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It's been a while since blogger Rob Evans sat down to hammer out his thoughts. But after seeing #theDress trend on Twitter while news of Canadian children dying in fires was relatively undiscussed, Evans decided it was time to write again.

Leaderboard: March 2015

Leaderboard: March 2015

Social media is a powerful, instant and non-retrievable tool in work and personal spheres. As Doug Tennant writes, firefighters have to realize that their on-duty and off-duty posts are subject to review.

Trainer's Corner: March 2015

Trainer's Corner: March 2015

All training officers face the same basic challenge: they have to find a way to actively engage students in the learning process. Ed Brouwer shares tips on keeping students engaged.

Succession programming

Succession programming

Fire-service tradition dictated that if you hung around long enough you would eventually be the chief. Not only does this no longer apply, but it was a bad practice, writes Denis Pilon. Succession planning starts from the moment firefighters are hired.

Fit for Duty

Fit for Duty

It's important first responders keep calm during an emergency, writes Rob Martin, but calmness can easily turn into numbness. Have you let calm turn into numb?

March 4, 2015, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - It has been too long since I have been able to write, but social media posts this past Friday sickened me to the point where I had to say something. You see, Twitterverse was abuzz late last week with people obsessing over the colours of a dress – white and gold or blue and black. In fact, #theDress was the top trending topic on Twitter. Normally this would be another hashtag that I ignored, but I just could not believe how viral the topic became. At the same time, I was reading a few posts about bodies being found in the ashes of a Quebec home that had burned the previous day – and where two toddlers were missing. That tragedy brings the total number of dead children to eight, in three provinces, in the past two weeks. Why, I wonder, isn’t there a trending hashtag on that subject? How is it that deaths from fire continue to happen in Canada in 2015? Especially when fire departments across the country have been relentless in pushing for code changes that would make smoke alarms and residential sprinklers mandatory. Recently the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs was in Ottawa lobbying for code changes to include retroactive installation of sprinklers in facilities that house some of our country’s most vulnerable residents – our seniors. Until recently, only two provinces – Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario – had changed its codes to require the retroactive addition of sprinklers in older buildings. A third province, Quebec, changed its code requirements after the findings of the L’lsle Verte inquiry were released. But why, in 2015, are there only three provinces that have code requirements for retroactive sprinkler installation? And why are the last national statistics on fire deaths from the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners from 2007? In fire fighting we seem to change tactics quickly when things are not progressing. If something is not working we revise our incident action plan to meet changing conditions. As firefighters, chief officers, departments, and municipalities, we need to continuously update our incident action plans to meet changing political climates when it comes to public safety and specifically the requirement of sprinklers in Canada. As focused and organized as the fire service may seem across the country, when it comes to sprinklers, are we focusing cohesively? I will not be popular over this, but hey, when has leadership been about popularity? I think the Canadian fire service can do better. Period. Over the years I have been in many meetings about the messages that we deliver to the public. Nothing seems to change. Continually fire chiefs believe that we have to be portrayed as the nice guys, but being nice guys is not working. Why are we not charging homeowners if we go to a fire and find smoke alarms not working? Why are homeowners not charged criminally if smoke alarms could have saved a child’s, or anybody’s life? Our tactics are not working, people continue to die, and for what? The price of a $20 smoke alarm? Across Canada, associations must start seriously working together to reach a common goal to see residential sprinklers added to new-home construction. There needs to be national statistics for the fire service to gather the information needed to back code change. None of this will get done however if the Canadian fire service including firefighters, fire chiefs, fire marshals and fire commissioners, do not seriously begin working together to really make progress towards having zero fire fatalities yearly. It is time for the leaders in all levels of the fire service to #stepupanddemandchange 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
Feb. 23, 2015, Kitchener, Ont. – I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but everyone in emergency services likely knows someone who is burned out or “crusty”. These people stand out because they carry a negative cloud with them everywhere they go, on and off the job. Thankfully, it’s a minority of people who carry this cloud, but, like an infection, it takes an alert immune system to ward off the impact of negativity. It takes awareness, patience and understanding to help people climb out of their funk. Often though, the rest of the shift or crew working that day can overcome one person’s negative vibe, so we routinely ignore and dismiss them without a lot of thought. But perhaps we shouldn’t! So, if these people represent the minority, who makes up the majority? Are we a group of upbeat, positive people, all joyous and full of bliss? Right – I didn’t think so either. Obviously we have ups and downs too, but where do we fall on the happiness spectrum? Observations such as these started about 10 years into my career as a firefighter, and I slowly began questioning myself about the affects my career choice had on my mental wellbeing. We’ve all heard the “this job will change you” speech, but how many of us truly reflect on what that change entails? How many of us would allow the change if we knew we had a choice? Since my initial aha moment, I have always stepped back from my situations and experiences and acted as a witness to my feelings. I first observe my decisions, then question my choices, and then redirect myself as required. On emergency scenes during which seconds count our training guides us; we may even operate on autopilot. Our departments may conduct post-incident debriefs to review and possibly redirect our actions if necessary. One of the many lessons that has come forward from emergency management experts is this: calm is contagious. Certainly calm is evident on scene and provides first responders with a solid foundation to serve the public well. But calm can sometimes be confused with lack of emotion or feeling. Take a moment and check in with yourself. Have you let calm turn into numb? Numb: deprived of feeling or responsiveness. Sadly, numb is where you might find the majority of first responders hanging out. Don’t think so? Neither did I. I just figured as I aged I was becoming less enthused about the things that formerly made me laugh and feel less upset about burdens or hardships. In a way I was right, but it wasn’t age; it has much more to do with my experience on the job. I was becoming desensitized to what the average person considers traumatic. I realized this numbness is a slippery slope. For a moment, think of our feelings and emotions on a scale from one to 10, where 10 is the positive and one is the negative. All of us would prefer to hang out on the higher end – right? But when we respond to emergencies and attempt to mitigate tragedies and losses, it is impossible to remain at the upper end of the scale. As humans – compassionate ones at that – we can’t help but feel saddened or upset possibly even angry about the tragedies we witness. Over time we learn to build walls, develop a thick skin, and slowly turn to other possibly more damaging methods to create numbness. To put a bit of perspective on this, imagine gently touching the skin of a loved one with your hands. The connection between your skin and theirs, the energy transfer, is undeniable; it can even be described as electric. Now go put on some oven mitts and repeat; not quite the same, is it? Many first responders are walking around with oven mitts on their hearts. It serves the purpose of protecting them from harm, but it also prevents them from fully experiencing the true joys in life. So how do we choose not to let our job change us? How do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and still protect, respond and perform under the extreme circumstances of emergency response? It comes down to knowing when to wear oven mitts and when it’s OK to take them off. Think of it as PPE for your heart and soul! Like all PPE, it must be properly selected, personalized and worn every time for it to work. Luckily, the first step is easy and it begins just like every life – with your breath. Rob Martin is a captain with the Kitchener Fire Department in Ontario. He is a passionate advocate for healthy living and encourages a balanced approach where functional movement, nutrition, quiet time and fun are the fundamental building blocks for staying fit for duty. Rob is a master trainer with the Ontario Fire College, training firefighters in fire-ground survival techniques, and has attained the disaster canine search team qualification through FEMA. Rob has been trained in critical-incident stress debriefings, defusings and peer-to-peer support, and has served for more than a decade on a critical-incident stress-management team. Following the research chain for mental health led Rob to yoga, where the benefits were immediately obvious. After a couple of years of a personal practice, Rob studied to become a registered yoga teacher. Contact Rob at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , find him on Facebook – Rob Martin yoga – and follow him on Twitter @fit4duty101
Feb. 19, 2015, Kitchener, Ont. - In my first blog post on Jan. 28, I spoke of awareness, because we don’t know what we don’t know. In other words, we can’t address issues we don’t know exist. Since then, many of us will have experienced traumatic events, some which may even have involved death. These events no doubt created stress and left a mark on us. So how do we remain intact, complete as men and women? Let’s assess our starting points. What other stressors are we dealing with before we even start our shifts? Are we facing some financial loads, relationship struggles? Are we physically beat up, out of shape, or battling a health “condition”? Is our nutrition being neglected? Are we taking time to properly rest, recover and reboot our brains? These are questions which, when answered honestly, can help us be more aware of our current states of mind and allow us to consciously make choices to maintain or change our practices. I’m willing to bet we can all improve in each area at least a bit or maybe a ton! The four questions above target specific areas of our lives. The first question digs into our level of happiness. Do we feel content and grounded with a strong network of friends and family? Are we doing things that fulfill our passions? Regardless of your religious beliefs, having a sense of purpose provides us with motivation and a reason for being. But don’t freak out if you don’t know your purpose for being here. It doesn’t matter if you have a big-picture purpose in mind or small goals; it only matters that you value them and enjoy what you do. “They” or “it” will keep you centered and grounded when times get tough or when you start down the path of becoming numb. Rescuer personalities often put aside their own happiness in order to provide someone else with the opportunity to be happy. Certainly being adaptable and able to go with the flow will help minimize stress, but be sure to maintain awareness of your own happiness so that long term you don’t suffer. The next discussion is about physical state of our bodies. Most first responders I know have past injuries and issues with which they constantly struggle. Yet when I ask them what they are doing to help themselves I get the shoulder shrug. I know it all too well; that was me not too long ago. I wore my injuries like a badge of honour. I was even aware of the pain and other signs my body was giving me and I chose to ignore them. That is, until I had a health wake-up call. As soon as our physical state is seriously threatened we wake up and pay attention. So let me share something with you: the harder you are on anything, the faster you wear it out. Our bodies are incredible healing machines; under the right conditions they can repair most of our ailments. Take the time to see an expert, or better yet become the expert on you. Seek info that will heal you and begin the process of practicing self-care. That doesn’t mean quitting physical activity; it means mindful activity or movement for a purpose. The human body was designed to move through a much greater range of motion than our current lifestyles challenge it to. Solving injuries and working through limitations will provide the positive type of stress that builds a strong adaptation cycle, giving us resilience for life. Nutrition has to be the most debated, misunderstood, and manipulated topic around. But it doesn’t have to be. I have a simplistic view. Your body is made up of cells; if the cells are stressed then you’re stressed. Chemicals cause cell damage (too much stress). Don’t eat chemicals. I could write a book on the research I’ve found on this topic. But in the end you have to eat real food not food-like products. Aim for unprocessed and non-genetically modified foods, if you can. Strive to eat more clean, organic, green vegetables. Managing your stress at the cellular level will have a remarkable impact on your overall health. My last request of you: shut off the motor once in a while! In fact, daily quiet time to just breathe and rest has been proven to rebuild gray matter in your brain. Don’t call it meditation if you don’t want to, don’t freak out if your mind struggles to settle, just set aside 10 minutes each day to sit quietly and concentrate on breathing. Navy seals use a technique called box breathing – 4x4x4x4 or 5x5x5x5; if possible, breathe through your nose. Inhale for a four count, hold for a four count, exhale for a four count, hold for a four count and so on. Yogis call this pranayama and you can modify and adjust the holds and inhale/exhale durations for different purposes. To relax, you can lengthen your exhales by a couple seconds. The goal is to count your breaths and still your body and mind, but you can’t do it wrong – unless you don’t do it.Rob Martin is a captain with the Kitchener Fire Department in Ontario. He is a passionate advocate for healthy living and encourages a balanced approach where functional movement, nutrition, quiet time and fun are the fundamental building blocks for staying fit for duty. Rob is a master trainer with the Ontario Fire College, training firefighters in fire-ground survival techniques, and has attained the disaster canine search team qualification through FEMA. Rob has been trained in critical-incident stress debriefings, defusings and peer-to-peer support, and has served for more than a decade on a critical-incident stress-management team. Following the research chain for mental health led Rob to yoga, where the benefits were immediately obvious. After a couple of years of a personal practice, Rob studied to become a registered yoga teacher. Contact Rob at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , find him on Facebook – Rob Martin yoga – and follow him on Twitter @fit4duty101
Feb. 18, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - On Sunday, Feb. 8, I attended the annual Four Chaplains Memorial Service at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. A similar service was also held at various military bases and VA hospitals across the country. The four chaplains were four United States Army chaplains who were assigned to accompany 902 soldiers to Greenland onboard the USAT Dorchester during the Second World War. Once a luxury ocean liner, the Dorchester had been converted to a troop transport ship. At 12:55 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1943, while en route to Greenland, the Dorchester was attacked by a German U-boat. The Dorchester sank in less than 27 minutes, and took 673 souls with her to the bottom of the North Atlantic. There is not enough room here to go into any detail on the heroic deeds of the four chaplains, but their actions that night helped to save the lives of 229 soldiers and made them an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage and selflessness. In the end, after doing all they could to save others – including giving up their own life jackets – they were seen arms linked, praying together: a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Methodist minister and a Dutch Reformed minister; shipmates; brothers. “Valour is a gift,” Carl Sandburg once said. “Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.” As a retired firefighter and a combat veteran, I feel qualified to say that first responders are so gifted and are made up of a strong faith, courage and selflessness. First responders rush in where others fear to tread. They have seen a lot – too much maybe – and many now suffer quietly from what they have experienced – from invisible wounds. If you, as a first responder, want to become more resistant, you must be open to the fact that life takes you through significant changes, and it won’t always be a bed of roses. Some first responders may at times feel suicidal and even entertain suicidal actions. It’s important to develop methods of coping with and controlling these impulses. The first step is to find ways to relieve these feelings through less destructive methods. In my last blog, I presented a list of eight things to do when disturbing memories or feelings try to take control of you: pause; sit quietly; focus on how your body feels; notice if you are holding your breath; notice any nervous activity you’re doing; notice your emotions and what thoughts are racing through you head; and take a few deep calming breaths. You must not think of these invisible wounds or impulses as a failure of character or as a mental illness. As with warriors, these are honourable and inevitable wounds; they are proof of your humanity; they are a portal for transformation and a school for wisdom. I ask you then to consider the term post-traumatic growth. You can grow from these; you can discover their blessings and give them meaning. Each time you confront despair you grow and become stronger. If you are willing to do the work, now is the time to make an initial commitment. By reading this blog you have shown that you are aware of a need for change. You may still have some resistance but at least you are open to ideas. You are a survivor, and we need survivors to offer testament against the horror and despair the world sometimes throws at us. The journey through post-traumatic growth is a psychospiritual and a communal one that becomes your roadmap through life. With work and growth the symptoms will fade and will be replaced by wisdom; you will feel better, eventually. First responders form an outer circle of protection for those in the communities they serve. When first responders are wounded, civilians, in turn, must provide outer circles of protection and caregiving for them; for you. Most people have nothing but good things to say about firefighters and other first responders. However, most people know only what they see in the movies or on TV; they mean well but often they don’t understand. Be patient with them, and help them understand. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and feelings with someone you can trust. Your pain, your invisible wounds came because of your courage and selflessness. Your wounds are honourable and they can heal if you accept them and try to grow from them. Don’t be afraid to reach out. You are not alone. Stay safe. Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Feb. 18, 2015, Port Severn, Ont. - You never know what good can come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. In fact, I would venture to say that staying in your comfort zone is, well, comfortable, but that’s really no way to live. I recently spent a week in Vaughan, Ont., attending the building code course – Legal Process for Building Officials. It turned out that many of my classmates work in municipal building and planning departments (as do I), and the rest came from fire departments. I had gone down to the city on the Sunday night because there was considerable snow in the forecast for the Monday morning. Once I had gotten settled in my hotel room, a minor case of the jitters crept in. This was my first time away from home and away from my husband and kids (aside from repeated trips to the fire college). Needless to say, the urge to be back home in my comfort zone was pretty compelling compared to the unknown of what to expect from the week ahead in my first building-code course. The instructor was a chief building official from a nearby municipality and I had spoken with him prior to the course so I knew there would be some people from Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services in the class. For those of you who aren’t familiar with my story, let’s just say that I have a certain fondness for Mississauga. I was a fire inspector there once upon a time – albeit briefly – and even though the timing wasn’t in my favour for a career at that point, the stars were definitely shining on me while I was there. I assumed the people from Mississauga were likely new inspectors I wouldn’t know, but I found it ironic nonetheless that they’d be in my class. It wouldn’t have surprised me as much if it was a course at the fire college, but I certainly hadn’t expected to know people in a building code course. Our instructor was staying at the same hotel, so I caught a ride with him over to the Ontario Building Officials Association office where the course was being held on the first morning. I happened to be holding the door open for our instructor to carry in his materials and I glanced up to see a familiar face from Mississauga. It was one of the inspectors from the area with whom I had worked in when I was there, and I couldn’t believe my luck. I was already feeling better about the upcoming week. I got settled at my assigned table and watched as the rest of the class filtered in. There were three more students from Mississauga with whom I had worked in the class, and a fourth whose name seemed vaguely familiar to me. He hadn’t arrived yet and I assumed he was a new, younger inspector I hadn’t met before. Lo and behold, when he introduced himself to me, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself – he was new alright, the new division chief of fire prevention. Needless to say, the week turned out to be a very positive experience, both personally and professionally. I met several new acquaintances, but I also met a couple of new friends. Since we were all staying at the same hotel, we had the opportunity to socialize after class. These new friends helped me come out of my shell and have a few good laughs, likely without knowing how much it meant to me. Networking and socializing are two of the great benefits of attending courses like that. Granted, you learn a lot in class, you strengthen your knowledge base and broaden your horizons, but you can also learn a lot after class. Inside and outside of class, it’s the people you’re with who make it all worthwhile – talking with people and learning about what makes them tick, what makes them laugh, the funny stories they share and the life lessons they’ve learned. Great memories with new buddies, dinner out with an amazing friend/editor, a tour of a nearby fire hall with a knowledgeable captain, a couple of harmless pranks and five straight days of building code. What more could a girl want? 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
Feb. 11, 2015, Toronto – Out of respect for the family of Adam Brunt, the Durham College student who died during ice-water rescue training in Hanover on Sunday, I waited a couple of days to say out loud what everyone else is thinking: How many students have to die in Ontario before the training industry is regulated, and simple standards – such as teacher-student ratios, safety briefings, safety plans, safety officers and rapid intervention teams – become mandatory? It seems we’ve had this conversation before – about the acceptable number of deaths of seniors in retirement homes – and we all know the Herculean effort required to convince government to make sprinklers mandatory. But training companies are different; they are not regulated – by any agency or any government department. Not the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM), not the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, and, in this case, perhaps not even the Ministry of Labour (which is investigating), given that there was no employer/employee relationship between the training provider and the students. By now you’ve read that the company that offered the program in Hanover, Herschel Rescue Training Systems, is the same one that provided the ice-water rescue course in Point Edward, Ont., in 2010, when firefighter Gary Kendall became trapped under ice for four minutes, and died. The ratio? One instructor to 18 students. Herschel owner/operator Terry Harrison was charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). In that case, the act applied because Harrison had been brought in by the fire department, which was the employer. The judge determined that the fire chief had not technically handed over authority to Harrison that day, and therefore Harrison was not the supervisor, so the charges were dismissed. The town paid a $75,000 fine for failing to ensure the safety of its workers, and that was that. Sunday’s training program in Hanover was different, an open course, advertised on Herschel’s Facebook page – one instructor and 12 students, according to police – offered to individuals like Brunt, who enrolled in the session to add to his resume, hoping it would help him get hired. Which I find interesting. Not a single fire department in Ontario – that I’m aware of –lists ice-water rescue among its minimum requirements for hiring. Conventional wisdom used to be that the more courses a firefighter candidate listed on a resume, the better the chance of employment. And out of that conventional wisdom sprung myriad training companies – many run by career firefighters who work shifts and have the time to devote to a second job – offering courses in everything from ice-water rescue to auto extrication. Particularly now, with standardized firefighter candidate testing in Ontario, those courses aren’t necessary to get hired, and prospective firefighters need not spend money taking them. That message, however, hasn’t filtered down to firefighter candidates, who still clamour to enroll in courses to build their CVs. As one former fire chief told me yesterday, all that mattered when he was hiring was that candidates had NFPA Firefighter I and II, did a great interview, and were the right fit for the department. “If I want them to have ice-water rescue or any other course,” he said, “I’ll put them through the program because I want them to be taught to do it our way.” So, what’s the recourse? Well, if social media is a barometer of public opinion, the outrage over Brunt’s tragic and preventable death should mean immediate changes. But we all know that’s unlikely. Who, or what agency or organization, would champion that change? Well, given that that there have been two training deaths, in similar circumstances, in five years, and given that fire fighting and all its offshoots are inherently dangerous, it follows that realistic training for such pursuits is also inherently dangerous and, like fire fighting, requires regulatory control. Therefore, it logically falls to the agencies that have the ability to enact regulations – the OFMEM, the Ministry of Colleges, Universities and Training, or the Ministry of Labour – to take the proverbial bull by the horns, develop guidelines, and ensure that training for any aspect of fire fighting be done as safely as possible, no matter who provides it. And while organizations such as the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the training officers association, the union (which has the most political clout), and the volunteer firefighters association have no regulatory authority, it would be shameful for them not to advocate for such change. To start, fire-service leaders can petition politicians for an inquest into Brunt’s death. (There were calls for an inquest into Kendall’s death but none was ever held.) Inquests produce recommendations, which, while not binding, can – at the very least – draw mainstream media attention to an issue and may potentially lead to legislation. Another option is to press Ontario’s fire-services advisory committee for OH&S, and the NFPA, to develop guidelines for training similar to those for live fire or technical rescue, and which would be applicable to third-party trainers. There must be other options, and people far smarter than me and more connected to training and rules and standards and guidelines might have better ideas. If you do, speak up. Gary Kendall and Adam Brunt need you to be their champion.
Feb. 3, 2015, Port Severn, Ont. - In my last blog, I talked about my experiences with three of the four mental health issues that I’ve struggled with. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the fourth and most difficult, and seems to run in tandem with depression. Last week’s episode of 16x9 The Bigger Picture on Global Television focussed on the PTSD crisis among Canada’s first responders. I was surprised that it was only a 30-minute segment, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I have great respect for the three men who told their stories. It takes great courage to open up and show that kind of vulnerability. I posted it on Twitter to recommend it to first responders, and received a comment from a fire chief in Alberta. He said he teared up watching it and that we need to get our brothers and sisters the help they need. In his province, PTSD falls under presumptive legislation. By raising awareness, the goal is that it will be in all provinces in the near future. I didn’t tear up while watching the episode, I got chills. The kind of chills you get when something you’ve just heard instantly resonates. As I listened to the RCMP officer, the paramedic, and the firefighter tell their stories, I went back in my mind to the place that they described, my own personal black hole. I had waves of PTSD. I say waves because the first time I experienced symptoms they were caused by fire calls to which I had attended. The second time I experienced symptoms was when my buried childhood memories first started to bubble to the surface, and the third wave occurred last year when I was off work on stress leave. I have been a volunteer firefighter for 18 years, and although I can still recall vivid details of the first fatal accident that I attended, the memories don’t affect me on a cellular level. I’ve been told that most firefighters remember their first fatal so I guess it’s par for the course. I’ve seen my fair share of brutal car accidents over the years but the two that created shock waves in my world were very similar and occurred within two weeks of each other in the heat of June. Both were transport accidents, both involved fire, both had fatalities, and I was first in on both of them. The first of the two was my first fire fatality, and it left an impression on me that will never go away. My partner and I didn’t know the driver was still in the vehicle until after the fire was knocked down and the victim was pointed out to us. The image again returns to my mind as I write these words. The second call involved a transport and a car, and another victim. This time, it was the smell that got me. I didn’t realize what the smell was until someone mentioned it. I was almost sick right then and there. Within a day or two, the flashbacks started. I kept picturing the victims of both calls, but most disturbing was of the second call. My mind insisted on filling in the details of how the accident occurred, and how the victim died. I began to have trouble sleeping and had no appetite. I felt fragile. I remember driving up the highway one day and before we even got near to where the accident had occurred, I began hyperventilating. Other times, I would glance at a passing car and images of broken bodies and smashed cars would fill my mind. I didn’t know then that it was PTSD; I just knew I was in trouble. That was roughly 13 years ago. When I was off work in 2013, I was at my lowest. Years of suppressed memories, emotions and negative experiences caught up with me and I was forced to sit on the sidelines while I got myself sorted out and sought out the help I needed. While at home one day I was watching a movie with a well-known actor whose movies I typically enjoy. In this particular movie, there was an unexpected traumatic scene that caught me completely off guard and affected me to the core. I had never personally experienced the abuse that occurred in the movie, but it hit a nerve with me and within hours, the flashbacks started. When I closed my eyes to go to sleep, the scene flashed in my mind and rattled me, and it continued for days. I finally told my husband about it saying, “It’s like certain things get right into my head and I can’t prevent them from affecting me on an emotional level.” Normal people shrug things off, but I didn’t seem to have that ability. The flashbacks are devastating because they’re not merely a static picture in your mind, they are images that move, that have a life of their own. And there are emotions tied to those images that you feel deeply within in your body. They are a triple threat with the power to bring the strongest man or woman to their knees with a fear like no other. There are other symptoms of PTSD, but in my experience the flashbacks are most disturbing because you have no control over them; this causes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and depression tightens its grip. In my darkest moment, I suddenly understood the concept of suicide. I said to my husband, “I know why people chose to end their lives.” He looked concerned, and waited for me to continue. “It’s the never-ending torment, the emptiness, the inner turmoil that no one understands; no matter how much they love you, they can’t know how it feels unless they’ve gone through it themselves.” I was very clear that I wasn’t going to go that route because I knew that no matter how bad it was for me, I would not leave my two daughters without their momma. That was the thread that I held on to; my love for them was what pulled me through. My lifeline – my girls and my husband. PTSD is a battle for your sanity. Asking for help when you’re a first responder – whose purpose is to help others – is a battle from within. Been there. Done that. Survived it. Here to help. 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
Feb. 2, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been in the news recently. According to a Global News story, we have lost four first responders to suicide since Jan. 1 – this makes 34 first responders in Canada who have killed themselves since the end of April. Global News also reports that a Michigan study indicates that 24 per cent of first responders suffer from PTSD; that is a statistic to which you don’t want to belong. Life is a journey that often leads us to unexpected places, but suicide is not something most of us consider. Life is also an adventure with a penchant for hurling challenges in our paths. The lives of first responders can be filled with challenges and, at times, their attempts to lead meaningful lives appear to be in vain; but trust me, that’s not the case. First responders are a special breed; they rise to a challenge and are not usually afraid of the unknown. First responders are no strangers to going above and beyond to get the job done – to fight fires and save lives. Five years ago I gave a talk titled “An attitude of gratitude” to a men’s breakfast group in the Niagara Region in Southern Ontario. I strongly believe that gratitude can turn what one has into enough – not gratitude for the fire or the victim, but gratitude that you can and do help those in their time of need; gratitude that you have survived; that you have a stable, rewarding, and noble, career – the best job in the world. Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor, believed that life is not primarily a quest for pleasure as Sigmund Freud believed, or a quest for power as Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Here are three possible sources of meaning that you might find interesting: Work (doing something worthwhile) Love (caring for another) Courage in difficult times Do any of these ring a bell? They should, for as first responders you fulfill all three of these sources of meaning during an average response. There are a lot of self-help books that speak of happiness, however, many of these books deal only with superficial issues; they lay out systems on how to get rich quick or how to find ultimate happiness. Advertising constantly tells us how much we are lacking in our lives. We appear to be living in chronic inadequacy. But as humans, we need more than just systems or stuff; these cannot make us happy. Happiness is up to each one of us. I believe that people’s happiness depends on the quality of their thoughts. As a society we are bombarded with sound bites, led to believe that we can find whatever we need just by clicking on Google or Bing or whatever. But life goes deeper and we owe it to ourselves to look beyond the surface. So the next time your disturbing memories or feelings try to take control, pause for a few moments to check in with yourself. Here are a few steps from The PTSD Workbook, from authors Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula, to help you with this check in. If possible, stop whatever you are doing Sit quietly for a short period Turn your attention inward and ask your body how it feels Notice if you feel any tension anywhere in your body; e.g. shoulders, stomach, jaw or back Notice if you are holding your breath Notice if you are doing anything that suggests tension; e.g. biting your nails, picking at your skin Now notice any emotions you feel, if you are able to recognize them; e.g. fearful, sad, angry, lonely Notice if you have racing thoughts or if you are able to stay focused If you notice any of the above reactions, take some time, and take a few deep, calming breaths. Stay safe. Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Jan. 29, 2015, Port Severn, Ont. - Yesterday was Bell’s Let’s Talk day and today I’ve got something to talk about: living with depression, anxiety and PTSD, and – the icing on the cake – a social anxiety disorder, as if the first three weren’t enough. In January of last year I was two months into a four-month leave from work. I had been evaluated by my family doctor, a therapist, a psych nurse, and a psychiatrist, and diagnosed with the above four mental-health issues. Despite my initial refusal of anti-depressants, (I didn’t want to be one of those people) I eventually conceded when I realized that these challenges weren’t something I could simply will myself to get over. With the proper treatment, which, for me, was the combination of the medication and regular visits with a therapist who specialized in trauma counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy, I am happy to report that I am healthy (mentally, emotionally, and physically, aside from an extra pound or two around the saddle-bag area) and off the medication completely. And I’ve done it in less than a year. The psychiatrist had told me that I may need to be on the medication for anywhere from two years to the rest of my life. I didn’t like hearing that and I’m glad that I was able to prove her wrong. My problems originated with childhood trauma that occurred when I was about 10 years old, and I never told anyone. I suppressed the memories and emotions deeply enough that I didn’t think it was an issue, but I also never felt secure or confident in myself because of those early experiences. It’s kind of like having a program running in the background on your computer that you don’t realize is there, and it causes things to be a little sketchy and results in you misinterpreting things, such as your most important life experiences. I was under some stress at work, quite likely nothing out of the ordinary for a well-adjusted individual, but well adjusted, I wasn’t. I felt like I could barely keep my head above water, day in and day out. I began to have trouble sleeping, I withdrew (heck I was in downright hermit mode), I had trouble focusing at work, I couldn’t concentrate, I was on edge all of the time, couldn’t relax, and thought everyone saw me as a failure. I’m not sure how obvious it was to my coworkers that I was about to shatter, but I’m sure if people could tell I was stressed, they had no idea how deeply fractured I truly was. I didn’t even know. Along with the time off work, I had to take a leave from the fire department. It made sense. I mean, who needs a could-possibly-shatter-at-any-moment firefighter trying to help other people? How much of a calming effect would I have on a patient if I’m about to have a meltdown and suddenly put the oxygen on myself? Or if I’m trying to help extricate someone and suddenly decide, like Tom Cruise’s character Maverick in Top Gun, “It’s no good. Can’t do it. I’m buggin’ out and going home.” Sounds like scenes from a comedy, and I can poke fun at myself now, but only because I’ve been through it. The truth is, mental health is serious stuff. Depression is the absence of feeling a connection to anything that matters in your life. My husband once asked me, “What’s wrong, what’s worrying you?” and I replied, “That’s just it, you don’t get it, it’s not any one thing that’s bothering me, it’s everything. Everything feels wrong. Nothing feels right.” I also told him that it’s not something that people can ever understand if they haven’t gone through it themselves. No matter how much your loved ones love you, the seemingly never-ending torment and inner turmoil is incomprehensible to them. My social anxiety had me avoiding any and all social gatherings, whether formal or informal. It was all I could do to go to the fire hall on training nights before I had gone on leave – and those were people I knew well and was comfortable being around. It was just such an overwhelming feeling of wanting to implode and disappear that the only relief was to stay home and avoid being social. We missed a lot of Christmas parties that year. I don’t know what excuse my husband gave as he declined invitation after invitation, but he seemed to understand that it simply was not something I could deal with at the time and didn’t push it. Perhaps it was my head spinning around and the flames shooting out of my nostrils that made him decide not to push the issue. The general anxiety was always triggered by one thing – my thoughts. Trust me, anxiety attacks are real and create serious physiological reactions in the body, which just increase the whole panic experience. I had shortness of breath, weakness, restlessness and panic, all caused by negative, fearful thoughts. I was at home one day doing Pilates and thinking about returning to work and had some stressful thoughts. Before I knew it, I was unable to follow a routine that I’d done several times. I got angry at myself, and then at the Pilates instructor on the DVD, as if she had changed the routine. Then it snowballed into not only being unable to concentrate on the Pilates, I couldn’t focus on anything. I was almost hyperventilating and in tears. I ended up calling a friend, who talked me down because he has been through it and knew what to say. It was a big wake-up call for me because the incident was a clear example of how our thoughts affect our emotions and our bodies. There was no one else here and no other reason for the anxiety attack to happen. The only cause was the negative and fearful thoughts I was having at the time, because quite honestly, I was worried about returning to work – and it was more than a month away at the time. Powerful lesson to learn. However, for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, the ability to reason and make sound judgements in the midst of an attack is simply not available. If you take anything away from this blog, let it be that: our brains do not function the way a “healthy” brain functions during an anxiety attack, or when suffering with depression. Which is why there is such a stigma surrounding mental health issues. It is not a “just-suck-it-up” thing. Facing your mental-health issues, whatever the demons in your closet, takes one heck of a lot of courage and strength. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone and everyone who is or has battled mental-health issues, because fighting for your sanity is a brutal battle to have to do through. And, for most of us, all of this is always in the back of our minds even after we’ve “recovered,” because if we don’t take care of ourselves, we will fall off that wagon for sure. People just don’t understand what the afflicted go through, and that’s why I’m talking about it now – to help bring awareness and understanding to the issue because I have been there and I know exactly how it feels. I’m also in a much better place now – I’ve been back to work and the fire department since last March, and I’ve been doing a second job covering for a colleague since November. If I can go from where I was to where I am now, then there's hope for others too. I want to help others because the worst feeling in the world is thinking that you’re alone and no one understands. But I do. 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 at @georgianbayjen
Jan. 28, 2015, Kitchener, Ont. - As a firefighter, I am called to the worst moments in people’s lives. From fires and car accidents to drug overdoses and suicides, it’s my job to mitigate the damage, reduce the losses and save lives. If you’re a first responder of any kind your job description isn’t much different and neither are the stresses that come from these demands. The physical stresses are obvious – run, lift, carry, stairclimb, etc. – but what about the other sources of stress? Are they as obvious? Are you even aware that you’re absorbing stress in other ways? I’m going to assume (I know it’s a risk, but it’s what we do) that if you’re reading this, it’s because you are aware or want more awareness about your health. So let’s look at stress for a moment. Stress itself isn’t a terrible thing. In fact, every time we lift weights we stress the muscles and if we’re properly nourished, they respond by rebuilding and becoming stronger. The concept of vaccines is similar. A controlled dose of stress allows our bodies to adapt and overcome. So what happens when we experience mental or emotional stress? Is it possible to become stronger in the same way? Ask yourself “Is it a controlled dose?” Clearly control and emergency scenes are at opposite ends of the spectrum so it becomes a matter of perspective and perception. How we perceive our roles and, more importantly, our effectiveness in our roles directly affects the dose of stress. If we view our involvement as having had a positive impact, then the experience will be stored in our mental hard drives and fit neatly away for recall if needed at another scene (a small, controllable dose that makes us stronger). If, however, we feel the outcome of the incident was not impacted by our actions in a way we expected or wanted, the dose of stress can crush us. So how do we prevent that from happening? Awareness. Awareness of what our operational limits are: of course we need to be good at what we do but we also need to understand that even when we do everything right, the outcome is sometimes decided before our arrival. It sounds simple (and it is), but give it some thought the next time a call stays with you. Awareness of your sympathetic response: learn to recover from fight or flight. Quick decisions are required to mitigate emergencies. We make better decisions when not in fight-or-flight mode. More on that in another blog. Awareness of your value: just by being at the scene you are providing the patients with a feeling that someone cares. Don’t underestimate your impact. Awareness of the big picture: constantly adapt your perspective gathering in the larger picture and understanding as much of the puzzle as possible. If your mind is searching for answers it’s impossible to control the dose through perspective. Awareness that you took the job to help people and that means you care! Don’t ever be sorry for caring. Don’t ever feel ashamed for caring. Sometimes you will need help to cope with the levels of stress. Ask for it, because you are surrounded by people just like you – people who CARE!Rob Martin is a captain with the Kitchener Fire Department in Ontario. He is a passionate advocate for healthy living and encourages a balanced approach where functional movement, nutrition, quiet time and fun are the fundamental building blocks for staying fit for duty. Rob is a master trainer with the Ontario Fire College, training firefighters in fire-ground survival techniques, and has attained the disaster canine search team qualification through FEMA. Rob has been trained in critical-incident stress debriefings, defusings and peer-to-peer support, and has served for more than a decade on a critical-incident stress-management team. Following the research chain for mental health led Rob to yoga, where the benefits were immediately obvious. After a couple of years of a personal practice, Rob studied to become a registered yoga teacher. Contact Rob at   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @fit4duty101  
Jan. 28, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - In recent blogs I introduced the reality of post-traumatic and cumulative stress, introduced a few symptoms and advised that PTSD is now beginning to be recognized as a work-related injury. Today, I address the need for you to accept that you may be troubled by some of the calls to which you have responded. After all, behind all your training and underneath your bunker gear, you are human. Some calls are silly and some are deadly serious. I remember responding to a “pedestrian-struck” call only to discover the pedestrian was never struck by a vehicle but that the he was out for a walk, got tired, and laid down on the grass next to the street for a rest! However, I also remember responding to a house fire that turned out to also be a suicide; I discovered the body with the shotgun beside it while advancing a hoseline into the kitchen. These examples show two extremes of a first responder’s average shift. One never knows what the next call will be, but you do know that you will respond and whether silly or serious, it will be most likely outside what civilians consider normal. Although as first responders you are well trained and well equipped (not to mention good looking!), you can’t control everything; some things you just can’t fix. This can cause a certain amount of anxiety and maybe even a sense of being powerless, which you may also not be able to control at first. However, you do have the power to turn this perceived weakness into strength. You may have distressing memories, and maybe even bad dreams; you may be irritable or frustrated. These could be signs of work-related stress. Please realize that you can overcome these. First, you must recognize and accept that something is bothering you. Next, reflect on what that something is, and then share your concerns with someone you trust; this will go a long way toward relieving the stress these distressing memories can cause. Don’t hold in your distressing memories and feelings. If you don’t vent, these distressing memories will cause a backdraft in your head. This is the point at which emotional intelligence comes into play. Beyond technical skills and competence, first responders also need a certain amount of emotional intelligence, which brings with it self-awareness, adaptability and self-control. All responders need to be aware of their feelings, and develop the ability to correctly perceive the feelings of others, and act effectively on these perceptions. We have come to a new year, which for me brings new hope for improvement. Hope is a confident expectation that a desire will be fulfilled. Don’t make silly or grandiose resolutions that you know you won’t keep but make real-life changes. I realize I have said this before but we need to eat well (watch the caffeine and alcohol), exercise, get plenty of rest, breathe, and, if it suits you, get in touch with your spiritual side. It doesn’t matter if you have stumbled and fallen many times before, you can still get up and move forward just as surely as if you’ve never fallen. Stay safe. Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Jan. 20, 2015, Winnipeg - I know a few cops and, in general, I will always defend my opinion that cops are kind of cliquish, even more so than us. They’re a tight bunch, and rarely let anyone into their inner sanctuary, preferring to keep their blue brotherhood under guarded care. I get it, because I understand the job. Police are rarely celebrated when they arrive on scene. Usually, 50 per cent of the folks on scene are the problem, and, in some cases, everyone is. When the fire truck shows up, we’re usually greeted with some kind of statement of support, sincerity, and thankfulness. Police not so much. Now police officers get a bad rap because they enforce the law; when we break it, we’re obviously in the right, and the officer is out to lunch. Sound familiar? That’s a stupid law. I barely touched the guy. I only had seven beers and I’m fine! Imagine going to work when everyone and their cousin believe you to be doing a crappy job, for the most part, all of the time. Imagine getting spit on, or having children speak to you disrespectfully because they were raised to mistrust you. As firefighters, we wear the negative stuff and chew on it for a while, swallow it down deep and try to bury it. We’ve all seen stuff; stuff that we didn’t talk about at our spouses’ Christmas parties last month. We seem to understand and can relate to how police deal with the pain in their own souls that can start to wear on you. The real problem I have been dealing with lately is the lack of understanding, the hatred, the ignorance of what is really happening. Police deal with saving souls, and while firefighters do as well, I would gladly admit that firefighters deal with the misfortunes of life inflicted on folks from a perspective of non-culpability. A lot of the time, when we arrive, it is no ones fault. Fault creates blame, blame creates anger, and anger fuels the demons inside of us. When choices are made by people who are desperate, have lost hope, and have sunken to a depth at which point, in their own minds, committing a crime is the way out, you’ve now arrived at evil. And cops are in the business of dealing with evil like nobody’s business. Firefighters deal with evil but not anywhere near as much as those sworn to protect us from it. Society is changing before me; statistics may support the theories of a declining crime rate, but I believe the people that reach evil are in large parts more desperate, determined, and internally conflicted with rage and hatred toward us. We can argue until the cows come home about the differences between cops and firefighters; we can have our jokes, good-natured ribbings, and laughs at each other expense. But in the end, I want every police officer to know from coast to coast that I get it, I understand you, and I support you in your efforts to protect my family and the citizens in your care. I’m just so damn tired of cops getting shot, and I wanted to say thank you, and never give up. *Carousel photo from Flickr by Robert TaylorJay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Along with multiple fire and emergency services courses and certificates, Jay holds a master's degree in disaster and Emergency management from Royal Roads University and is an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @firecollege
Its 2:30 a.m. and you wake up in a cold sweat. You have an impending feeling that everything around you is falling apart: reality, as you know it, seems to be fragmented; random thoughts run through your head; you are unable to concentrate on any one thought; you are trying to get a grip on why you are feeling this way . . . you keep asking yourself in your head, “Why is this happening?” Your heart is racing; you have feelings of hyper-vigilance. There may be smells, or images such as movies that play over in your head. This is shaking you straight through to your very core. And this is not the first time this has happened to you.You think to yourself “Wait a minute, this is not who I am. Why is this happening? I am strong and this does not happen to me.”If this sounds familiar, you may have experienced the psychological and physiological reactions to a critical incident.The most important thing you need to understand is that you are not broken or damaged goods. In fact, you are having a normal reaction to an abnormal event.First thing’s first: my perspective on critical-incident stress is based on my training as a peer de-briefer and experience with people in both the fire service and the armed forces. It’s important that first responders understand the emotional response to a critical incident and learn emotional resiliency strategies from individual and organizational perspectives.One of the things that separates firefighters from civilians is training – copious amounts of training; endless training – and for good reason. Further, there are several outcomes that training provides; one of those outcomes is expected behaviour in a given circumstance. However, no amount of training prepares emergency responders for the bad things they will encounter many, many times over the course of their careers. Simulations and full-scale exercises pale in comparison to what responders experience come game day.So, what is a critical incident? In essence, a critical incident is any event that significantly overpowers a person’s coping methods, such as a sudden death or a line-of-duty death. A critical incident is also any situation faced by emergency responders that causes a disruption or distressing change in their physical or psychological functioning. There are unusually strong emotions attached to critical incidents that have the potential to interfere with a person’s ability to function either at the scene or away from it.Critical incidents produce characteristic sets of psychological and physiological reactions or symptoms in all people, including emergency-service personnel. Typical symptoms of critical-incident stress include restlessness, irritability, excessive fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety, suspiciousness, startle reactions, depression, moodiness, muscle tremors, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, vomiting, and diarrhea.The physical and emotional symptoms that develop as part of a stress response are normal, but have the potential to become dangerous to the responder if they become prolonged. Researchers have also concluded that future incidents (even those that are more “normal”) can be enough to trigger a stress response. Prolonged stress saps energy and leaves the person vulnerable to illness. Under certain conditions, responders may have the potential for life-long after-effects. Symptoms are especially destructive when a person denies their presence or misinterprets the stress responses as something going wrong with him or her.The severity of reactions depends on factors related to the incident, such as suddenness, intensity, duration, available social support, severity and nature of the event, and factors related to the person. These include past experience, personal loss, perception of threat, personal coping abilities, degree of personal danger, the present circumstance of the person’s life, behaviour of others, role and level of responsibility.Critical incidents cannot be predicted, nor can critical-incident stress be prevented. However, you can increase your resistance by being healthy. In Part 2 of this series in May, we will discuss strategies to become more resilient and what the organization – the municipality or your department – can do. Until then, take care of yourself. As for me, I am off to a yoga class.Keith Stecko is the fire chief and emergency program co-ordinator in Smithers, B.C. He joined the fire service in 1986 as a firefighter/paramedic level 2 advanced life support, served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and is a graduate of the Lakeland College bachelor of business in emergency services program and the public administration program from Camosun College. Contact Keith at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @KeithStecko
I think everyone has seen the humorous pictures with anecdotes on social media platforms or email inboxes. Usually I glance at them and move on, but recently one stood out: a leader speaking to a group of followers asks “Who wants change?” and everyone raises their hands. In the next frame, the leader asks “Who wants to change?” Not surprisingly, there isn’t a hand in the air.Change tends to be interpreted negatively, however, the only way to move forward is to change. In fact, failing to change often yields negative results for those who try to remain static while everything changes around them.For the fire service, simple co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments or agencies that serve the same group of customers can be an effective way to incorporate positive change.When fire-service managers fail to co-operate with other municipal departments, managers of those departments, and our customers – the public – tend to think we are protecting our turf. No longer is it unique for municipal managers to co-operate with other city departments or even outside agencies. To collaborate and search for effective cost saving and service-enhancement opportunities means the fire department must compromise, but not necessarily concede. Chiefs need to be prepared to communicate solutions to fire department challenges and include some ideas that may have been presented by other municipal departments. This approach also gives fire-service leaders the opportunity to present successful fire department ideas, strategies and successes to municipal colleagues and can result in respect and support from municipal leaders.Dynamic, sustainable organizations must remain active and engaged in their realms. Organizations that resist change will become extinct. There is a choice; guide it or ride it. Our industry leaders have the opportunity to lay the foundation today for the fire service they believe is appropriate for tomorrow. A commitment to think openly and have a vision can lead to a positive future for the fire service; remaining passive will lead to extinction. Although municipal fire services are generally cherished community organizations, they will not live on forever if fire-service leaders choose to maintain the status quo because other service providers – public and private – offer more economical options.Progress is not a continual slope upward, rather it is a series of peaks and valleys with each peak giving way to a plateau, and each valley more gentle than the one before it. Times of rest help us to adjust to the new normal and provide the opportunity to prepare the organization and its members for the next climb. Use the valleys to reflect on where your organization and you have been. Cherish accomplishments, even those that may have been short-lived; they may have shown the way to the new normal. Use these situations to analyze how or why an initiative wasn’t as successful as anticipated; look for opportunities to take further actions that may result in a more successful implementation of a new or revised program or idea. Keep an open mind about what opportunities exist.Most departments are now long past the do-more-with-less attitude that has plagued the fire service for years; in fact, most are at the point of doing less with less. Perhaps the best-case scenario now is to find things that can be done differently so that fire departments can more efficiently maintain or improve service and safety in our communities and for firefighters. If that were the case, there would be hands in the air when the question “Who wants to change?” is asked, because change necessitates doing something differently, not just waiting on others while the fire service maintains the status quo.Opportunities and examples of change are vast; many are spoken about at fire-service conferences, workshops and seminars. Some of the simplest and most easily implemented ideas are often right there in front of us, created and implemented by people we deal with every day, including our peers in other municipal departments. Don’t be afraid to embrace some of their ideas. Although an idea may come from outside the fire service, it may be adapted with great success.Fire service leaders are not always required to be the change champions but there are times when it is appropriate to be the coach, cheerleader or even, perhaps, the naysayer. In each of those roles, you could inspire someone else to present a new idea. Co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments will improve efficiency and effectiveness of the fire service with the goal of ensuring a strong and sustainable fire-protection system in the community.* Carousel photo from Flickr by Kenny LouieKevin Foster is the fire chief and emergency management co-ordinator in Midland, Ont. 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 @KFoster_FSEM
Spend an hour online reading wellness websites and popular blogs and you will quickly learn that detox and cleansing are the new buzzwords around health. Google detox, and you will be surprised by the diversity of the people talking about how they can help you improve your body by simply doing a three- to 28-day food fast or juice cleanse. These detox programs can be dangerous if they are delivered by poorly trained or untrained practitioners. As well, programs online are often sold as one size fits all, which can be harmful if you are a smaller person taking medicines intended for someone larger. I think there is tremendous value in a regular detoxification program for firefighters, but I believe it has to be safe and effective and there definitely has to be solid science behind the process.By far the most frequently asked question in my medical practice is about detoxification or cleansing. Patients ask me how I can help them clean their bodies using a detoxification program. To clarify, we are talking about how the average Joe can remove toxins, restore bodily function and feel rejuvenated. To truly understand the detoxification process in firefighters’ bodies, we need to first explore toxic exposure in the fire service. We often forget how toxic this planet really is. Since the Second World War, there have been close to 80,000 man-made chemicals created in labs. After completing your morning routine of showering, shaving, moisturizing, applying after-shave lotion and brushing your teeth, you have exposed yourself to, on average, 35 toxic chemicals, of which five are carcinogenic. And all of that happens before you put on your bunker gear and race towards a burning building that is spewing out a cocktail of hazardous chemical substances.A firefighter’s greatest risk of chemical exposure occurs during fires or hazmat calls, during which he or she can be exposed to chemicals by skin contact or by inhalation. A multitude of chemicals are released from the combustion of building materials and building contents. Perfluorinated compounds and polychlorinated dioxins are two very common chemicals released from walls, fabric, wiring, equipment, furniture, paint and carpets, and are extremely hazardous not to mention potentially deadly.While one exposure does not mean contraction of cancer, disease or illness, a 25-year career filled with hundreds of fire calls and hundreds situations with potentially hazardous chemicals can and does have an effect on the human body. In my experience treating firefighters, they always remember the one fire that affected their health the most.  According to the International Association of Fire Fighters Presumptive Health Initiative (http://www.iaff.org/hs/phi/), scientific evidence demonstrates that firefighters are at an increased risk of heart disease, lung disease, infectious exposure and cancer. We can assume that chemical exposure is a large reason for the increased risk. Studies looking at toxic chemical exposures also make direct links to other health conditions such as thyroid disease, diabetes, neurological conditions, and auto-immune conditions, to mention a few. The fire service takes some necessary precautions by asking firefighters to wear their SCBAs and other PPE during the entire fire operation in order to reduce their chemical exposure. As well, the frequent cleaning of PPE is taken very seriously, especially after large fires. Science tells us the majority of toxic chemicals are fat soluble, which allows them to make their way through the skin into the bloodstream if a firefighter is exposed to contaminated bunker gear. Environmental monitoring or bio-monitoring as a form of exposure testing is on the horizon and will likely become a very important way for firefighters to monitor their health in the future. A quick visit to the IAFF website and you will come across newly posted information on bio-monitoring. Bio-monitoring is the term for testing urine, blood, saliva and stool for toxic chemicals to determine chemical exposure and bio-accumulation. Bio-accumulation is the build-up of heavy metals and chemicals in the human body. While the presence of chemicals does not mean you have a diagnosed condition, we know from a number of studies that toxins have the ability to stress the body, and long-term chemical presence can lead to chronic conditions. The human body has an amazing ability and capacity to detoxify and eliminate most if not all toxic chemicals over time. From scientific studies, we now know how to help the body remove these chemical toxins, and we will explore how this is done in Part 2 of this firefighter detoxification series in May.Elias Markou is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
On Vancouver’s North Shore, three neighbouring fire departments have successfully combined their apparatus-purchasing power, and it is saving them manpower and money.In early 2013, the City of North Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver, and the District of West Vancouver fire departments formed a large-equipment purchasing co-op. Last summer, the co-op acquired three brand-new engines from Pierce Manufacturing Inc., built to identical specifications. The beauty of the new trucks, say all three departments’ fire chiefs, is that they were selected through a collaborative process.“It’s just such a great example of how much we can achieve together,” said Chief Dan Pistilli with the City of North Vancouver, who was the lead chief officer for the purchasing co-op.It took months of discussions and late-night meetings, but working together, Pistilli, representatives from all three departments and the dealer were able to find an engine specification that was the right fit for all of them.Coming togetherChief Victor Penman of the District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services said co-operative purchasing was a long-time coming for the three departments.“Our departments are side by side by side,” Penman said. “We have always, over the years, worked fairly closely together, but there was always a bit of a silo and always a bit of redundancy and probably a lot of opportunities where we could have been working closer together.”Recognizing that need, the three municipalities jointly funded a consultant to complete a co-operative-services study. The resulting 2010 report recommended – among other things – that the municipalities consider purchasing large equipment together.“We chose to focus our energy on the purchasing co-op,” Penman said. Over the next three years, the co-op was formed with representatives from each department: Pistilli and the captain mechanic from the City of North Vancouver, the assistant chief and a mechanic from West Vancouver, and the assistant chief from the District of North Vancouver. Purchasing managers from each department were brought in at times to handle the business side of the transactions, including the request for proposals, the review of submissions and the interviews with short-listed dealers.In February 2013 – after many group meetings and a rigorous process of scoring proposals – a five-year multi-purchase contract was awarded to Wholesale Fire & Rescue Ltd. (WFR).Jumping right in, the co-op determined that the first purchase would be new engines and in early 2014, three Pierce Arrow XT pumpers rolled out of the manufacturer’s Wisconsin plant and headed to Vancouver’s North Shore. The Pierce trucks are powered by 500-horse power Detroit Diesel engines, and are equipped with 7,571-litres per minute (2,000-gallon per minute) single-stage pumps, 1,514-litre (400-gallon) water tanks, Husky 3 single-agent foam systems, Command Zone electronics systems, and a full complement of ground ladders. The pumpers have 25.4-centimetre (10-inch) raised-roof cabs, Pierce’s TAK-4 independent front suspensions, Pierce PSV seating for five firefighters, heated remote-control mirrors, and automatic tire-chain systems.The three trucks have only minor differences or additions, such as tweaked hosebed layouts for specific hoseloads, or electric versus manual controls depending on the department’s budget. The City of North Vancouver’s pumper is also built with a 7,571-litres per minute (2,000-gallon per minute) TFT Monsoon deck gun. The identical engines are only distinguishable because of paint jobs, which are in keeping with departments’ colour schemes.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria9fcee6f18b Perks of a purchasing co-opOne of the most valuable benefits from the purchasing co-op, Penman said, is confidence that the trucks that were acquired are the result of three departments’ collective experience of reliability and performance.“All departments,” he said, “have a picture in their mind as to what the perfect fire truck is for them based on their own experiences. But when we got the three departments together and all that expertise in the room, we came up with a super spec.”Another benefit of the co-op is the combined buying power, which, thanks to the dealer’s negotiations, resulted in cost savings from the manufacturer. Penman also noted efficiencies in terms of staff time dedicated to the specification process.“If we had done it individually, there would have been three times as many resources involved,” Penman said. Having the best minds in the room together to create a uniform “super” truck saves each department from allocating resources to individual review committees to determine what apparatus works for them.A benefit for firefighters on the ground – and one of the original goals of the purchasing co-op – is uniformity of equipment, said Fire Chief Jim Cook of the District of West Vancouver.The idea, he said, is that during an incident when more than one department responds, all firefighters on the scene are familiar with and can operate the equipment, including the apparatuses.“If firefighter A from one municipality was asked to go get equipment off another’s, he would be familiar with its location,” Cook said. As well, incident commanders from each department can make snap decisions based on knowledge of what the neighbouring department’s truck is carrying.Because of proximity and blurred jurisdictions, multiple departments respond to calls near boundaries. All three trucks have been in service since summer and have had time to prove their worth on scene.“We’ve had many occasions where those new front-line engines have been in service at those calls together – in some cases all three – and the advantages are simply evident,” Cook said.Compromise is necessaryBenefits aside, Pistilli acknowledged that the co-op’s decision-making process was difficult at times when a department was forced to give up a desired specification. Individual budgets also complicated the process, as the final design had to agree with three municipal budget constraints.“Coming into it, prepare to make some adjustments to potentially your equipment needs and the size of the vehicle,” he said. Each department in the co-op had to compromise to some degree; for one it was agreeing to a larger size of truck than expected, for another, the truck was a bit smaller.“Have an open mind,” Pistilli said; finding common ground is worth sacrificing the idea of a perfect apparatus.Dealer approved, conditionallyFor WFR president Hiba Hodges, the Vancouver purchasing co-op was the first of its kind she has dealt with, and the only successful one of which she has heard.Hodges handled the co-op sale personally and said the benefits certainly made it worthwhile. The dynamic of having three departments at the table replaced the “Why?” aspect of her job, she said.“I usually have to be the one that’s asking why – ‘Why do you want to do it that way?’ – to figure out if it’s really the right option or not,” she said. “[Working with the co-op], I didn’t have to do any of the questioning, because they were questioning each other.”But, Hodges cautioned, a co-op didn’t necessarily mean less work for her or the departments. In fact, having three opinions in the same room was a challenge for her as a dealer, she said.“It is very different to cater to three departments. Even though they were very similar, we really had to find the right option and customization features that would meet all three,” she said. That meant many hours of discussion in order to find the right match.At the same time, the three opinions were valuable, Hodges said. If each of the Vancouver trucks was purchased through a separate process, she would have missed the bigger picture of what engine works for all three.Hodges said she would recommend other departments form purchasing co-ops, but only under certain conditions. The departments involved must be willing to come to the table and compromise, which is not always possible, she said.“The difference with this group is that they were all in agreement to standardize to a certain point,” Hodges said. “They have to have the same mindset in terms of what they want to achieve. The reason it worked in this case is because they all were willing to adjust their SOPs, their way of doing things.” Co-operation growingOver the last three years the three Vancouver departments have grown closer in terms of overall co-operation, Cook said. For years they have taken part in joint training exercises, and discussions about aligning standard operating guidelines are ongoing, he said.“This is just the start,” Cook said. “Our councils have been clear in giving us direction, to say, ‘Listen, you need to share where it seems reasonable.’ We’ve kind of pushed that envelope.”With the first major purchase a huge success, Pistilli said, the departments are confident in making more joint purchases in the future. “It really went so well and it’s something amazing to be a part of,” he said.
Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King interviewed Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer on Oct. 15, the day Commissioner Paul Belanger’s report on the inquiry into the collapse of Algo Centre mall – and the emergency response to the incident – was released. Part II of the report, on the emergency response, contains 34 recommendations from a more manageable – but mandatory – incident management system, to interoperability, but also praises the Elliot Lake Fire Department’s response to the collapse on June 23, 2012, in which two women were killed.Chief Officer and captains Darren Connors and John Thomas testified during the seven-month inquiry in 2013.Responses from government departments and agencies to the commission’s recommendations are due by Oct. 15 this year.Q Commissioner Paul Belanger’s report is favourable to the Elliot Lake Fire Department, and the commissioner had good things to say about the response. What is your take on the report?  A I’m happy to see that our firefighters received the recognition that they deserve. There was a lot of effort put in on that day. They did risk their lives when they first went in and I’m happy to see that recognized.Q One of the criticisms during the inquiry was the lack of a written incident action plan; the commissioner, however, says the department did everything right. Is that vindication?A I think to a certain extent [it’s validation that we did things right]. Of course you can always learn from things. [Commissioner Belanger] did say in his report that although there was no written incident action plan he did feel that there was a plan formulated in the minds of the various commanders and myself, and I think that’s quite true. Writing things down at the time . . . I had a scribe, but putting up a white board might have helped to clarify things so that if somebody comes on – I won’t say for a shift change because there really wasn’t one – that could potentially help in identifying the whole organizational chart.Q There was considerable discussion during the inquiry about the incident management system and the fact that there were some communication challenges among the various responding agencies. The commissioner has recommended mandatory IMS, and we know the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal is reviewing the provincial system; is it broken and does it need to be fixed?A Even during the inquiry I had a real concern that the commissioner would make recommendations or changes to incident [management]. I can’t speak for the OPP on their training, or EMS, but I do know the fire incident command works, and I had a real issue that they might end up playing with that going forward with something that doesn’t work. I think [the commissioner’s] part in those recommendations is making sure we’re all on the same page – that all agencies are on the same page, that we’re all trained to the same standards, share the same terminology, and, of course, everybody works for a united goal. Q The commissioner’s remarks are pretty scathing in some regards, particularly in terms of the provincial emergency management system. What’s your take on all of that? What needs to be reviewed and how do you create something that works for everybody?A That’s the problem with the diversity in the province, I mean, it should be able to [work for everyone]. IMS is scalable, and if everyone is speaking the same language there shouldn’t be a problem. I think what [the commissioner] was referring to is the silos among the different agencies; he did identify in the report that there are definitely silos and we need to take those down and all go for the same common goal.Q What do you do differently in your department now than before June 23, 2012?A I think probably the lesson for my officers is the note-taking and the detail that’s required. I’m seeing more detail in their reports and we haven’t had another major incident, but I think everyone sees the value in having a scribe at a big incident – that’s one thing I did pretty much immediately and I’m thankful that I thought to do it because it was something that really helped. When I finally sat down to write [my] notes . . . with the scribe’s notes and the recordings, I was able to piece everything together.I think we were a pretty tight-knit bunch before [the incident] and probably, if anything, it has made us more tight. I think everyone is also more concerned about our health and safety; obviously if a firefighter goes down it changes the whole focus of what you’re there for, so that seems to be a little more prevalent as well. As for what ends up happening with the recommendations, we always knew there would be issues on a major call with radio communications and I think that was identified by the commissioner, that there are silos there, and that’s going to be a very difficult one to get over [because of potential costs involved].Q What about the effect of the incident and the inquiry on your members?A We’re still monitoring folks; we have a few who have had some issues. Of course, we offered our employee-assistance program and my door is always open, and I go out of my way to talk to those individuals and tell them they’re not alone. I probably feel a lot of the same things that they do, so talking about it and getting it out there is a big help, so we’ll continue to do that.Q You were a building inspector before you were a fire chief. When you take into consideration the whole report today, how do you feel about it and how do you move on?A Well the whole report took in 30 or 35 years; the way I look at that, everybody had a couple of pieces of a big puzzle and now we can see the big picture and that’s where the recommendations come from and hopefully that will stop anything like this from happening again.Q Does the report provide closure for your department?A I was hoping that it would. I was looking forward to the report and finally putting this behind us. It has been a daily thing and, of course, you’re still trying to do your daily duties and serve your municipality and the citizens. It has been a difficult couple of years.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriac63a26524a Q You are speaking over the next while to chief officers at conferences across Ontario about your experience. What will you tell them?A Well, obviously these events can happen anywhere. I’ve said it before: Elliot Lake should be a fire chief’s dream location, and we still had an event like this. I will probably do a quick summary on the conditions; one of the things I’m the most proud of – at one point I think we had close to 400 people on scene, and we ended up, in those conditions, with just three minor injuries (a shoulder injury, a minor cut hand and a minor ankle sprain), so with the conditions that we dealt with and the fatigue, I’m pretty proud of that fact because we could so easily have had some pretty serious injuries, if not deaths. I’ll reinforce the note-taking, and some of the recommendations I’d like to see that were put forth by the commission. I tend to agree with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs [which recommended to the commissioner] that a support team for the smaller town fire chiefs is a good idea, and I see that’s a recommendation and it’s one I would like to see happen. It has been very challenging and very difficult on the department and the community as a whole and it can happen anywhere, there’s no two ways about it. Q The role of the Ministry of Labour (MOL) at a rescue was unclear to many on the scene, including MOL inspectors and engineers. The province made clear in its submission to the commissioner that the MOL can, indeed, shut down a rescue if workers are at risk – although that didn’t happen here. Is the role of the MOL now clear to the fire service and is there something more that fire should be doing to make that clear to its members?A I believe it is clear that they have the right to be there; it does cause concern, depending on the capacity in which they are there. If they are there to work in conjunction with the incident commander, then I don’t think I would have so much concern with it. But I do believe – and I think it was mentioned in the commissioner’s report, and I would have the same problem with it – that a MOL presence does tend to make you re-think your decisions, look over your shoulder; you don’t have time to second-guess your decisions and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Right across the province it could be an issue. Obviously they have the right, so maybe there can be some kind of accommodation between the fire service and the MOL. There are certain things that would be of great value – for example, having access to provincial engineers. When [the collapse] took place we were unable to secure the services of an engineer; those folks work for the province and if we call and ask, they can come, so that would be quite nice.Q You testified that you didn’t know about the OPP’s search and rescue team, UCRT. UCRT was praised by the commissioner in his report for its quick response, and the Toronto HUSAR team was, in fact, criticized for its slower response – it took them six hours to deploy and then, of course, they had to get to Elliot Lake from Toronto. The commissioner is recommending that the teams work together and he has called for the reinstatement of federal funding for HUSAR, which is unlikely to happen.Some Elliot Lake residents asked today for a team specifically for northern Ontario, which we know is not financially feasible. I don’t see a solution in the recommendations. Do you?A I don’t either and I’m not sure where they’re going to go with that. The idea would be that they work under one set of rules; that they work together. If UCRT remains on its own, as its own entity, the two teams still would need to work and train together. One thing I would like to see, if UCRT is that quick and capable, it would definitely have been a benefit to have their planning chief and their commander come up [to Elliot Lake] so that we could get ahead on things. They’ve got to work together; if it’s UCRT that’s the light team and if they’re coming up and making provisions, so you have a planning chief and you start formulating an incident-action plan, and all of the sudden the heavy team comes up and they don’t like that plan, well you’ve just wasted a whole bunch of time, so one way or the other they’ve got to get that together. Q What are you going to do now in your department? Are you going to look at the recommendations and discuss them? How do you bring that closure?A I think we’ll probably afford everyone an opportunity to review the recommendations, and it will give me an opportunity to thank everyone again for the job that they did. If there’s anything that we can learn from the report that we can implement immediately, we will. I think that, manpower permitting, if we can have a scribe for the incident commander – one thing we did learn that was somewhat unfair to someone like [Capt.] John Thomas was that when he replaced me [on scene as incident commander], the scribe came with me; that individual should have had a scribe as well. That would have helped when it was time to recall notes. One step we’ve taken and I’ve informed council and my boss – the CAO – about is that the fire chief in [nearby] Blind River – if we have another event – will come up as support. Say if there’s was a fire event and I can’t even break away and get to council or the EOC, he will be that person, and I’m a radio call away if there’s any further information that’s needed. We’ve implemented that and I’ll do the same for his community. We have made some changes.
I did it twice the other day and I liked it. It was easy, somewhat fun and I did it in private, but I did not follow through; I hit the delete button and went back to work. I couldn’t follow through because one of my father’s adages – he served in the fire service for 40 years – screamed in my head while I composed the tweet: if you can’t say anything positive about someone then don’t say anything at all. So I hit the delete button. There’s a similar saying when it comes to snail mail; write the nasty letter, then put it in your desk drawer for a day and see if you still want to send it the next morning.Social media is a powerful, instant and non-retrievable tool in our work and personal spheres. It is relatively easy and usually gratifying to tweet and post our thoughts, pictures and comments to the world. We know who sees our messages when they like them or retweet them, but perhaps just as importantly, we don’t know who is monitoring and seeing our messages. Indeed, we all have to realize that our on-duty and off-duty posts are subject to review, and can be tracked, searched and viewed by anyone, anywhere.Social media is not a new forum. Facebook posts were being liked more than 10 years ago. Tweets were being retweeted eight years ago. There are now firefighters in the service who have never mailed a stamped envelope with a letter inside. In this digital age, it is easy to say or upload something we probably would not say or show to our grandmothers or our children. I’m not the ethics police or a behavioural consultant, but it seems to me that there should be more awareness of the proper use of social media among those in the fire hall. That awareness starts at the top and goes all the way down to the newest recruit.The foremost aspect of your social media awareness starts with knowing whether your local government or fire service has a policy on the use of social media. Ensure you understand what the policy means to you and how it applies to you as a firefighter. Does it apply to you off duty? Are you sure? How does your provincial freedom-of-information law apply to what you post as an on-duty member of the fire department? You may think your conversation is private, however, it may become a part of the public record and your comments may actually be the property of the city/town. Be careful not to use social media to post information about an emergency to which you are responding and/or investigating.Social media is a powerful tool for the fire service to use to disseminate timely messages to the public about fire safety, or important information during an emergency. Fire-service leaders can also use social media as a tool to get their messages out to duty crews. (This reminds me of the monthly VHS department-update videos some chiefs used to send out just a few short years ago, but I digress.)Alternatively, social media can be harmful to a firefighter or a fire chief when it’s used inappropriately either on or off duty. Joseph Cohen-Lyons wrote in a November 2011 article published by the Public Sector Digest, that an inappropriate use of social media by employees is when the message “impacts the legitimate interests of their employer and affects their ability to perform their functions as public sector employees.”Yes, you have freedom of expression, but if you think that what you say on social media is private and no one else’s business, you may want to think again. In November, an arbitrator upheld the dismissal of a Toronto firefighter because his off-duty Twitter comments were determined to be a serious misconduct. In this case, the firefighter was identifiable as a member of the Toronto fire service.Using social media can be a fun and easy way to get an official fire-service message or personal thought out to the rest of the world, but with such power comes much responsibility related to its use.According to the Toronto labour law firm Hicks Morley (www.hicksmorley.com), firefighters (full time or volunteer), need to be aware that: it is the responsibility of firefighters of all ranks who use social media to understand the risks of usage, regardless of whether they think the comments are private; that firefighters, as civil servants, may be held to a higher standard than other workers; and that the employer may/should have a social media policy that governs firefighters’ social-media behaviour. Share this information with your team, and remember, around the fire hall, at the fire department fish fry or while on social media – 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
Talk of succession planning in the fire service often elicits a lot of blank stares. There is considerable confusion about succession planning – what is it, how to do it, and even where to get information about it. Succession planning is often misunderstood by senior managers and entry-level employees. Fire-service tradition dictated that if you hung around long enough you would eventually be the chief. Not only does this no longer apply, but it was a bad practice and is almost entirely responsible for fire being perceived as the outsider in municipal senior-management circles.In most municipal departments, the senior-management team is made up of people with degrees in administration, engineering, finance, recreation, municipal planning or some other discipline, and many of these are at the master’s level or higher. In the fire service, the senior leaders are often the most experienced firefighters; although this is changing, more needs to be done to prepare our future leaders.So what is succession planning and how is it done? Let’s first address what succession planning is not: it is not supplementing the pension of senior employees during their final years because they have put in years of good service; it is not a reward for long service or good service; it is not about hand-picking your successor. Some of this confusion can be attri-buted to the term succession planning, which often leaves chiefs thinking they should plan who will succeed them when they leave. I prefer the term succession program as it is more holistic and applies to all members of the organization, not just a select few.I remember conducting an interview with a new hire a number of years ago and when asked what his goal in the fire service was he replied, “To sit in your chair.” I hired him. I am often asked why I would hire someone who wants my job. My answer is that I know I won’t be here forever, and someone needs to take over when I leave. A succession program needs to start at the initial interview with entry-level candidates. The sooner you identify those who aspire to higher positions, the sooner you can start to support them.Succession programs are about creating opportunities for members of the organization to advance to senior positions. These opportunities must be applied fairly and consistently throughout the organization. This is sometimes very hard to do as we all bring certain biases to the table and we like or dislike certain members of the department based on past or current events; this cannot be allowed to cloud the program or it will not work. Everyone must be given the opportunity to progress; the selection process will allow the cream to rise to the top.Most fire departments have good succession programs in place for the lower ranks. There are courses and standards set for promotion to the next position, everyone is given the opportunity to complete the training, and the selection process allows the higher-quality candidates to move into the next positions. This works great up to the rank of captain, and even to the battalion-chief (or platoon-chief) level, but the system seems to break down beyond that.What’s the solution? First, it’s important to identify what the job of fire chief really includes and determine the qualifications needed to do the job properly. Then, identify the programs that will meet the needs of the position and offer these programs to the senior members of the department – this may range from Fire Officer IV to a master’s degree, depending on the size of the department. The courses required to attain the necessary level of management or leadership skills must be made available during individuals’ careers so that when the time comes to replace the chief, there are a number of trained and qualified candidates available to compete for the position. A succession program won’t have a formal list of steps you must take to reach the top, but more of a direction pointing to the top. Regularly read the ads for chief-officer positions to see what requirements municipalities seek in their new chiefs. Get a handle on the disciplines in which municipalities want their chief officers to have degrees. Start offering courses that lead to these degrees – start at the certificate level and move to diplomas, then degrees. Make these courses available to everyone – those who don’t make chief will have more to offer the department and will be a major asset over time.Education, though important, is not enough. Your people need time to practice their skills in real-life situations under supervision. This is the mentoring phase, which many chief officers find difficult. Too many senior managers use the excuse that “it is quicker to just do it myself.” That may be true once, but the next time and the time after that it puts a great drain on your time if you haven’t taught someone else how to do the required tasks. Chief officers need to assign the jobs, and then get out of the way. Be available to assist if needed, but don’t step in to do it. The chief’s job is to observe, guide, correct and assist as needed. It is quite possible that your expectations won’t be met the first time, but with guidance, they will be met in the future and you will have a new resource at your fingertips. It is also possible that your expectations will be exceeded.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria03bca43eb5 The requirement to pay a competitive salary to management employees is probably the most challenging aspect to developing a succession program; unfortunately, in many cases, it is also out of your hands. Management salaries have become a major issue for fire departments in areas that have removed indexing of out-of-scope salaries – salaries of those not included in the bargaining unit. This has closed the gap between the salaries of the highest-level unionized employees and the low-end salaries of the non-unionized employees to the point at which it makes little economic sense for a member to leave the floor to take a management position that may be less than secure in terms of one’s career. The situation can only be solved by the fire chief negotiating a salary agreement with the municipality that will survive his or her retirement.Part of a good successful succession program is mandatory vacation time for you – the chief. I have known numerous senior managers who have retired with five to six months of vacation saved up. I know of many situations in which municipalities have had to force their senior managers to take their vacations or have paid them out. Paying out vacation does no good for anybody. Vacation has two benefits in a succession plan; first, it provides you with the opportunity to get away from the pressures of the job – to relax and unwind. This time away is very important for any manager. The other benefit of vacations is just as important; your senior employees are forced to take control of the whole operation and make the decisions you would normally make, without your input or oversight. Your staff must take responsibility for these decisions, and you will likely be surprised by how consistent their decisions are with yours.To ensure that your staff members make these decisions, turn off your phone, leave it in your hotel room, and, if you want to follow your emails so you know what is happening, read them, but do not reply to them; you are on vacation. Give your staff the opportunity to lead, choose, decide and take control of the department. Let it be theirs while you are away.Finally, get your proteges involved in the associations that represent the fire service provincially, nationally and internationally. At association events, these potential successors will make contacts with whom they can share and gain knowledge, learn how issues are solved in other departments and find a shoulder to cry on when things go bad. Remember, you are not alone; numerous people have gone through the same situations in other municipalities and they are more than willing to help you. Over the years I have learned more from peers than from any book or classroom.It is a wonderful feeling when you set people free and watch what they can accomplish. That is the true purpose of a succession program – letting people learn and improve on what you have done in the past. One of the greatest pleasures in life is watching young people grow into the leaders of the future. The purpose of a succession program is to support that growth.Denis Pilon is the chief of the Swift Current Fire Department in Saskatchewan and is the chair of the CAFC’s resolutions, bylaws and constitution committee. 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 @DMPilon
We didn’t make a conscious decision to write more about first-responder mental health, it just happened. People came to us – bloggers Bruce Lacillade and Rob Martin who write Stand Down and Fit for Duty on our website and complement Jennifer Grigg’s powerful stories in her Dispatches blog and column, and Keith Stecko, the fire chief in Smithers, B.C., whose piece on page 46 looks at critical incidents through his decades of fire, paramedic and armed forces experience.All three new writers explore aspects of first-responder mental health from different perspectives, and while there may be some repetition in their messages – you are not alone, you are not weak, start talking, end the stigma – we want to make sure we reach everyone from firefighter candidates to chiefs, so we’re glad to provide insight from people in different stages of their fire-service careers.All have impressive backgrounds. Lacillade is a former firefighter and fire inspector; he’s ex U.S. military and a chaplain. Martin is a fire captain and a yoga instructor with extensive training in critical-incident stress debriefing. Chief Stecko is an ALS paramedic with armed forces experience. Grigg, of course – a longtime contributor – is a volunteer firefighter who has recounted her experiences with depression and post-traumatic stress and whose writing has elicited thanks and comments from firefighters from across the country.Some of our other contributors have written passionately about the need for fire-service leaders to implement programs to deal with critical incidents and PTSD. (You can read their columns on our website under hot topics/health and safety.)Why focus on mental health now? Because people are talking, and when people talk, change happens. It’s hard to know whether the statistics Global News and the Tema Conter Memorial Foundation have reported about first-responder suicides – four in January and 34 since the end of April – are an anomaly or if we’re more aware and counting. I first heard an emergency responder talk about PTSD in 2011 at the Tema Conter conference. Jim Bremner, a retired Toronto police officer, shot and killed a man during a hostage-taking in 1999. Bremner’s book, Crack in the Armour details his descent into PTSD and the subsequent drinking and consideration of suicide. I was baffled by the fact that no counselling had been offered to Bremner.We’ve come a long way. By now you know that Bell’s fourth Let’s Talk day on Jan. 28 raised more than $6 million for mental-health awareness and programs; a chunk of that will go to first responders.Everyone’s talking. Everyone’s listening. No one’s judging. All you have to do is ask.
There is a constant and almost daily injection of new technology into our lives, homes and workplaces. But the gradual pace at which the latest-and-greatest technology works its way into the fire service is often frustratingly slow.
As a professional in the fire service, you make crucial decisions every day that balance need with available resources. How should you approach these decisions, and how can you justify the decisions you make?
If you do not have your health, what do you have? In the November issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, I raised the issue of work-related mental illness in the fire and emergency services. Your responses have been overwhelming. It seems I touched a nerve – I think in a good way – for many. The next step is learning how, as fire-service leaders, we can take action to help ourselves and our colleagues who are suffering or lost.
"You need to lose 25 pounds.” Those were words I knew were coming but I sure did not want to hear them. I had to have surgery (that’s another column) and those were the doctor’s instructions to me. I quietly took them in, and I think the doctor could sense my disappointment; the disappointment was internal for letting myself get to that point. The doctor then took me down the hall and introduced me to a nutritionist.
It is with mixed emotions that I start my 40th year in the fire service. On the one hand, I am so proud of the fire service in many ways. The service impacts many lives in a positive way. Over the years, I have met a lot of great people and I have made many lifelong friends. I am pleased with what I have accomplished to date. I love the fire service.On the other hand, I am embarrassed by the very few bad apples that are out there in the fire service. Over the past few months, there have been a number of stories about chief officers behaving inappropriately. I, like many others, strongly believe that good leadership is vital to a healthy organization. If leaders of the organization are behaving poorly, the negative effects ripple through the entire organization. Some of these chiefs were bad characters to begin with and should never have been promoted. With this in mind, we, as chief officers, need to do our part to ensure that young staff members are taught the importance of ethics. We need to let them know that inappropriate behaviour is not accepted in our organizations.Unfortunately, there have been so many stories lately about chief officers behaving badly that I think we could start a reality series titled Chiefs gone bad! There would be a lot of content. The episodes would include stories of chief officers making racist remarks, drinking and driving, drinking in public vehicles or at their fire stations, drug use, misuse of public vehicles, misuse of public funds, receiving gifts for spending public funds, inappropriate relationships, conflicts of interest, chief officers with fake degrees, chief officers with little to no formal training . . . need I go on?Poor behaviour such as this is totally unacceptable; it’s shameful and gives the entire fire service a black eye. It is hard to believe these things happen. One would hope only the best would be promoted to chief-officer levels in the first place. If this is the fire service’s best, we had better get a handle on this situation quickly before it is too late and the reputation of the entire fire service suffers.The problem of individuals’ behaviour affecting the reputation of the fire service, or any other profession, has been around forever. But with the reach of social media, stories are now shared much easier and faster than before. Make a mistake in the morning and it is possible that millions of people will know about it before the end of the day.I know chief officers are just regular people, but we should still expect them to behave properly. As a chief officer, you have a duty to act appropriately. When you accept a position as a chief officer you have an obligation to be honest and ethical; anything less is unacceptable. If you can’t do this, get out now.While 99 per cent of the chief officers out there are doing the right things right, the small percentage of bad chiefs are making us all look bad. One of the most important things in your life should be your reputation and the reputation of the organization you represent. Good or bad, your reputation is known by the people around you. You are accountable for yourself, no one else is. Do what is right and you should have no worries; do wrong and you could lose your job and your good reputation very quickly.I believe all fire-service members can be a part of the solution by letting others know if their behaviour is unacceptable. (It would be nice if they could figure this out by themselves, but sadly, many can’t). Tell them their poor behaviour (and bad reputation) hurts us all. Annual surveys show that the fire service is one of the most trusted professions; this will surely change if we do not take the necessary steps to address this problem. It is time to clean house.There are a lot of great people in the fire service who are ready to step up and make a positive difference. Let’s call bad apples out and let them know that their inappropriate behaviours are unacceptable. By doing so, you might help them correct their careers before it is too late, and you will help us all continue to make the fire service better; you may even help save lives.I have a reputation of speaking up and saying what is on my mind and I plan to continue to do this until I retire in a few years. If I think something is wrong, I will say so. I ask that you do the same.Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. He is a structural protection specialist with the Office of the Fire Commissioner and worked at the 2010 Winter Olympics as a venue commander. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire
We are going to identify four basic principles that will help current and future leaders grow and achieve excellence.The principle of change surmises that change is a part of life and achieving excellence as a leader means that you become comfortable with change and accept the fact that without change there can be no progress. This is an important principle because, for the most part, people are not comfortable with change, but when leadership excellence is being pursued (and it should be), leaders must venture into the unknown with faith, and believe they will figure out things along the way and succeed.The principle of belief may seem to have religious undertones, but that is not what we mean here. The principle of belief is based on the belief in oneself; leaders must believe in their abilities and skills. Leaders must believe they can make a positive difference in their departments. Without belief, an individual is simply going through the motions, and when tough times come (and we guarantee they will) the leadership foundation will already be weak and the leader will not survive the turbulent times.Leaders will face challenges and there may be times when they make poor decisions. Poor decisions can impact leadership ability; if a leader believes that he or she failed by making a poor decision, a powerful message of self-failure tends to rattle around in that leader’s brain. The principle of belief simply redirects a leader’s thinking to focus on abilities and skills and to learn from a mistake and move on. Belief is a key factor in whether a leader succeeds, so we highly recommend that everyone understand the simplicity of this principle.The principle of growth means that the path to leadership success is directly connected to commitment and growth. Today’s fire service requires firefighters who are not afraid to learn about the profession and the expectations placed upon fire-service leaders.We all know that complacency can lead to tragic events; the same applies to leadership complacency. Let’s be perfectly clear – complacency does not occur overnight, it happens over time because of poor habits.Growth comes from reading magazine articles, blogs and at least one leadership book a month. Leaders need to expand their minds so they can excel in their craft. The principle of growth must be understood so leaders can be successful in today’s dynamic fire service.The principle of exceeding expectations is based on the belief that life favours those who do just that – exceed expectations. Give more than you expect to receive and you shall be the benefactor. Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”Never forget that actions have consequences. Strive to always exceed expectations because the more good work you do for others and your community, the more success you will achieve.Author John Maxwell said, “If you want to be a big-picture thinker, you will have to go against the flow of the world. Society wants to keep people in boxes. Most people are married mentally to the status quo. They want what was, not what can be. They seek safety and simple answers. To think big-picture, you need to give yourself permission to go a different way, to break new ground, to find new worlds to conquer. And when your world does get bigger, you need to celebrate. Never forget there is more out there in the world than what you’ve experienced.”Leaders must give themselves permission to exceed expectations and understand that leadership is more than leading within the station walls.We have recommended in past columns the importance of having a mentor. Identify the characteristics, skills and vision of the mentor you seek and go find the right person. Mentorrship is an opportunity to learn from those you respect and want to model yourself after. It’s also a future opportunity for you to take the skills you’ve learned and become a mentor for others. There is no greater satisfaction than to be able to share (your knowledge and experience) with others to watch them grow.The principles identified here have been borne out of our experiences as fire-service leaders. As you grow as leaders, you will find that your experiences will bring forth principles that will help you in your journey. More importantly, these principles must be shared so others can learn and grow.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
Over the years I have written quite a few columns on leadership styles and the benefits of each style. One style that I have always endorsed and tried to embrace is that of servant leadership.
Teaching in the classroom is necessary for passing on knowledge to firefighters. But chances are that some of your firefighters grumble as they enter the room and cringe at the thought of reliving the educational nightmares of their youth, and for good reason.
There are a lot of firefighter leaders, writers and administrators who talk about leadership versus management, the differences between them, and how each is applied to situations, problems, or issues. As a consultant who specifically assesses, creates programming and instructs on the tenants of these topics, I find it very amusing that the predominant term used by managers in the private industry in which I consult, is in fact, fire fighting or putting out fires. These terms are used to describe dealing with problems that pop up, or people or things that seem to become difficult. You’ve probably heard these terms in the context of business, as emergent issues that always put a wrench in your plans and seem to come out of nowhere and start fires. These fires, if left unattended, seem to grow in these organizations until they consume morale and organizational culture, much the same way a structure fire consumes oxygen. Managers tell me how they fight the fires with aggressive policies and manage the issue from a best-case scenario point of view, sometimes even taking a chance or having to move quickly on an issue to stop it from spreading. Just imagine an organization lacking in oxygen – a slow, dying, stale business with no fresh ideas goes under, and you can almost bet cash money that someone was trying to fight a fire. Fire fighting is extremely dangerous, has unforeseen risks and is an aggressive venture to undertake at the best of times. So why do we do it? Because there may be something to save. But when it comes to business and/or fire fighting, our strategies have evolved to the point at which even firefighters question why we would do something so aggressive.Fighting or putting out fires are horrible terms and mindsets for managers, leaders, and supervisors in any industry,– including the fire service – when it comes to dealing with people and managing resources. For goodness sake, the term fire fighting has the word fight in it. Why would you want to correlate any work activity to the term fight? The new fire officer, fire chief and firefighter all learn the same conceptual ideas now that we know that interpersonal skills and communication skills are paramount to the success of the department, in the halls and on the fire ground. In fact, unless something is happening that is of imminent danger to my life, there is really never a time to yell, ever. Every organizational behavior, conflict resolution, and leadership book or course confirms this.And while we can argue until our face pieces suck in and were out of air, I can tell you I will never be convinced that managing people is the best way to create a successful department. Leaders lead people, and manage policy, directives and process. Managers manage people through a lens of policy, directives and process. The difference is that the leader is out in front with fire-prevention strategies and the manager is chasing fire with a small five-pound extinguisher. There is a notable difference in the approach, wouldn’t you agree? When my lovely wife was promoted to a management position at the hospital and struggled with the new buddy-to-boss paradigm, I suggested she lead the team from a perspective of collaboration, taking in feedback and doing a lot of listening from all of her new stakeholders. Once a deep understanding of the issues was accomplished, she was able to use feedback and suggestions to help draft new policy, and she gave all the credit to her staff for coming up with the ideas. A manager might have first tried to assume what the problem was and direct the fix with no input for others. While in some cases this would be a normal strategy and a proper course of action, rarely does this approach work as well as leading your team to help draw the right conclusions on their own. One solution builds value in the team and eventually prevents similar issues from popping up as stakeholders learn the value of leading forward to find the solution, while the later may solve the problem, but offers no long- term strategy for stopping the issue from happening again; hence the comparison of fire fighting rather than fire prevention. This strategy has worked for me in the boardroom, and the fire officers I trust and respect who use this method seem to have crews and followers who would bust through brick walls for them as well. Funny how building value in people, showing them respect and guiding them to follow policies and procedures that are collaborative in nature gets better results.An ounce of prevention or a five-pound pound pressurized can of cure? You decide.Jay Shaw is a primary-care paramedic and firefighter with the City of Winnipeg. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @firecollege
Scottish rugby player Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” This is what leaving a legacy is all about, and since our retirements from the fire-service, we truly understand the importance of leaving a leadership legacy upon which others can build.  For fire-service leaders, legacy is all about planting leadership seeds within departments so that after the leaders have moved on, the seeds continue to grow. Remember, a leader’s legacy is not just what he or she did while in the fire department; it’s also what is left behind for others to build upon. Leadership is all about growing other leaders.  Imagine how gratifying it is for leaders to look back five or 10 years after leaving a fire department to see how their leadership direction took the department to new levels of success. To us, this is the true legacy of a fire chief. One of the key challenges to leaving a solid foundation to build up is how to ensure that all staff members are not only trained and ready to do their jobs, but are also prepared for future leadership positions. How does a leader know who to help grow and prepare for the future? The simplest and probably the best answer is that leaders need to teach, mentor and prepare everyone to meet the future; by doing so, the best will rise to the top and demonstrate that they are able to meet future challenges.There are five steps that may help fire-service leaders prepare future leaders. Step 1: lay out the plan. No matter what the project is, there must be a plan in place for it to be successful; building leadership capacity is no different. We all know that leadership is more than time served. The leaders of tomorrow require education and qualifications that focus on people; soft skills such as building effective teams and mentoring and coaching sell the department’s vision and make firefighters feel as if they are a part of a team. So ask yourself: what is the plan? What do you want to accomplish and in what timespan? Step 2: identify the existing leadership capacity. Every department has leadership and every department has leadership gaps. Preparing for the future means the fire chief and firefighters must communicate openly about the leadership plans for the department. Working collaboratively, which includes open and timely communication, gives everyone a connection with the plan and will help to inspire members to see it to fruition. Remember, a leader’s legacy cannot continue if it completely depends on his or her presence. Guiding the team and allowing team members to take the reins is part of building the momentum. Step 3: be the team. During any phase of any plan, a leader must ensure all team members know and understand that they are important. It is critical to know the difference between being a part of a team and being the team. Success occurs only if firefighters feel they are part of the team that is building the future of the fire department. One person cannot do everything, but many hands lighten the load and more efficiently complete goals and objectives. Step 4: celebrate successes. Take the time to celebrate accomplishments. We all make an effort to acknowledge when our kids win a ribbon or get an A on a test, but leaders sometimes forget that their staff need to hear that the department has successfully met a goal or worked through a challenge. So take the time to celebrate successful course completions because without celebrating the successes, it’s too easy to feel part of cold-hearted organization. Step 5: empower others. When it comes to leadership, it is OK to empower others to grow and explore how they can fit into leadership roles. Leaders may be surprised what their staff can do if they know they are supported. Lee Iacocca said, “If you really believe in what you are doing, you’ve got to persevere even when you run into obstacles.” When you are building your team and looking to the future to predict what kind of legacy you will leave as a fire chief or chief officer, know that there will be many obstacles and many setbacks that will test you and frustrate you. Persevere and believe in yourself and your team.To us, leaving a legacy is one of the greatest things fire-service leaders can do. Leaving a legacy demonstrates to everyone that the leader was invested in the department. For leaders, a legacy is about what’s in it for the organization, the communities they service and, most importantly, their staff.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
Fire-service leaders have many responsibilities; developing talent in the fire hall is a responsibility that chiefs should take seriously given that one day all chief officers will move on to retirement or other opportunities. Leaving a solid foundation of internal talent is paramount to the stability and growth of the organization. The level of talent demonstrated within the fire station is a good indication of the organization’s leadership. When firefighter talent appears absent or is lacking, it’s a strong indication that the leadership has either stalled out or, in some cases, is unable to keep up with the growth of the department. In cases such as these, the fire chief and senior officers need to regroup and change things.There are various views on the subject of talent development, but one thing is certain: every fire department has talent, and it must be developed, otherwise the future looks grim and the community loses respect for the department.Firefighter talent is a commodity that increases in value as it develops. This commodity improves the fire department, enhances public safety, increases firefighter professionalism and boosts morale, which is why talent development must be the focus of all fire-service leaders, regardless of the size of the department. Many readers might believe that, by default, it is the fire chief’s responsibility to build department talent; we agree to a point, but only to a point. Yes, it is the responsibility of the fire chief to acquire the resources to develop firefighter talent, and this is typically accomplished at budget time by presenting a carefully laid-out plan that identifies the short-, medium- and long-range goals for talent development. But, for the most part, this is where the chief’s job ends. Now it’s time for the real talent-builders to roll up their sleeves and do what is needed. In our opinion, the real talent-builders are the frontline officers. Let us explain.Who is in the best position to know the skills, competencies, personalities and experiences of firefighters? The frontline supervisors. And who is in the best position to lead by example and set the bar high for talent development? The frontline supervisors. Frontline officers have more face time with the firefighters and therefore they are in a better position to understand individual strengths and weaknesses. Frontline officers can determine ways to best use firefighters’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses, which is, ultimately, building talent. Frontline officers are also in the best position to mentor and coach firefighters and to encourage them when they get stuck in a rut. Building talent requires frontline supervisors to understand the importance of firefighter talent; they must lead by example and set the bar high for not only firefighters, but also for themselves. In other words, the frontline supervisors must continually take steps to better themselves. To lead by example, these officers must be the example; when it comes to training and education, frontline officers should be the first to sign up for the course. We cannot expect others to buy into talent development if the frontline supervisor doesn’t buy into it. Building talent rests on the shoulders of every firefighter in the department; it’s a team effort. Who determines firefighters’ attitude toward building their own talent? You guessed it: the firefighters. Firefighters must value talent development and be active supporters of meeting department and/or industry standards. Firefighters may need to juggle their vacation periods to accommodate training, attend seminars on a weekend, or spend time doing homework in order to build their own talent. They need to have some investment in the game.Building department talent can be a challenge as firefighters likely have their own opinions regarding talent-building priorities. Regardless of what comes first or what comes second, successful leaders realize it takes the combined effort of every person in the department to develop this precious commodity. Basketball star Michael Jordan summarized this team effort quite nicely: “There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”It isn’t a matter of wanting to build department talent; rather, it is a matter of making it happen. We recommend you take steps to make it happen sooner rather than later.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
We can’t help but reflect on our careers, the adventures we have enjoyed and how we have been privileged to serve our communities.
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.
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
All training officers face the same basic challenge: they have to find a way to actively engage students in the learning process. And since firefighter training is ongoing, training officers constantly have to deal with this particular issue.Take a hard, brutally honest look back at your last year’s training program. Did it go as you expected? Was it successful? Did you get any feedback (good or bad)? Don’t ask yourself if you could you have done better, because we can always do better. But was there something you tried that worked particularly well, or something that you should never do again? The main question is: were your instructing methods and topics effective?Training officers have a great influence (good or bad) on their departments. Being an effective trainer takes real dedication. Even after 20-plus years of instructing, I still average two to three hours of prep time for each training hour I put in on any given practice night.Along with providing a safe and positive training environment, training officers have many training objectives to cover. It is easy to get burned out – even for superhero trainers. My advice is to get some help; find your Robin or Tonto.Get students involvedOver the years I have noticed that people learn more and retain more if they are more actively involved in the learning process. However, getting firefighters – especially veterans – to engage in the training process can be difficult to say the least. We all know of veteran firefighters who step to the back of the classroom (especially during demos) and disengage from the lesson. Worse yet is when two or three firefighters group together to chat it up or critique you as you train.The following are proven engagement techniques. Ask a veteran firefighter to help you prepare and present a training lesson. Be sure to give the veteran a copy of the training objectives or any other relevant material several weeks in advance. (Not everyone is comfortable flying by the seat of his or her pants.) Institute a big-brother system by pairing up a veteran with a younger firefighter, and then divide them into teams to deal with training scenarios. Learning is optimized when students are actively engaged in learning. There is an oft-quoted chart (found through web searches for learning styles) that is cited by learning experts as a solid guide for those who teach. The chart states that we remember: 10 per cent of what we read (taking turns reading training material) 20 per cent of what we hear (lecture) 30 per cent of what we see (video) 50 per cent of what we both see and hear (PowerPoint with a lecture) 70 per cent of what we have discussed with others (brainstorming) 80 per cent of what we have experienced personally (hands on) 95 per cent of what we teach someone else (helping instruct) Keep this in mind as your prepare for training night.Gender can play a part in the learning style. If you listen to parents interact with their children, you are more likely to hear a mom say, “Listen to me, and I will tell you how to do this.” Whereas a dad is more likely to say, “Watch me, and I will show you how to do this.” Find a balance between spoken instructions and demonstration. The three-Ds system (describe, demonstrate, do) seems to work well.PowerPoint can be an effective teaching tool to engage students in learning, if it is used properly. PowerPoint appeals to visual learners and can be a good way to organize a presentation. However, it is easy to misuse PowerPoint. Reading from the slides (especially if you turn your back to the students) is the easiest way to kill students’ attention. With PowerPoint, less is more. Resist the temptation to cram as much information as you can onto one slide. Instead, the words on a slide should be visible from the most distant point in the classroom. Most learning happens during a discussion of the topic, not from reading the words on a slide. Rely on the discussion to flesh out key points. (You can read more tips for classroom instructors in Chris Davison-Vanderburg’s article “Instructions for instructors” in Fire Fighting in Canada’s February issue.)   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriac49ae9d3b3 Attitude adjustmentOne area of instructing that is far too often over looked is the teacher’s attitude. As the training officer, you have a great influence over your trainees. They will, in a very short time, reflect your attitude regarding safety, respect, zeal for knowledge and professionalism in the fire service. When you meet the training officer, you meet the department; simple as that.Encourage discussion during training sessions by providing a positive environment for all students who participate. This can be difficult, but remember, nothing shuts down a group discussion like the words, “No that is wrong.” Give firefighters opportunities to correct or add to the information presented. Above all, do not make them look bad in front of their peers. Here are some positive examples: Thanks . . . does anyone want to add to that? Interesting point . . . what do the rest of you think? Good start. Let’s hear some more ideas. Consider using the rule of 10 and two: for every 10 minutes of lecture, students should have at least two minutes to talk to each other about what is being presented. It is important for students to interact with the material in order to retain the information and become engaged in learning.Use incentivesIt is paramount that training officers continually strive for excellence. Set the bar high and your students will reach for it and respect you for thinking highly of them.Look for ways to show you acknowledge students’ positive progress. One way we at Greenwood Fire Rescue do that is by giving in-house certifications. Each Greenwood firefighter receives a department training-program certificate. These are mounted in picture frames and hung on the training-room wall. As candidates successfully complete our training sessions they are awarded a coloured seal, which is affixed over that particular topic.Because this is an ongoing program, each firefighter sees his or her progress within a short time. For example, our first-quarter training session (January to March) covers safety and communications, PPE, SCBA and fire behaviour. Each topic has an exam and evaluation component. In this quarter, there are five basic topics, so in three months firefighters could earn five seals.The potential for a seal every three weeks is a great learning motivator; this simple acknowledgement has a very positive influence. The certification program is also a great asset for when you are making up future training schedules, and aids in your required record keeping.Encouragement goes a long wayEvery once in a while you will meet firefighters who are hungry for knowledge. They are unusually keen about one area of the fire service (fire behaviour, arson investigation, or suppression, for example). What a privilege to be able to nurture interests and mentor those firefighters to reach their full potential. I encourage you to help firefighters discover insight into their key topics. Give your students access to your books, videos and internet resources; sign them up for extra training sessions. Do whatever you can with your budget and resources to satisfy their hunger.Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote, “Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory.” Who knows, you may be training future leaders in the Canadian fire service; or at least your department’s future training officer. Every firefighter has the potential to become an instructor, and the best thing an old firefighter can teach a young firefighter is to become an old firefighter.As always, stay safe and keep training as if lives depend on it, because they do.Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue. He is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor/evaluator and an ordained disaster-response chaplain. Ed has written the Trainers Corner for 13 of his 26 years in the fire service. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
An apparatus driver helps to set the tone of a rescue or fire-ground operation. How the driver positions the apparatus at a scene is crucial to a successful fire-ground operation or motor-vehicle rescue.
British Columbia has changed its minimum standards of training required for fire-services personnel. In September, the Office of the Fire Commissioner implemented the Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook. (You can download the 22-page playbook at www.embc.gov.bc.ca/ofc)
Firefighters sometimes deal with emergencies involving unpredictable and possibly dangerous participants. This is especially true for members of rural departments who are more likely than their urban counterparts to respond to calls involving farm animals. These incidents can test both the skills and the wit of even veteran firefighters.
Vaughan Fire and Rescue Service (VFRS) was the first department in Ontario to have all its firefighters certified to the province’s firefighter curriculum after the program was introduced in 1993. Now that Ontario has transitioned to NFPA professional qualifications, Vaughan has become the first career department in which all firefighters are certified in NFPA 1006 core competencies for technical rescue – all 300 of them.
With advancements in automobile-safety technology over the last 10 to 15 years, steady progress has been made in the development of techniques to safely remove passengers from motor-vehicle collisions. Today, most emergency response personnel use established methods of extrication, such as dash lifts, side-outs and roof removals.
What are you when you put your uniform on? Are you a fire officer, a firefighter or do you even contemplate how many different hats you wear in one shift? What if I told you that you are salesman, a communications officer, and a customer-service clerk all wrapped up in a fire helmet of whichever colour you just happen to wear? Several years ago I wrote a paper for a fire-prevention management course I was taking at the Justice Institute of BC; Rita Paine was my course instructor. I had an opportunity to use some customer-service skills the other day and it reminded me of the fictional paper on which I just happened to get an A. The purpose of the paper was to write about customer service in the fire service and describe what it meant to each of us.
I recently had the opportunity to teach a class on ventilation for a fire department that has a lot of large, low-rise apartment buildings in its district. Most of the buildings house low-income and/or elderly tenants, and the department frequently responds to smoke-removal calls from burned food. The fire chief wanted several young members in the department to hone their skills on positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) – a tactic they frequently use to remove smoke from these buildings.
We all know that the fire service is steeped in tradition. Many of these traditions are beneficial and provide us with culture and operational support and guidance. However, at other times, some of these traditions – if left unchallenged and without continued evaluation – put firefighters and the communities we protect at great risk. How we as a fire service manage doors and other access points during structure fires is one of those time-honoured traditions we must re-evaluate in order to operate safely and effectively in today’s fire environment. Door control is an incredibly important tactical capability for any progressive fire department.
We are continuing to look at sub-level rescues of a downed firefighter with a focus on rescue tactics. In October, we went over the use of rope to rescue a firefighter who is conscious and able to assist in the rescue process. Here, we are going to focus on tactics to rescue an unconscious downed firefighter, or a downed firefighter who is immobile due to an injury or an impedance of some sort.
"Attack 1 to command: this is a hoarder house.”
It was just a matter of time before this column lent itself to a wildlife analogy – at least considering the two animals that write it. (Sorry Vince, I couldn’t resist.) I’d like to share some thoughts on leadership and public perception in relation to the animal kingdom. Do I detect an eyebrow or two being raised at this point?You might think leadership is analogous to the behaviour of a stately lion or another dominant animal but no, this is a leadership analogy based on a duck. That’s right, the lowly, mild-mannered waterfowl that populate lakes and waterways. While you might think I’m a little daffy (pardon the pun), I’m quite serious. Allow me to explain.The way we, as chief officers and leaders in our community, present ourselves in the public eye is paramount to the trust that others have in us and in our abilities. Staying positive no matter the situation and projecting an air of control carries chief officers a long way with the public, the media and your firefighters.As with a lot of fire chiefs in volunteer departments, I don’t have any staff. My office is in the municipal hall so I frequently interact with people who don’t work directly for me. Being in a small community, I take on more roles than just that of the fire chief; I manage our website, do administration and voice narration for our phone system, and act as an tech liaison for computer troubles, all the while maintaining a host of Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.Often I take it upon myself to inject a positive attitude to my work environment. If someone is having a bad day, I only turn it up a notch. My first thought is “Sorry but you’re not bringing me down,” but in reality I’m just trying to demonstrate perspective.  One of my frequent lines is “And how many people died as a result of this incident?” That kind of brings those turning molehills into mountains down to earth. Perspective quickly turns into the realization that things are being blown out of proportion and, hopefully, the rest of the person’s day goes a lot more smoothly.This example illustrates my attitude toward most things. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to show emotion and concern, but if what is going on inside me doesn’t concern those around me, then I won’t bring it up – especially if it would bring them down.Here’s where the duck comes in. To me, having an air of confidence and control shows balance in your world; a duck is literally living life in the balance whenever it is floating on the water. Many of you have probably heard this: the part of the duck you see on top of the water – the calm, cool collected version – is how people see you and what you project to the outside world. What happens on the inside, or in the duck’s case, below the waterline, is not quite as serene. Upon closer inspection, two webbed feet are paddling like mad, adjusting and correcting, propelling and slowing down, unbeknownst to onlookers.Can you see the comparison now? On the outside, everything is running smoothly yet underneath there is work going on to keep things balanced. Unlike a comparison to treading water, in which case most of a person’s body is below the waterline – thus giving meaning to the phrase keeping your head above water – a duck isn’t paddling to avoid sinking. A duck can coast or it can propel forward, and either way, nobody knows what’s going on underneath. Is the comparison of leadership to a duck starting to make sense yet?What we, as chief officers, face daily takes a toll on us. Whether you get paid to be an officer or it is something you do on the side while running your family business, the job never gets easier. People in authority, from politicians to professional athletes, are well versed at projecting confidence or concern as required; to me, successful leaders are those who do this well.Find your own personal balance and be as positive as you can because while one person’s worst day may be our every day, our worst day is no one else’s, nor should it be. Instead, show strength and confidence for the benefit of those around you.Many of us work and live in smaller communities and we are very public people. While not all of us wear a uniform all the time, people still know who we are and what we represent. I know that it is tough to always be on, and my hat is off to all of you who accept that responsibility and don’t try to duck out of it while you keep on paddling.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Tom is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as a communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
You cannot mention the word communication today without a focus on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (and the list goes on) are playing greater roles in our lives. In the past we relied on mainstream media to report the news and inform us of events. Today everyone with an electronic device is photographer, reporter, complainer, and helper. But the public can be a valued communicator too, especially during an emergency.
When you’re a broadcaster, whether on radio or television, you’re constantly reaching out to an audience that you presume is there. For the most part, you’re talking into a microphone or camera in a one-way conversation without any feedback from those to whom you’re speaking. How’s that for motivation? In broadcasting school we were taught to treat our audience as just one person, therefore giving listeners the impression that we were talking directly to them and them alone. This experience was enhanced when broadcasters opened the phones and took calls, thus allowing a direct connection with the audience.  Magazine columnists are in a similar situation: we know the readers are there and we get reaction to what we say via emails and personal contact, but the feedback comes only after the column is published – weeks (sometimes months) after it has been written. Which is why the summer of 2014 was special for me; along with my Volunteer Vision co-author and good friend Vince MacKenzie, we took our opinions and columns off the pages of this magazine and to the people.   Over the summer, we presented what we called Volunteer Vision LIVE – three sessions in two provinces at opposite ends of the country. Thanks to Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King, who moderated two of our sessions in British Columbia, and Tim Pley, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of BC, who moderated in Gander, N.L., we took readers deeper into our columns, explaining where the ideas came from, the inspiration behind our stories and expanding on the issues we had written about, The beauty of our column is that Vince and I seem to touch on the same themes – not necessarily on purpose. It’s just the way we connect with the issues that face the fire service from coast to coast to coast. During the presentations, we brought forward several columns from the past few years; what struck me was that while the issues weren’t new, they are still relevant today, albeit with some new ideas and opinions. To say we all learned something from this exercise would be an understatement. The questions and comments in the rooms as we explored issues from recruitment and retention to retirement opened my eyes to the number of people who read what we have to say; there was a lot of acknowledgment and there were lots of heads nodding in silent recognition – or agreement – in each session.   While we maintained the same format and storyline, each of the three sessions was completely different. We were unscripted and unplugged, so to speak, and if it wasn’t for the moderators, all of our sessions would have run way over. In fact, all of them spilled into the foyers during the subsequent networking sessions.What I took away from those sessions goes far beyond meeting the readers; the experience reinforced to me that what I have to say is relevant to my peers. The fact that I have a hard time recruiting new members and staying ahead of the calendar resonates in other departments. My concerns over the future of the fire service is shared by many more; in fact, I’ve come to realize that while we tend to focus on recruitment on the front lines, we aren’t doing enough to address the need for leaders in our volunteer world. Seriously, it’s one thing to encourage new members to take on the daunting task of becoming a well-trained firefighter, but the need to step up and take on a leadership role adds a whole new wrinkle. Succession planning is vital to the health of any organization, and coming from a world that always has one foot firmly planted in the past, we need to be aware of this. We’re all not getting any younger, which is one thing I see as our biggest challenge in the future. Touching on one of Vince’s topics – the millennials in our ranks – can you actually see some of these people carrying your torch (and yes, I did say “your”)? As we grow older it may seem harder to realize, but it will and it has to happen.  There are times when we exist within our own little worlds, our small departments, without realizing that what’s happening in the next town – or province for that matter – has an impact on what we are doing locally. I guess we just need to be reminded of this; and, hopefully, through a column written by a couple of small-town fire chiefs, those messages are realized. Train as if your life depends on it, because it does, and understand that you are part of a great big family. I’ve been to Newfoundland and Labrador on three occasions and when asked recently if I have family back there, my answer was yes, yes I do have family back there – a fire family that gets bigger all the time thanks in a large part to my written words and those who read them.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
It is common in smaller communities that the volunteer fire department is the only available emergency agency. Most of Canada’s smaller communities have fire stations, but they don’t always have police stations or medical centres. Therefore, when a major emergency incident or disaster strikes these communities, it is the volunteer fire departments that respond. Unlike in larger cities with emergency-management offices and full-time staff, rural, large-scale disasters are usually dealt with by the members of the volunteer department. The rural fire chief or senior fire officer is thrust into the role of disaster operations commander, or, in times of non-emergency, the role of emergency operations co-ordinators and planners. This can certainly be a challenging role to be thrust into without preparation.I would like to focus on one element of emergency planning: communication. When the emergency is over and evaluation and inquiry begins, communication is commonly identified as a key factor in the success or failure of disaster operations.  Emergency management communication includes directing emergency responders, sharing public information, and gathering data about the emergency. Therefore, the fire chief needs to know how to receive credible information and how to communicate to the public effectively. I think we can all agree that forms of communication have changed dramatically in the last five years with the growth of social media. In order to effectively communicate in today’s world, emergency planners now have to consider a social-media component to the emergency-operations plan.Credible information now comes in many forms from the public. It used to be that everyone phoned into the emergency services to report issues, but today, many people who witness the incidents use social media to inform everyone. While most social media information is credible, some is tainted with opinion and rumors that will quickly spread to the public. The deluge of tweets and posts lends itself to misinformation because the public can receive information as quickly as the officials handling the situation. Unfortunately, the constant monitoring of crucial information can rapidly overload a conventional public information officer or media centre. Reports from the public also generally come with photos that cannot be ignored by emergency operations centres. The challenge for local emergency managers is to capture that information to assist in a manner that is credible and timely. I learned a new term during a recent session on media training: the digital volunteer. It’s a relatively new concept as applied to emergency management, but I believe it will soon become a familiar term. The digital volunteer is a person who emergency managers identify to help monitor social media platforms for relevant information and data during emergencies. Digital volunteers are not actively engaged in the emergency operations centre, but are engaged with the public information officer to alert those in charge when significant messaging is trending. Digital volunteers are, in essence, social-media savvy spectators recruited to help filter the barrage of information. If you spend any time on social media, you can probably think of a few of those people now. During almost every emergency, people emerge online to provide information to the public through posts on social media, as though they were officials themselves.  We all know someone who is tuned into the event for whatever reason. Many times these people are actively engaged in the situation and can be a valuable resource to assist with analyzing the volume of information. Enlisting these digital volunteers to filter and inform the emergency operations centre of trending issues or damaging rumors will be very helpful to overall communication. We should not turn away from these opportunities that can help us navigate the changing world of emergency management. So why not write this concept into our emergency planning?This fall, I will participate in an exercise on the concept of the digital volunteer at an emergency management conference in Nova Scotia. I am excited to find out what the organizers have in store for us. While the concept of the digital volunteer is relatively new, I see great value in it as a tool to help fire departments keep on top of today’s busy communication world.Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Service and an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince
There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses.
Fire departments all have jurisdictions – areas that we cover and in which we provide protective services.
Firefighters strive to provide good customer service: that means treating others the way we would like to be treated – going above and beyond whenever possible and surprising people who don’t expect our do-onto-others attitude.
Volunteer firefighters who last a long time in the fire service can certainly gain a vast perspective on many aspects of life.
Social media can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Say the wrong thing, post the wrong picture and you have more than egg on your face.
I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to the designation of Canadian fire services as professional or volunteer.
As one generation gives way to the next, so does the makeup of our fire departments.
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.

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