain’s side door and the side of the engine tunnel; a 6.6-per-cent reduction in the height of the engine tunnel; a 3.8-per-cent increase in leg room for the two centre forward-facing crew members; a 55-centimetre (22-inch) base seat cushion and back cushion. Spartan’s dealers in Canada are Dependable, in Brampton, Ont., and Vimar in Alberta. * * * Safetek’s GreenPower technology is catching on with larger Canadian departments that respond often to medical calls and idle the engine. The auxiliary power unit runs the truck, saving on fuel and reducing emissions. Photo courtesy Safetek Like Spartan, Pierce kept its truck news guarded until FDIC, where the Appleton, Wis., manufacturer displayed its new Saber and Enforcer custom chassis. Pierce, too, has made more room in the cab – the smaller engine tunnel is lower and more contoured, which increases elbow and hip room for drivers and officers and improves visibility in the cab. A cool new feature: the patent-pending adjustable rear wall allows firefighters in the forward-facing seats to move the seats in three-inch increments.“As your department’s needs change,” the company says on its website, “now you have the ability to adjust the seating to match.”Ergonomics are better; there are fewer trip hazards (streamlined, lower steps, for example) and a single, bonded windshield with no centre post for better visibility. Pierce had originally planned to release only the Saber but at FDIC surprised even those (reporters – included!) who had an early heads up on the Saber and also unveiled the Enforcer – a retired but popular cab and chassis. Pierce representatives said the Enforcer provides more options than the base Saber.Pierce has four dealers in Canada: Darch in Ontario; WFR in western Canada and the territories; L’Arsenal in Quebec and MicMac Safety Source in Halifax. * * * Safetek is approaching its truck-buying customers differently – confident that its GreenPower idle-reduction technology appeals to municipalities with an environmental conscience. Revisions to Spartan’s Gladiator chassis includes more width in the cab and more creature comforts including more leg room for forward-facing crew members and better seat cushions. Photo courtesy Spartan ERV “There was a common thought,” said Safetek vice-president Wayne Stevens, “that there’s nothing you can do on the fire side to support your community’s green initiatives.”Fire trucks, after all, idle while the pump runs, producing environmentally unfriendly emissions.That thinking, Stevens said, is dated.Indeed, Rosenbauer introduced its Green Star idle-reduction technology in 2009 and many other manufacturers, including Spartan, offer auxiliary power units that run the trucks when they’re parked on scene but not pumping water. The Kelowna Fire Department in British Columbia uses Rosenbauer’s Green Star trucks, as does the Quatsino First Nation; Accede Energy Services and Oilfield Paramedics Inc., both in Alberta, also have Green Star apparatuses.Rosenbauer’s trucks are sold in Canada through Rocky Mountain Phoenix, Res Q Tech and Aero Feu. The company says green technology is catching on.“More municipalities are requesting green products and that has some impact on the increase in popularity,” said Scott Oyen, Rosenbauer’s vice-president of sales.“Green Star has seen a consistent and steady rise in popularity since the introduction. Many departments will wait to incorporate new technology for a few years to allow time for the technology to prove itself and they are now purchasing.” This year, Rosenbauer incorporated a colour display with its APU so users can monitor battery condition, an Hourmetre for the diesel APU and a timer to let the deriver know when the truck’s main engine will shut down.In 2015, the company said, it will start building a 7.9 kW diesel APU using the same 1,800 r.p.m. Kubota diesel engine that will occupy less space than the current 7.9 kW diesel APU.Safetek’s GreenPower technology is similarly gaining market traction now that metro departments such as Toronto are ordering multiple trucks, Stevens said. The system is similar to that used by airlines and some commercial trucking companies; when an aircraft sits on the runway, the auxiliary power unit – or APU – engages, so there’s no need to run the engines.“The thought was that in the majority of larger fire departments, where most of the calls are medical, they’re not engaging the fire pump so the main engine doesn’t need to be running.“So what if there was similar technology so that when the trucks get to the call, the main engine shuts down and the auxiliary engages, and that eliminates the need to run the main chassis engine?”The main engine, Stevens said, will burn almost four liters (one gallon) of fuel per hour of idle time, versus less than one litre (one quart) of fuel per hour to run the auxiliary power unit.“So fuel consumption is way down and we’re seeing customers who are seeing significant savings on their fuel bills – up to 20 per cent.”In addition, there is less wear and tear on the large engine, which means less maintenance and therefore lower operational costs. “So we’re seeing customers who are saving tens of thousands of dollars a year.”Safetek, which has offices in Abbotsford, B.C., and Mississauga, Ont., and is the Canadian dealer for Smeal Fire Apparatus, has sold six GreenPower truck to Toronto and the city has three more on order; Markham, Ont., has ordered two. Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., has one GreenPower truck; Vaughan, Ont., has two on order; Surrey, B.C., has ordered three; and Port Moody, B.C., has had one truck for two years. “Now, the technology is becoming known because we’ve got those early adopters,” Steven said, “and now the departments are calling us.” The system is all automatic, Stevens said. “The driver doesn’t even have to shut down the main engine. When the department gets to a call and the driver puts the park brake on, if he does not engage the fire pump, then the system will automatically shut down the main chassis engine and start the auxiliary engines. So the engineer can get out and do what he would normally do.”But is GreenPower practical given the cost?“It’s an option,” Stevens said. “In the larger, busier fire departments that’s where you start to see the savings; the busier you are running medial calls the more you will save because the truck is idling more often. If a department already has a generator speced out on a truck, the cost increase from the generator to our APU – which will also act as the generator – is about $15,000 to $20,000. “So when we look at $15,000 and you’re saving on fuel – the return on investment can be achieved in as few as five or six years – and you add the improved maintenance costs on top of that, and if the department keeps the trucks for 10 to 15 years, they’re realizing significant savings over the life of that apparatus, in addition the green initiative.” The technology can be used in any truck. Toronto’s GreenPower trucks are aerials; Markham has a pumper, and Safetek has quoted and specified GreenPower for its rescue trucks.Smeal developed the technology and sold its first trucks to the fire department in Charlotte, N.C., which helped to improve the idle-reduction system. “Canada,” Stevens said, “is very receptive to this technology – even more so than in the United States.” For most fire departments, the technology is still new. But Stevens said Safetek believes municipalities will embrace GreenPower once there’s more evidence of the cost savings.“All firefighters are from Missouri – the show-me state,” Stevens said. “Your nice glossy brochure is great, but they want to talk to someone who’s running this technology. We’ve got the early adopters – Toronto, for example – so if departments don’t believe what we say, they can call our customers and talk to them. That’s the biggest validation of any technology, those early adopters who continue to order the trucks.” * * * Midwest Fire introduced its multiplexing system at FDIC in Indianapolis in April. Midwest offers the diagnostics system on all its tankers and pumper-tankers. Photo courtesy Midwest Fire Midwest Fire showed off its multiplexing system at FDIC in Indianapolis. Multiplexing is not new to fire trucks – many manufactures have offered it for a while, some since 2002 – but Midwest now installs the system in all its tankers and pumper-tankers; and, it says, multiplexing adds more options with little expense.Mutliplexing is basically a durable wiring system that allows the truck driver to controls lights; the system also performs diagnostics.“Not only will multiplexing add a layer of customization, but it also adds a greater level of serviceability,” the company says.“The beauty of the multiplexing capabilities on the service side is the ease of computer interface. We can have a customer plug in their apparatus to a computer and we can remotely diagnose any lighting issues and reprogram features that will help customers without the expense or delay of bringing a technician to the apparatus or bringing the apparatus to us.” Midwest is based in Luverne, Minn. * * * Florida-based E-One was, you might say, on a bit of a quest. After months of what it calls in-the-field customer research, E-One debuted its redesigned custom cab at FDIC.The new Quest cab has better ergonomics, visibility, storage, lighting and more available options.Lower and wider cab steps – a change that many manufacturers are implementing – allow for easier, smoother egress.There’s more viewing area; E-One has lowered the centre console and raised the overhead console to improve sightlines on the already large, 3,728-square-inch, two-piece windshield.There’s also more legroom, extra storage under the rear-facing crew seats and space for USB ports and a 12-volt outlet.Options include power or manual windows, locks and pedals, customizable buttons on the steering wheel, cab-corner or west-coast style mirror placement, and two front grill designs.In addition, E-One says its red ambient lighting throughout the cab improves visibility for the crew without distracting the driver. E-One trucks are distributed in Canada by Carrier Centres in Ontario, Keewatin Truck Service in Winnipeg, Techno Feu in Quebec.
Fire-service leaders have many responsibilities; developing talent in the fire hall is a responsibility that chiefs should take seriously given that one day all chief officers will move on to retirement or other opportunities. Leaving a solid foundation of internal talent is paramount to the stability and growth of the organization. The level of talent demonstrated within the fire station is a good indication of the organization’s leadership. When firefighter talent appears absent or is lacking, it’s a strong indication that the leadership has either stalled out or, in some cases, is unable to keep up with the growth of the department. In cases such as these, the fire chief and senior officers need to regroup and change things.There are various views on the subject of talent development, but one thing is certain: every fire department has talent, and it must be developed, otherwise the future looks grim and the community loses respect for the department.Firefighter talent is a commodity that increases in value as it develops. This commodity improves the fire department, enhances public safety, increases firefighter professionalism and boosts morale, which is why talent development must be the focus of all fire-service leaders, regardless of the size of the department. Many readers might believe that, by default, it is the fire chief’s responsibility to build department talent; we agree to a point, but only to a point. Yes, it is the responsibility of the fire chief to acquire the resources to develop firefighter talent, and this is typically accomplished at budget time by presenting a carefully laid-out plan that identifies the short-, medium- and long-range goals for talent development. But, for the most part, this is where the chief’s job ends. Now it’s time for the real talent-builders to roll up their sleeves and do what is needed. In our opinion, the real talent-builders are the frontline officers. Let us explain.Who is in the best position to know the skills, competencies, personalities and experiences of firefighters? The frontline supervisors. And who is in the best position to lead by example and set the bar high for talent development? The frontline supervisors. Frontline officers have more face time with the firefighters and therefore they are in a better position to understand individual strengths and weaknesses. Frontline officers can determine ways to best use firefighters’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses, which is, ultimately, building talent. Frontline officers are also in the best position to mentor and coach firefighters and to encourage them when they get stuck in a rut. Building talent requires frontline supervisors to understand the importance of firefighter talent; they must lead by example and set the bar high for not only firefighters, but also for themselves. In other words, the frontline supervisors must continually take steps to better themselves. To lead by example, these officers must be the example; when it comes to training and education, frontline officers should be the first to sign up for the course. We cannot expect others to buy into talent development if the frontline supervisor doesn’t buy into it. Building talent rests on the shoulders of every firefighter in the department; it’s a team effort. Who determines firefighters’ attitude toward building their own talent? You guessed it: the firefighters. Firefighters must value talent development and be active supporters of meeting department and/or industry standards. Firefighters may need to juggle their vacation periods to accommodate training, attend seminars on a weekend, or spend time doing homework in order to build their own talent. They need to have some investment in the game.Building department talent can be a challenge as firefighters likely have their own opinions regarding talent-building priorities. Regardless of what comes first or what comes second, successful leaders realize it takes the combined effort of every person in the department to develop this precious commodity. Basketball star Michael Jordan summarized this team effort quite nicely: “There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”It isn’t a matter of wanting to build department talent; rather, it is a matter of making it happen. We recommend you take steps to make it happen sooner rather than later.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
We can’t help but reflect on our careers, the adventures we have enjoyed and how we have been privileged to serve our communities.
Public safety is paramount in our business. Indeed, public safety is not just for the public, it also includes safety for those who provide emergency services to the public.
It is absolutely amazing that we are in our fourth year of writing these joint columns for Fire Fighting in Canada.
You lead as you are. I learned this adage from a dear friend and mentor of mine – retired Cambridge, Ont., fire chief Terry Allen.
Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King sat down with Volunteer Vision columnists Tom DeSorcy, the fire chief in Hope, B.C., and Vince MacKenzie, the chief in Grand Fall-Windsor, N.L., to get a coast-to-coast perspective on the Canadian fire service.
We have had the pleasure of writing leadership columns for Fire Fighting in Canada since 2010.
Welcome to the first edition of what we hope will be a long and prosperous partnership between the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and Annex Business Media/Fire Fighting in Canada. 
Many chiefs feel caught between opposing forces: on one side are fiscal pressures, including the conflict of downward pressure on budgets versus increasing service delivery costs; on the other side is the demand for sustained or increased delivery of fire-protection services.
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and exist at all levels within an organization. When I want to learn more about how to be a good leader, I look beyond the fire service.
Mistakes: we all make them. Mistakes are part of life and learning from them contributes to our growth.
Although Les and I have known each other for only about 10 years, we have the same passion and drive to make things better; this became clear during our university studies and joint speaking engagements, and is evident today in our leadership columns.
Three Breast Friends put one foot in front of the other and set off on an adventure they never expected.
How do we help every member of the fire service educate the public about fire safety?
Earlier this year, the National Geographic channel aired a six-part documentary, titled Inside Combat Rescue.
Being in the fire service seems to imply to others that we are tough and armour plated.
Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek outlined to fire chiefs on Tuesday the details of proposed changes to the Ontario Fire Code that focus on fire prevention in homes for seniors and some other vulnerable Ontarians. See story below. Photo by Laura King
It’s a little-known fact that on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire there was another huge fire the United States: a fire burned so out of control in Peshtigo, Wis., on Oct. 8, 1871, that 2,500 people died
A strategic partnership has emerged in British Columbia with the intent to reduce fire injuries and fatalities among at-risk populations.
As I wrote this in late November, all thoughts were on the approaching Christmas season and fire departments were focused on holiday safety.
This past summer I watched more of the Olympics than I ever have before.
The number of fires and break-ins in an at-risk neighbourhood in Surrey, B.C., dropped significantly after a one-day education and safety blitz conducted by firefighters and RCMP officers.
I’ve been intrigued by the story of Hélène Campbell, a double-lung transplant recipient. Campbell, suffering idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, made headlines after appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show a few months ago.
I’ve been writing for this publication for more than a year now and my focus has been to get firefighters
Change is something progressive fire-service leaders must embrace to help keep firefighters safe and do the best job they can to protect their communities. It’s time; time to change the strategies and tactics used to fight fires in today’s buildings, loaded with highly combustible content. We know that fires are hotter and burn faster than ever before. So why do we use techniques taught 25 years ago to fight fires in buildings made of – and full of – different and more combustible materials? Furnishings made of composite materials, coupled with elements of modern, lightweight building construction are game changers. Response times were once predicated on the estimated burn time a compartment could withstand before the effects of fire made it untenable for occupants and the building’s structural integrity. Today’s quicker, hotter fires have an enormous impact on responders. Using yesterday’s response tactics on today’s buildings – according to significant research and field trials from organizations such as the National Institute for Science and Technology and Underwriters’ Laboratories – is not only ineffective, it is also dangerous. The standard approach of entering through the front door using an offensive (interior) attack is a perfect example: buildings and contents now reach flashover potential much faster than they did a generation ago – up to eight times faster. When firefighters arrive at what was once considered a routine fire, they now see a lot of black smoke – flammable products of combustion. This fire may well be vent driven by the time firefighters are on scene. Firefighters must now be aware of the combustion air that’s allowed into the structure, which may come from uncontrolled venting due to broken windows, or failure to manage entry points after the suppression crew gained entry. Perhaps the biggest change in the way firefighters think of and manage structure fires is awareness and management of flow path. Simply put, the flow path is the movement of heat, smoke and fire gasses to areas of lower pressure. Knowing and controlling the flow path accomplishes two goals; it improves occupant survivability and it helps direct the fire away from unaffected parts of the structure. We now know the old belief that an exterior attack pushes fire further into a building isn’t true. In fact, a transitional attack has been proven to be a great way to buy a little time for interior-suppression crews in this hostile environment. Essentially, a transitional attack is early application of water through an existing opening using a straight stream into the fire compartment. This cools flammable products of combustion in the room, buying a little time for the attack crew, and avoiding flashover as responders introduce air to the fire upon entry.The pneumonic SLICE-RS has been coined to provide some guidance with these concepts. Size-up: this starts pre-incident and during an alarm includes, as always, the establishment of incident command, a 360-degree scene assessment, and much more. Locate the fire: determine exactly where in the building the fire is located. This information will drive decisions made in the next step.Isolate and control the flow path: restricting openings such as doors to unaffected areas is the simplest way to manage the flow path. Cool the fire: direct a straight or solid stream into the fire compartment for a few seconds from the exterior of the building before crews enter. This cools the superheated fire gasses.Extinguish the fire: a well-co-ordinated attack with ventilation is critical as the time between ventilation and flashover in today’s fires is much shorter than in older buildings with familiar fuels.Rescue: information gathered during size-up will determine where rescue fits into the process; confirmed or possible occupants makes rescue a higher priority. Salvage: this step, like rescue, occurs at anytime during the response. It can be achieved with salvage covers or simply by closing doors during operations.As fuel loads, structures and the fires within them have changed, so must we in the fire service. The adage “we’ve always done it that way” has no place in fire fighting. I am not suggesting that everything the fire service knew and practised has gone by the wayside; in fact, many aspects of SLICE-RS should be very familiar to firefighters. This is simply a guide for first-in engine companies that reflects today’s techniques for today’s fires. Firefighters must keep doing what works, discard what doesn’t work, and be prepared to embrace new practices that are backed up by fire science and research.Dave Balding, a 29-year veteran of the fire service, is the fire chief and emergency co-ordinator for the Village of Fraser Lake in British Columbia’s Central Interior. 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 @FraserLakeFire
As driver comfort and safety become more important to car buyers, it’s crucial for rescuers to understand the myriad occupant-safety devices in today’s vehicles.
This edition of TimBits takes some of the lessons from the truck-company operations classroom series and boils them down into a short primer.
We are continuing to look at sub-level rescues with a focus on rescue tactics. In the July issue, we reviewed the use of a charged hoseline for rescuing a downed firefighter.
Firefighter safety must be every incident commander’s objective. The first steps toward crew safety on scene are size-up and the 360-degree walk around.
Yes, we are still talking about giving firefighters the training and permission to call a mayday.
Proper size-up is key to safe and effective fire-ground operations.
One of the major job functions of a truck company is to perform a search of a structure.  A search produces positive results when firefighters confirm that there is no one inside or when an occupant is safely rescued. Negative results occur when an occupant is found to have succumbed to the products of combustion.
In June, we looked at master-stream operations. Now we are going to look at different uses of ground-deluge systems or ground master streams.
I am grateful for the positive response to my call in my June column for a greater mayday awareness. However we are far from the mark. Lately, we’ve been pushing mayday awareness training in our department.
The fire service is like no other industry. We need to be constantly training for our next incident, without knowing what it will be, when it will occur or where it will happen.
It is common in smaller communities that the volunteer fire department is the only available emergency agency. Most of Canada’s smaller communities have fire stations, but they don’t always have police stations or medical centres. Therefore, when a major emergency incident or disaster strikes these communities, it is the volunteer fire departments that respond. Unlike in larger cities with emergency-management offices and full-time staff, rural, large-scale disasters are usually dealt with by the members of the volunteer department. The rural fire chief or senior fire officer is thrust into the role of disaster operations commander, or, in times of non-emergency, the role of emergency operations co-ordinators and planners. This can certainly be a challenging role to be thrust into without preparation.I would like to focus on one element of emergency planning: communication. When the emergency is over and evaluation and inquiry begins, communication is commonly identified as a key factor in the success or failure of disaster operations.  Emergency management communication includes directing emergency responders, sharing public information, and gathering data about the emergency. Therefore, the fire chief needs to know how to receive credible information and how to communicate to the public effectively. I think we can all agree that forms of communication have changed dramatically in the last five years with the growth of social media. In order to effectively communicate in today’s world, emergency planners now have to consider a social-media component to the emergency-operations plan.Credible information now comes in many forms from the public. It used to be that everyone phoned into the emergency services to report issues, but today, many people who witness the incidents use social media to inform everyone. While most social media information is credible, some is tainted with opinion and rumors that will quickly spread to the public. The deluge of tweets and posts lends itself to misinformation because the public can receive information as quickly as the officials handling the situation. Unfortunately, the constant monitoring of crucial information can rapidly overload a conventional public information officer or media centre. Reports from the public also generally come with photos that cannot be ignored by emergency operations centres. The challenge for local emergency managers is to capture that information to assist in a manner that is credible and timely. I learned a new term during a recent session on media training: the digital volunteer. It’s a relatively new concept as applied to emergency management, but I believe it will soon become a familiar term. The digital volunteer is a person who emergency managers identify to help monitor social media platforms for relevant information and data during emergencies. Digital volunteers are not actively engaged in the emergency operations centre, but are engaged with the public information officer to alert those in charge when significant messaging is trending. Digital volunteers are, in essence, social-media savvy spectators recruited to help filter the barrage of information. If you spend any time on social media, you can probably think of a few of those people now. During almost every emergency, people emerge online to provide information to the public through posts on social media, as though they were officials themselves.  We all know someone who is tuned into the event for whatever reason. Many times these people are actively engaged in the situation and can be a valuable resource to assist with analyzing the volume of information. Enlisting these digital volunteers to filter and inform the emergency operations centre of trending issues or damaging rumors will be very helpful to overall communication. We should not turn away from these opportunities that can help us navigate the changing world of emergency management. So why not write this concept into our emergency planning?This fall, I will participate in an exercise on the concept of the digital volunteer at an emergency management conference in Nova Scotia. I am excited to find out what the organizers have in store for us. While the concept of the digital volunteer is relatively new, I see great value in it as a tool to help fire departments keep on top of today’s busy communication world.Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Service and an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince
There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses.
Fire departments all have jurisdictions – areas that we cover and in which we provide protective services.
Firefighters strive to provide good customer service: that means treating others the way we would like to be treated – going above and beyond whenever possible and surprising people who don’t expect our do-onto-others attitude.
Volunteer firefighters who last a long time in the fire service can certainly gain a vast perspective on many aspects of life.
Social media can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Say the wrong thing, post the wrong picture and you have more than egg on your face.
I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to the designation of Canadian fire services as professional or volunteer.
As one generation gives way to the next, so does the makeup of our fire departments.
The past summer seems to have been rife with disaster and conflagrations. Newscasts and social media sites were filled with details of events and suffering, with floods in Alberta, forest fires in every province from British Columbia to Newfoundland, and the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que.
I have written before about the benefits of involvement in the fire service beyond our own departments. As I expand my affiliations, both provincially and nationally, I continue to be amazed at the dedication and passion that those in the fire service hold for what we do, and just how that passion and pride fuels my positive attitude toward life.
Canada’s fire service is a network of firefighters, officers and departments of all types. Training opportunities are growing.
My colleagues will understand when I say that there are some real characters out there.

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