Fire Hall.com Fire Fighting Bookstore Becoming a FireFighterFire Services DirectoryFire Hall Mall
Editor's blog

Editor's blog

Prime Minister Stephen Harper posed with wildland firefighters in British Columbia last week. Laura King questions the decision to use firefighters as props in a pre-election campaign photo op.

Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - July 24, 2015

Fire Fighting in Canada This Week - July 24, 2015

Premiers call for a national wildfire plan, a mayor allows firefighters to provide medical care, and more.

Fit for duty: July 2015

Fit for duty: July 2015

Most of us indulge over the summer months, writes Sherry Dean. Make sure to keep off those extra summer pounds with these exercises.

Editor's blog

Editor's blog

Laura King examines the opinions surrounding a proposal to implement a fire-medic program in Ontario. Not everyone agrees with the idea, she writes, but it is, at least, a starting point.

Back to Basics: July 2015

Back to Basics: July 2015

One of the most basic ways to rescue or remove a downed/injured firefighter from a structure is by using the window. Mark van der Feyst shares techniques for RIT window rescues.

July 28, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - As a follow up to my last posting, my nephew received his prosthetic leg yesterday. Although he went through a period of feeling useless after the motorcycle accident, he now appears to be doing well. He still has a long road ahead but I’m confident he’ll excel. As for me, I’m doing better as well. My books have been revised in line with fire code revisions and my projects are coming together. I was slightly unnerved by my difficulty dealing with my nephew’s accident. After all, I have 25 years in the fire service and have responded to numerous MVCs. Further, I am a chaplain and assist others with their trauma. I am usually cool during these types of events. This just shows that traumatic events can affect anyone. Running calls and helping people can overwhelm a person. Don’t go into denial. Deal with your emotions and then you can move on with life. Every now and then in life we hit bad squalls and spend most of our time bailing out our sinking boats. Yet as fast as we bail out our disconcerting thoughts, others flow back in. We need to take what life offers and make it positive. So instead of just bailing out our boats we need to repair the leaks. As a chaplain, when a squall blows in I turn to my faith and a couple of favourite authors for comfort. Where or to whom do you turn? Just any port during a storm is not always a good idea. I wish no one harm, but people often do stupid things that perhaps seemed like good ideas at the time. Accidents happen and fires occur, so first responders will always have vital roles to play in society. Fighting fires and saving lives is the greatest job on the planet, but it’s not easy; it takes physical and mental preparedness. I do a lot of my writing in a café and just as I was finishing this blog, and my dark-roast coffee, a beautiful young woman walked in with her boyfriend. The woman had a prosthetic leg and it did not appear to deter her from life and happiness. Remember, you are more than just the job and more than just flesh and bone. You are a full and complete human being and you can grow through traumatic events. Stay safe.Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
July 27, 2015, Toronto – On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper posed in Kelowna, B.C., with wildland firefighters working the Westside Road blaze, ostensibly to show support for wearied crews. No announcement, no big news, just a pre-election campaign photo op. And rather a shameless one at that (similar to former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ visit to flood-ravaged Alberta in 2013). Ottawa has a minimal role in wildland fire fighting, or most other types of fire fighting, for that matter – save for military. It provides one-third of the operating funding for the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre – a private, non-profit corporation that tracks and disseminates forest-fire management information. Federal bureaucrats sit on the centre’s boards of trustees and directors. My politics lean slightly left of centre, and, as a reporter/editor who used to work in Ottawa, I have little patience for Harper and his media policies (and some other policies, but we won’t go there today), so you’ll forgive me for saying that the PM looked ridiculous in a sport coat and dress shoes in July, in front of a line up of sooty firefighters, while the hill behind him smouldered. Clearly reporter Adam Proskiw, who writes for Kamloops InfotelNews, doesn’t have much time for Harper either – although his story was a straight-up news account. Proskiw refused to get sucked into the vortex around the PM’s visit. “After more than an hour wait, the press conference was over in less than five minutes,” Proskiw wrote. “The prime minister would not take questions about why he was there, how much time the photo opportunity took from firefighters, or what resources were used in the photo effort.” What’s more, InfotelNews declined to name Harper, posting a headline that said simply, “Man in blue suit thanks firefighters.” Proskiw’s editor, Marshall Jones, told The Huffington Post that the event wasted everyone’s time. “The photo op smelled like electioneering and we didn’t want to play a part in that,” he said. “We didn’t go to B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s media show the day before, even though that seemed appropriate since she is the local MLA and the premier of the province responsible for fire fighting. We thought she could thank them without the photo op.” Clark and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall have asked Ottawa for a national wildland firefighting strategy after weeks of fires, and Harper alluded to that. "We know these are tough and dangerous jobs and these efforts really are appreciated by everybody," Harper said. "When the dust settles, so to speak, on all of this we're obviously going to sit down and assess what new or different needs to be done in the future, what we can do in terms of better co-ordination of resources, mitigation, we'll look at all those things." I’m not holding my breath. First, as I said, Ottawa has a minor role in wildland fire fighting, which is a provincial responsibility. And its record on the fire side of emergency management isn’t so hot either. The Harper Conservatives cut funding for Canada’s HUSAR teams, cancelled the Joint Emergency Preparedness program, closed the Emergency Management College and effectively told the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) to shelve its requests for a national fire advisor. Yes, a meager $850,000 in federal funding has been allotted for a national fire incident database – it’s a three-year pilot project that may or may not even begin as planned in the fall. And Transport Minister Lisa Raitt – a fellow Cape Bretoner who was three years behind me at Sydney Academy – has tackled the dangerous goods file, but only after countless derailments, Lac-Megantic, and a lot of work by CAFC and others. What about the abysmal state of fire fighting and fire prevention on First Nations? What happens when there’s an earthquake in B.C. and there aren’t enough trained urban search and rescuers? Many of you won’t remember a blunder by Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who hefted a sandbag at a dike in Winnipeg in 1997 as the Red River raged and asked, “What do you want me to do with this?” As Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dan Lett (a fellow Carleton journalism grad) wrote in a lookback piece in 2011, “Several locals no doubt thought of several things Chrétien could have done with that sandbag, but they were too polite to say anything.” Even then, editorials called for politicians to stay away from disaster zones, just like former Alberta Fire Chiefs Association president Brian Cornforth lambasted Toews for disrupting the work of emergency responders in High River two years ago. “Coming into the site, it’s pretty hard to deal with those guys because they require a lot of resources to provide them security,” Cornforth told PostMedia. “Unless they’re directly in charge of the military and have a functional role, it’s really just posing.” Which is exactly what Harper did. As the anti-Tory website pressprogress.ca asked on Friday, is it ethical to use firefighters as props while a forest burns in the background? Not in my book.
July 21, 2015, Toronto – A month ago I wrote about a proposal by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) asking the province to fund a pilot project under which some of its members would become fire-medics. While the Ministry of Health considers the proposal to have career firefighters provide symptom-relief such as nitroglycerin spray, Ventolin, epinephrine and glucagon following 20 hours of training, groups with a vested interest are voicing dissent. On July 8, Ontario’s base-hospital physicians decried the proposal in a letter to the province. Now, the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs has dissected the OPFFA’s proposal, and fairly harshly. There’s a lot to report. First, though, something worth considering. OPFFA president Carmen Santoro has noted to me several times that the province has, unsuccessfully, poured millions of dollars into land-ambulance service to try to improve response times. Indeed, as Santoro pointed out, the 2013 auditor general’s report lambastes the province for its inability to fix the problem. Whether or not you agree with the OPFFA’s proposal, and no matter what ulterior motives others say may be at play, the association has put considerable effort into a proposal it believes will improve pre-hospital patient care – more than any other group has accomplished. That said, the base hospital doctors have disassociated themselves from the submission, citing potential harm to patients should the province go ahead with a pilot project, and the paramedic chiefs have methodically discounted many of the OPFFA’s arguments. The base hospital doctors say the mere 20 hours of training – combined with a lack of clinical experience – could put firefighters in situations in which they could potentially misdiagnose patients and, therefore, incorrectly administer symptom relief.“The Ontario Base Hospital Group . . . does not support the OPFFA proposal as outlined,” says a letter to Tarmo Uukkivi, director of Ontario’s Emergency Health Services Branch. Paramedics, the doctors note, train for two years, write certification exams, and their work is overseen by the base hospital group. Firefighters require no post-secondary education, many are not certified, and, under the OPFFA proposal, would require just the 20-hour course to become fire-medics. (As an aside, I’m waiting for the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management to let me know how many of the OPFFA’s 11,000 firefighters in Ontario are certified to NFPA 1001 Firefighter. I asked last week, was told the number wasn’t available because of the grandfathering process under the transition to NFPA from the Ontario curriculum. I asked Friday for specific numbers for the end of 2012, 2013 and 2014 and was given those stats – a total of 134 over the three years. I asked again Monday for the total.) The base-hospital letter also says that while firefighters can and should help patients suffering cardiac arrest by using a defibrillator, or patients experiencing an anaphylactic reaction by administering epinephrine, firefighters do not have the skills or experience to provide other symptom relief and could hurt people. The letter is signed by Dr. Michael Lewell, chair of the Ontario Base Hospital Group’s medical advisory committee. Lewell said in an interview that the group’s regional directors collaborated on the content of the letter, and that it was written to ensure that the province is aware that the doctors were not involved in the OPFFA’s proposal, not as a political tool. The OPFFA wants funding for a pilot project that would put one fire-medic on every front-line pumper (in career departments). It says that 42 per cent of calls are medical, that firefighters arrive on scene well before paramedics, and that more than 1,000 of its members – about 10 per cent – are already fully trained as paramedics. The paramedics say the firefighters’ case for fire-medics is weak.“We are concerned about public safety . . . and duplication of service given the small subset of calls where patient outcomes can be improved,” paramedic chief Norm Gayle says in a document shared on Google Drive. The paramedic chiefs say there is no evidence that firefighters delivering symptom relief would make a difference to patients. The document cites the 2005 study that indicated the only statically significant benefit of the participation of firefighters in pre-hospital care is for life-threatening cardiac events. “Other calls that are truly sensitive to paramedic response times in minutes or seconds comprise less than two per cent of total call volume,” the document says. Those calls include heart attacks and stroke and severe, life-threatening trauma. “The fire union proposal would not change response to these types of calls.” The chiefs also note that in 2014, just 6.6 per cent of calls required the type of symptom relief the OPFFA is proposing, and they dispute the assertion that quick firefighter responses would make a difference. “Rapid response times in minutes and seconds to medical 911 emergencies are important less than two per cent of the time,” the paramedics say. Frankly, I’m a bit confused by the whole thing, and from what I hear, the government may be too, and may direct all parties to collaborate on a revised proposal. Organizations such as the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Emergency Services Steering Committee and the base hospital physicians say that while they are aware of the fire-medic proposal now, they were not all formally consulted or advised of the proposal by the province, and now they’re scrambling to respond to media inquiries and develop positions. There’s conflicting information about which groups were or were not consulted and at what stage that occurred. Clearly not everyone is playing well in the sandbox. Not to mention that municipalities set levels of service, not the province, so I’m not clear how this would all play out. In Ontario, many EMS organizations are regional, while fire services are municipal, which, it seems, would present an organizational conundrum. Santoro said in an interview that a couple of base-hospital doctors were indeed consulted – medical directors who do oversight for firefighters regarding medical certification. He also said he’s disappointed by both the base-hospital doctors’ letter and the lack of acknowledgement by various groups that they were aware of the proposal. As for the paramedics’ response, Santoro said he has little interest. “The bottom line,” he said, “is the public deserves the quickest trained emergency responder, regardless of what colour truck they arrive on.” True. As long as those responders know what they’re doing.
July 13, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. - I recently had the opportunity to present “Influencing leadership through change” as the opening keynote session for the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) conference in Summerside, P.E.I. This was my first trip to P.E.I. and everything that people told me about the province is correct. I’m a big believer that Saskatchewan people are very friendly and it didn’t take long to discover that people in P.E.I. are the same. When Summerside firefighter Lindsay MacLeod picked me up at the Charlottetown airport I knew this was going to be a great experience. She welcomed me with her infectious smile and sincerely wanted to know how my flights were. As we chatted about P.E.I. during the 45-minute drive to Summerside, I could feel myself relaxing after my flight. While I was having a late supper on the outside deck of the Silver Fox restaurant, I received a text from Canadian Fallen Firefighter Foundation (CFFF) director Wayne Jasper. At the British Columbia fire chiefs conference in Penticton in June, he promised to give me a Many to One challenge coin at the MFCA conference. His text invited me for a drink at the Silver Fox. Hey, wait a minute, I was at the Silver Fox! An audible laugh turned a couple of heads in my direction and I responded to Wayne to let him know that I was outside on the upper deck eating. We both had a good chuckle when he came to my table. One of my enjoyments at conventions is walking the trade show and talking to vendors and building friendships with many of them. I’m a firm believer that the vendors are key stakeholders in the conference and I feel it’s our duty to visit them, chat with them and buy from them. Many chuckles are exchanged when you see familiar faces. When looking for the best places to eat, the vendors usually have this figured out and they can point you in the right direction to get your fresh lobster and oysters. Oh, how I love P.E.I.! I never thought a three-hour time-zone change would make a difference, but let me assure you, it does! After a long day of flights I was tired and I went to bed around 10 p.m. The only problem was that I woke a few hours later, at around 1:30 a.m., when my internal clock was telling me, “Dude, it’s 10:30 p.m. at home and you actually went to bed at 7 p.m., therefore you are no longer tired.” Have you ever found that the harder you try to sleep, the more frustrated you become and you work yourself into a state of frustration? Yes, thought so, and that is exactly what happened to me on my first night. So, what does any Prairie boy do when he can’t sleep? He picks up the phone and calls home at 1:30 a.m. and talks to his wife about the forest fires happening in Saskatchewan. Hey, remember it’s only 10:30 there and the late news isn’t even on yet.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria357d7205ce On my second night I really thought my internal clock would figure itself out, but I was wrong. The same thing happened, only this time my frustration hit a new level because I wanted to have a good night’s sleep before my opening keynote presentation for the conference. I wish I could say I figured it out, but I actually got very little sleep before my keynote. When I was in the restaurant having breakfast feeling sorry for myself, my body was telling me it’s 4:45 a.m., “What the heck are you doing eating breakfast, and why are there so many cheerful people in the restaurant at this hour?” The best part of having breakfast before giving my keynote was hearing a fire chief’s phone ring at the table next to me. I have never heard cows mooing as a ring tone and I was trying to figure out how to get his number so that I could get someone to call him during my keynote and use it as an icebreaker. On my third night in Summerside, I woke up at 1:35 a.m. and yes, you guessed it, no more sleep; it was time to start writing my blog. Many of my friends and family will want to know about P.E.I. and I will tell them how friendly the people are, how awesome the lobster is (and how I love it cold) and how great fresh oysters taste. I will also tell them how the firefighters, officers and chief officers whom I met have incredible passion for the fire service and want to make their departments better, the profession better and their communities better. I will also tell them that I have now set a personal record for eating freshly shucked oysters. I stopped counting when I hit 50. What can I say, I couldn’t help myself. Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes
July 9, 2015, Gravenhurst, Ont. - Leave it to the fire college to bring out the blogger in me. I’m currently taking the retrofit course at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst. The course is part of the NFPA Fire Inspector Level 1 program, and I’m not going to lie, it’s been a challenge. The last course I attended was on courtroom procedures in October; and it was more of a seminar because there were almost 70 in the class. Taking one course a year doesn’t allow for continuous learning by any means. Another challenge is the fact that I don’t use the Ontario Fire Code every day, or any day for that matter, because I’m not a fire inspector. It actually took me a day or two to get back into the swing of things and to know where to find stuff in the fire code. OK, that’s not entirely true; it took me until yesterday to feel as though I had a handle on things. I suppose the quiz we did yesterday afternoon will be the evidence of whether it actually came back to me or missed me altogether. Last fall when I was here for the courtroom procedures course, I understood it to be the next logical step in achieving my NFPA Inspector Level 2 equivalency. It turns out that the course was part of Level 1, which is OK because I would have needed to take it sooner or later. The only reason I took courtroom procedures was because I’m one of the old timers that have been at this awhile and fell under the grandfathering option for the NFPA equivalency. (In 2014 Ontario transitioned to an education system based on NFPA standards from the previous Ontario Fire Services Standards.) So why am I taking these courses if I’m not a fire inspector, you may ask? In addition to being a volunteer firefighter for almost 20 years, I was also a fire prevention officer in a past life on more than one occasion and I’ve always tried to keep a foot in the door. Even though I’m only able to take one course a year, I am still plugging away. I’m not sure if it’s persistence, determination or that I just don’t know when to give up (and maybe that’s a good thing). For those of you that follow my blog and/or column in Canadian Firefighter magazine, you may remember me mentioning that I experience anxiety at certain times or in certain situations, such as being in a class with people I don’t know. Whether you call it shy, introverted or socially awkward, I feel like a turtle wanting to crawl back into its shell. The first couple of days of the retrofit course were no different. Until Wednesday, that is. Monday and Tuesday I had gone home to Port Severn (it’s only an hour-long drive) to get my husband’s help with some issues I was having with the fire code. I’m sure any one of the people in my class would have been more than happy to help me with any questions I had, but since I was being Tammy the Turtle, it would’ve meant me actually sticking my head out of my shell and talking to them. My husband also has a way of explaining things in Jenny terms so that I understand. People with anxiety often have trouble focusing and absorbing new information when they’re feeling anxious. The first couple days of the course were difficult for me. The most frustrating thing about all this is that I knew I used to be really good with the code when I was a fire prevention officer. Much to my relief, by Wednesday I was feeling more like myself. I was reacquainted with the code and decided to stay at the college and go out with the gang for dinner and a water ski show at the local Boston Pizza. That was the best decision I’ve made in a while. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. Our class is small – only 13 – and most of us were there for dinner. Once I relaxed and came out of my shell, I instantly wished I’d done it sooner. What a great group of people and there is no better way for people to connect than through laughter. And laugh we did, to the point where several of us had tears streaming down our faces, including one of the guys! I’d just like to sincerely thank the class of retrofit 2015 for the laughter, the knowledge, the connection and the friendship. You never know how you touch the lives of others. Once again, a trip to the fire college has enlightened me personally and professionally. 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
July 9, 2015, Ben Eoin, N.S. – I overheard a conversation Tuesday night between Paul Boissonneault, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and Greg Shaw, who was acclaimed this week for a second term as president of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association. Like all of the come-from-away speakers in Summerside for the 101st annual MFCA conference this week, Boissonneault was blown away by the hospitality extended to him and his family – his wife, Jennifer, and boys Gage and Cole. Sure, some of the formalities and even some staples often associated with conferences were absent at the Maritime show – air conditioning in the hotel (we were smart enough to stay at a nearby cottage!), iPhone agenda apps (paper works just fine), lapel mics for speakers (who needs ‘em!). But what the Maritime show sometimes lacks in that regard it makes up for in others: Summerside firefighter Lindsay MacLeod made repeated trips to the Charlottetown Airport to pick up speakers – and answered a few hundred questions about the red island and potatoes and the Confederation Bridge every time; the Boys and Girls Club organized activities for kids so parents could enjoy evening events worry free; the band took requests from the stage at Tuesday night’s closing barbeque and dance; the speakers were first-rate; and everyone was friendly and stress-free (well, except the host-committee members, who sweated the small stuff – as they should! – were easily identifiable in their orange shirts and who I only once saw sit down.) A couple of cool things happened this week that weren’t specifically conference-related. The Canadian Coast Guard – which runs search and rescue out of Summerside – was doing exercises Monday almost right outside the trade-show door, a hover-and-hold operation with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s SAR CH-149 Cormorant, after which the CGC vessel docked beside the Fort Garry Fire Trucks Sutphen SP 70-foot platform demo parked at the Marine Terminal. It’s not often that a fire conference/trade show happens ocean-side – it’s spectacular when it does. The following evening, when I came back from the conference, I chuckled at the sight of the FGFT aerial parked beside the picnic table at our cottage just a few minutes outside of Summerside – an odd juxtaposition! That evening, while I was at the closing barbecue with conference delegates, the Fort Garry crew and Dan Sutphen took all the kids (and some of the grown ups, including our own Bookstore Becky!) from the other cottages at our working-vacation location up in the platform – what thrill for them! One of the cottages in our cluster at Schurmans Shores (hmmm – I shouldn’t give away the name of our secret paradise, particularly given that the conference may be back in Summerside next year!) was occupied by a family from Maine, and a young teenager named Hayden who was taking lessons at the College of Piping & Celtic Performing Arts of Canada in Summerside. After some repeated but gentle coaxing Monday evening, Hayden pulled out his pipes, warmed up, and gave us a brief concert – steaks hot off the barbecue, clouds of hungry mosquitoes, a roaring and continuous campfire, and the skirl of the bagpipes . . . hardly a typical conference experience!   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria47d916e199 The highlights of the conference for me were introducing keynote speaker (and Fire Fighting in Canada blogger and former columnist) Les Karpluk, and the closing session Tuesday afternoon about PTSD with Nathalie Michaud and Wayne Jasper. I also had the honour of introducing Wayne and Nathalie, and even though I saw the presentation last month in Penticton, I sat rapt as Nathalie told her compelling and gut-wrenching story about finding her husband, Fire Chief Richard Stringer, hanging in the fire hall five years ago. Many in the room didn’t know what was coming, and the collective intake of breath when Nathalie stoically delivered her most difficult line – “Chief Stringer was my fire chief for five years; Richard Stringer was also my husband.” – was palpable. Afterwards, Wayne – a firefighter with CFB Esquimalt in B.C. – posted some thoughts on Facebook. The responses to his post were remarkable, one in particular: a firefighter who had seen the presentation said now knows he has PTSD and is going to get help. Later Tuesday, a fire chief who is being treated for PTSD spoke to me about the challenges of getting coverage – and we’re going to add that to our story in the September issue of the magazine. And a long-awaited addendum to Nathalie’s story came to fruition this week when she picked up her PTSD service dog, aptly named Phoenix, in Nova Scotia, thanks to Citadel Canine Society and a lot of legwork by the persistent Wayne Jasper!Nathalie is the first Canadian to have a service dog for PTSD, and, therefore, the first first responder. We’ll tell you more about that in September too.I’m now sitting on the shore of the Bras d’Or Lake in Cape Breton, having driven from one island to another with Maritime Safety Equipment’s Frank Simmons, who provided great company and (a lot of!) fabulous conversation – a bit more of the east-coast hospitality that surprises the come-from-aways but that those of us from here know and expect. I’m on vacation and I’m hiding my BlackBerry. Kidding. But you knew that.
July 7, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - Sorry I haven’t written here for a while; I have been up to my neck in alligators. First, I was on a deadline revising one of my books; second, I have been working on several new projects; and third, my nephew was in a terrible motorcycle accident so I was out of the country for a bit. I thought I was cool with traumatic events, after all I do counsel others, however, when my nephew was in his accident I was not so cool. He and two others were riding on a two-lane road when a car crossed the solid yellow line and took out all three bikes – two Harleys and a Triumph Rocket III. The collision resulted in road rash and concussions for the other two riders, and my nephew suffered a broken arm and injuries to the left leg that required a traumatic amputation. After a nine-hour drive from Ontario, we arrived to find him in ICU with all the usual hook ups: tubes, wires, O2 and so on. He was in pretty rough shape for a few days. After a week he was transferred to a rehab facility and was doing remarkably well. During this time, I found myself having difficulty backing off and letting others take the lead. I am the oldest brother, the patriarch of the family, a trained counselor, a chaplain and a retired firefighter. I am supposed to be the one to handle things. Yes, he was my nephew, but in the hierarchy of this situation I found myself behind his wife and parents; and rightly so. My role was to give moral support through an uncle’s love to my nephew and his family and a brother’s love to my sister and her husband. I realized from this situation that there are times when we all need to stand down and let others take the lead. We may like to think that we can leap tall buildings in a single bound but when the rubber hits the road we are still human like everyone else. We don’t have to try to do everything; we can let our human side show. I found myself visiting the local veterans centre for a coffee and a hug from someone who understood. As first responders we have a lot of love to give; sometimes it’s just buried deep under our bunker gear and/or our persona. Sometimes the best way to give our love is to just be present. Don’t be afraid to give love and understanding; it is a gift humans share far too seldom. Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
July 2, 2015, Toronto – I love my job. Three weeks ago I was in picturesque Penticton, B.C., for the B.C. chiefs conference. Saturday, I head to the opposite coast, to spectacular Summerside, P.E.I., for the 101st Maritime conference – always a favourite with lots of lobsters and rousing (but off-key) renditions of American Pie around the campfire. There’s work, too. But it never feels like work. (Shhh!) The trade show is, literally, on the shores of the Northumberland Straight, in the Summerside Marine Terminal – where there’s a gorgeous breeze (or a freezing gale, depending on Mother Nature!) – rather than in a stuffy hotel, and the salt air somehow makes the outdoor apparatus displays more appealing. The Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) is different from other Canadian chiefs associations because it represents all four Atlantic provinces. (Quick social studies lesson: the Maritime provinces are Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; the Atlantic provinces include Newfoundland and Labrador. The MFCA is 101 years old – founded before Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949 – and, in typical, laid-back east-coast style, never bothered to change its name.) Membership from from four provinces makes it difficult for the MFCA to tackle issues or lobby government – all four provinces have their own associations: the Fire Services Association of Nova Scotia; the New Brunswick Association of Fire chiefs; the PEI Firefighters Association (which is not a union, rather a training-based group to which all 1,000 P.E.I. firefighters belong); and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services. The MFCA, instead, focuses on fellowship and, more recently, education and training. Both Comox, B.C., Chief Gord Shreiner – creator of the StopBad tour (short for stop bad things from happening on the fire ground) – and Ryan Pennington, who you may know from Twitter as @jumpseatviews – have done whistle-stop tours of Atlantic Canadian fire departments in the last couple of years, hosted by the MFCA. The Beyond Hoses and Helmets program administered by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs for the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has been offered in all four provinces – St. John’s, Moncton, N.B., Charlottetown and Sydney, N.S. And the MFCA conference itself has featured some big-name speakers. Fire Fighting in Canada blogger and former columnist Les Karpluk is first up in Summerside on Monday, with his always entertaining and insightful leadership presentation. I’m looking forward to hearing firefighter Nathalie Michaud again – she presents Tuesday afternoon in Summerside. Nathalie first told her heart-wrenching story about PTSD in Penticton (you can read about it here), a no-holds-barred, personal, sometimes unbelievable saga of her spouse’s suicide, a downward spiral, and, ultimately, strength. As was the case in Penticton, Nathalie will be accompanied by Esquimalt, B.C., firefighter Wayne Jasper, who shares his story about the challenges, occasional chaos, and compassion in their long-distance friendship. Last month, Manitoba became the second Canadian province to recognize PTSD as a presumptive illness for firefighters – Alberta is the other. After Nathalie and Wayne spoke in Penticton, the Fire Chiefs Association of BC (FCABC) passed a motion to engage with other emergency services and government organizations to lobby the province to have PTSD recognized as a presumptive illness. Newfoundland is the only province without presumptive legislation of any kind, despite pressure from the International Association of Fire Fighters. Nathalie wondered after she spoke to the FCABC if her presentation mattered, if anyone cared. She got a standing ovation; chief officers who had never met her wept, and stood in line to shake her hand; and there’s a movement to change provincial legislation. I’m confident the same will happen in Summerside, and that members of all four provincial associations will take Nathalie’s message back to their respective provinces and do something. Why do I want to see Nathalie a second time? Because I believe Nathalie is the catalyst for change, for ending the stigma around PTSD, for understanding that it’s OK to ask for help. I’m also hoping Nathalie, who, more than anyone I know can use a bit of east-coast hospitality, gets to experience lobsters, campfires and off-key renditions of American Pie.Follow @FireinCanada for live updates from the conference.
June 30, 2015, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – It’s summertime! What a great time to take four weeks off and enjoy the sun and fun for the entire month of July. Even better, what a great time to take off and help service the community with the two-call-a-day average that Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES) has during the summer. Nine days ago, I was looking forward to the week of holidays – a total of 12 days away from Public Safety Communications (PSC) in Calgary that I was going to get during the first part of July. That first week of the month is Stampede week and I was excited about getting out, taking pictures, enjoying a night with Blue Rodeo and my wife Jennifer. Well, most of that changed a week ago on Tuesday, June 23. That day I suffered a STEMI; that acronym stands for ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction – a heart attack. I recognized what was happening almost immediately and that, the doctors said, saved my life. Good thing. I have a lot to stick around to see. One of those things was my son’s high school graduation last Saturday. Thankfully I am pretty strong, except for that 90 per cent blockage in one artery, and I was able to bounce back and get out of the hospital the day before the ceremony. Since coming home, I have learned that I was on the go way more than I likely should have been. I was told to limit my activities and when I felt tired, cut back, which I have had to do more than I thought. But even when I was in hospital I felt the responsibility to others. I emailed CAFC executive director JP Cody-Cox less than 12 hours after my angioplasty to let him know that I was not going to be able to continue as the editorial committee chair for the time being. Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King got an email about my Friday deadline being shot. Others received emails as well. Not physically demanding, but I had to make sure people who were counting on me were informed about what was going on. This speaks to the responsibility I think many of us feel, regardless of our rank. It is not about us, it is about the people, businesses, governments that we serve. Well, as I’ve learned, it has to be about us too. We all need to step back and recognize when enough is enough and that we may have to say no once in a while. We do not need to be jerks about it, just need to know when it is better for those we serve to limit the directions in which we are being pulled. My experience in the last week has also reinforced just how special the families are that I am truly fortunate enough to be a part of – from the people at Public Safety Communications with whom I spend more time than my family, to the great police, fire, EMS and media families that I have – thank you. Each and every one of you means the world to me. And to Calgary fire department’s acting deputy chief – please do not take this the wrong way, but, Ken, I do not want to wake up staring at you ever again. Thanks for being there though. I also have to say thanks to someone I consider one of my best friends – Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie: your texts and thoughts during your daughter’s own high school grad meant a lot. Since the title of my blog is Size-up, I encourage all of you to look at your health and complete a serious, thorough, well-rounded personal size-up. I had taken a look inwards last fall and made initial steps to improving my own situation; maybe too little, too late even though I had started to lose some weight. Or maybe, last week’s attack would have been that much worse. Regardless, we need to get healthy folks. We do no good trying to serving people from a hospital bed, or worse.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
June 30, 2015, Toronto – Did you know that Ottawa announced on Friday funding for five projects to help first responders – three for firefighters, two for paramedics? If you did, it’s probably because you read it here, on our website, after we promoted our story on Twitter and Facebook Friday afternoon. No other media (that we could find) carried the story about funding for a database for fire stats, and studies on wildfire patterns and recruitment and retention in Alberta. The government says the five projects are part of a $12-million investment in 24 projects under the Canadian Safety and Security Program.We had a heads-up about what was supposed to be a news conference in Halifax Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. Atlantic time (who announces anything at 3 p.m. on a Friday?) with Julian Fantino, the associate minister of National Defence, and CAFC president Paul Boissonneault – although we weren’t aware of the four other projects, only the database. Neither, apparently, was anyone else who has anything to do with the fire service in Canada. The news conference was hastily called and sparsely attended, I’m told; the Atlantic bureau of The Canadian Press had no knowledge of it – I checked. The CAFC and people like Surrey, B.C., Fire Chief Len Garis have been lobbying government about the database for ages; it’s an $850,000 commitment for a three-year pilot project.Recruitment and retention, particularly in western Canada, is a significant challenge, so much so that Alberta’s chiefs developed an outreach program dubbed Answer the Call, which has been adopted by the CAFC and was launched in May.The CAFC, I’m told, had no knowledge of the government’s plan to study recruitment and retention in Alberta or the funding for the project. Nor did Alberta’s chiefs. The president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association, Peter Krich, was the lead on the Answer the Call project, and even he didn’t know. The study will be led by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, partnered with Social Research Development Corporation, which, as far as I can tell, would have applied to Defence Research and Development Canada for the funding. I’ve Googled both of those organizations and, for the life of me, I can’t make the connection to fire-service recruitment and retention.It’s all a bit bizarre given that the Alberta chiefs have already studied recruitment and retention – the 2010 report is right here on my desk. We know there’s a problem and the AFCA has already taken action, so specifically what these two research organizations are going to study is beyond me – the press release and backgrounder are light on details. Ontario’s chiefs were out of the loop on all this too.What gives? The Harper government is in a tailspin. Although $12 million is no great shakes in terms of government spending, it’s more than Ottawa has done for first responders recently – since it scrapped funding for heavy urban search and rescue (HUSAR), closed the Canadian Emergency Preparedness College and essentially ignored requests for a national fire advisor. The federal tax credit for firefighters announced in 2011 was nice, but does nothing to help community safety. With Canadians going to the polls in October – and Harper in trouble over Senate spending, among other things – you’d think someone connected with Defence Research and Development Canada (which does some great work) or Public Safety Canada might have connected the dots and let the affected parties in on the secret, encouraged some promotion. Or maybe the powers that be didn’t want to be reminded about the lack of federal funding for the firefighting/EMS and rescue side of safety. You all remember from the Elliot Lake mall collapse aftermath that in most, if not all Canadian jurisdictions, rescue is the purview of fire, not police or any other response agency. Which leads us, of course, to Ottawa’s decision two years ago to nix funding for Canada’s HUSASR teams. Maybe the dollar figure for the five projects is so insignificant (it’s not clear how much of the $12 million is allotted to the fire and paramedic research), and the projects so academic – most don’t really do anything for first responders in the short term – that Ottawa didn’t deem Friday’s announcement particularly important so didn’t bother making a kerfuffle about it. Maybe Ottawa didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that empirical evidence from the database will, I expect, be used to prove that emergency services need better funding for PPE and training, and that the obvious target for that funding will be the federal government. I guess it doesn’t matter. Stephen Harper doesn’t like media, although mainstream reporters likely would have put a positive spin on this announcement – even with Fantino as the face of it. A few million in federal funding for fire and EMS projects isn’t really a Halifax Herald or Canadian Press story; for us – and for you – it’s news. Would have been nice had it been properly communicated.
June 23, 2015, Mississauga, Ont. – There was a lot of good information (and acronyms!) at the Canadian Nuclear Society’s technical meeting on fire and emergency response last week. The industry spends money and commits a ton of time and resources to adequate and appropriate emergency planning and response. But I got hung up on a brief discussion about social media. Dave Nodwell, manager of planning exercises with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, was asked how the province would handle rumours about radiation levels or spread during a crisis. Not that scuttling rumours on social media is Mr. Nodwell’s purview, but given that he spoke Thursday morning about the misinformation disseminated through Facebook and Twitter after Fukushima in 2011, I hoped to hear that the province is thoroughly prepared – indeed, overly prepared. “The problem,” he told delegates during his presentation, “is that media exacerbate the problem – we all saw that after Fukushima. People believed it and it was all over the Internet.” Nodwell explained the importance of messaging and social media, which, he said, is “a game changer in this business.” He talked about the necessity of staying ahead of story (definitely), establishing a credible presence (absolutely), of being compelling and persuasive (perfect). “Governments don’t really put out press releases that fast,” he said. “It takes hours, and that’s not acceptable when people are tweeting and facebooking within seconds. In some cases, [social media] is probably the only way to reach a segment of the population.” Agreed. Later, in the question and answer session, Nodwell was asked whether the province had identified a hashtag or hashtags for use during a nuclear emergency, and about mitigating rumours and misinformation. Admittedly, Mr. Nodwell said, he finds hashtags confusing (many delegates nodded in agreement), and, he said, the province’s communications people deal with that. “The first step,” he said, “is monitoring what’s going on in social media . . . You need a team that is stuck to Twitter and Facebook to monitor what is happening in order to respond to what’s going on. We’re never going to get there in its entirety – it’s going to be continually evolving.” Good point. Nodwell said the province has prepared a number of bulletins relative to each nuclear facility in Ontario that can be sent out “in a heartbeat.” Excellent. But, he acknowledged, “that doesn’t really address concerns that are out there in social media.” Exactly. Another positive point: quicker high-level OKs for social-media messaging. “This has been put in place,” he said. “Normally, in large government organization there are a large number of approvals that public communications need to go through.” Cleary, he said, in an emergency situation – nuclear or otherwise – time is critical. As for hashtags – Nodwell wasn’t sure if any have been designated, and, to be fair, it’s not really his job to know such details, but would be good information to share. Quashing rumours and bad information? “The process is there but there’s a long way to go,” he acknowledged. An honest answer, but a frustrating one given the magnitude of resources at the province’s fingertips and the significant efforts of the nuclear industry to ensure safety and solid messaging.
June 18, 2015, Toronto - Leave it to a bunch of nuclear experts to come up with an agenda for a seminar on fire safety and emergency preparedness so detailed and complex that it’s impossible to find a session that doesn’t seem crucial to cover.
Most of us indulge over the summer months in barbeques, ice cream and perhaps the occasional cold beer or margarita.
Firefighters and all those who respond to crisis situations are subject to enormous stressors in the field. On Aug. 11, join mental-health educator and former police officer Debbie Bodkin for a FREE one-hour webinar to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder, its effects and developing coping mechanisms. Speaker: Debbie Bodkin, principal, Inspiraction Presentations Date: Aug. 11, 2015 Time: 2:00 p.m. EST Duration: 45 minutes (with 15 minute Q&A) Cost: FREE As part of their work-related activities, firefighters may face stressful circumstances or find themselves engaged in crisis situations. Such encounters can take a toll on a person's mental wellbeing, potentially leading to post-traumatic stress or occupational stress injuries. As a speaker, trainer and educator, Bodkin will address the causes of these types of injuries, offer advice and provide coping mechanisms for sufferers in a one-hour webinar. Bodkin has more than 20 years experience in the policing field and also participated in overseas missions in Kosovo, Chad and Sudan. She is currently an instructor for the Mental Health First Aid Course. Join Bodkin and moderator Neil Sutton, editor of Canadian Security, on Aug. 11 for an opportunity to explore this sensitive and important topic. Participants will engage in a 45-minute presentation and be able to direct their questions to Bodkin in a 15-minute Q&A session. Register today!Brought to you by:          
It’s the second Monday of the month, and for members of the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario, that means it is a training night. I have missed the last couple of training sessions and I am about to miss another one. Does that mean that I have lost interest? That I am not as dedicated as I once was? Or is it simply a reflection of the myriad things going on in my life and my efforts to somehow maintain a sense of balance?
Due to the numerous positive advancements in the fire service – better detection, public education and stricter building codes – departments respond to fewer structure fires. The reduction in fires is positive for our communities but negative for firefighter development and safety. Less exposure to fires means that it is more important than ever to be creative with your training.
Pass Creek Fire Department in British Columbia, under Fire Chief Brian Beblman, took delivery in June of a Rocky Mountain Phoenix/Rosenbauer-built pumper-tanker. Built on a Freightlner chassis and powered by a 400-hp Cummins ISL engine and an Allison 3000 EVS transmission, the unit is equipped with a 425-igpm Waterous pump, a 1,500-gallon tank, Whelen M-9 body mounted lights, and two Akron Scene Star push up telelights.
Grand Forks Fire Rescue in British Columbia, under Fire Chief Dale Heriot, took delivery in June of a Rocky Mountain Phoenix/Rosenbauer-built aerial. Built on a Commander 4000 chassis and powered by a 500-hp Cummins ISX engine and an Allison 4000 EVS transmission, the unity is equipped with a 1,500-igpm Waterous pump, a 500-gallon tank, a Foam Pro 2002 system, 360-degree LED ground lighting and an eight-kilowatt hydraulic generator.
July 2015 – Chief Dan Callaghan has been “pro-drone,” he said, for three years now.
The sandwich has long been revered as a quick, comforting and portable meal, found everywhere from children’s lunch boxes to the menus of fine-dining restaurants.
We have all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” used in and around the emergency services. This saying dates back to the 1970s American government bureaucrats who implored the Carter administration to stop meddling in things that didn’t require fixing.
Even as an individual with a heavy training-based background, I’ve always been a firm believer that the majority of fitness success comes through the kitchen. Training discipline and nutritional discipline may be different beasts, but it’s tough to make significant gains without a certain level of compliance in both.
I don’t know much about drones. You may not either. I do know that technology is a good thing, and that anything that makes firefighters safer is welcome. iPads. Thermal imaging cameras. Simulation software.
Sherbrooke Fire and Rescue Service in Quebec took delivery in May of a Pierce-built aerial ladder.  Built on an Arrow chassis and powered by a 550-hp Detroit engine and an Allison 4000 EVS transmission, the unit is equipped with a 1,750-gpm pump, a 500-gallon tank, a Husky 12 foam system, Code 3 and Q2B Federal Signal sirens, Code 3 and Whelen emergency lights, and a 6.5-kilowatt Smart Power hydraulic generator.
When I was approached to write this column, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss my journey to a deputy-chief position, the challenges I faced in attaining the position and those I have experienced in my new role. I hope my columns provide some insight into how a chief officer experiences the transition from a front-line responder to an administrative role.
Social media is rampant with adages and short, insightful sayings about leadership and management. Put the magazine down or minimize the Fire Fighting in Canada website and go to LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to browse through them for a few minutes. I like most of the adages; they have the tendency to stick in my mind as I reflect upon what the day brings to me – especially as I interact with colleagues and the public. A recent one that stuck with me is: Managers light a fire under people – leaders light a fire within them. I am not sure who coined this phrase, but for me it summarises what managers and leaders should be doing.
After five years of writing our joint leadership column, it’s time for us to pass the torch to present and upcoming leaders. We have considered ourselves extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to write together and to pass along our philosophies on leadership in the hopes of encouraging and motivating firefighters (at all levels) across Canada.
You’re the chief. How did you get to your position? In days gone by, if you stayed in the service long enough, you became chief. Or perhaps you won a popularity contest. To be a chief today requires you to be all things to all people – a public relations pro; a human resources manager; a budgeting and finance expert; a fund raiser; a social worker; a labour negotiations expert; a mentor; a leader; a succession planner. You report to a body, whether municipal/city or provincial, that may offer you little to no support. And don’t forget the taxpayer – who is sure he knows that all a firefighter does is drive a truck and aim a hose.You may be misunderstood and are certainly criticized. How do we, and our departments, get a handle on this? As chief, you are the leader of your department and it is incumbent on you to ensure that you provide the atmosphere and venue in which your men and women can have the complete and complex training required to protect themselves and their communities.Start with yourself. Sit down with a paper and pencil; draw a line down the centre of the paper and head one column “strong” and the other “less strong.” Be brutally honest. Think about how you might organize your time more effectively. In some of the areas where you are strong, can you mentor one of your team members to learn about and take on some tasks? Strong leaders are not afraid to share knowledge and responsibility. For decades, chiefs were groomed to be fixers and in-house managers of everything. Are you one of these leaders? If so, are you exhausted and running out of internal options? Why not look for other solutions within your own community or nearby? Budget managing is always the No. 1 leadership challenge and has worn down many good leaders. In many cases, locating and chatting with outside (and inside) resources brings the light at the end of the tunnel. Trying to handle everything, every day, in house, with limited or no expertise is dangerous. Do you dread writing reports? Think about drafting what you want to convey in point form, and then let someone edit your thoughts into a coherent report. Maybe you can find these people outside your department. You still own the budget or the report, but accepting expert help is not weakness; it is the mark of a strong leader.This same process can be applied to your department. In areas in which your department and its members are strong, acknowledgement and praise go a long way to maintaining those strengths. Where you are less strong, involve trusted senior members in the initial steps of planning how to make things better. Do not be afraid to involve your whole department. Sometimes a really good idea will come from a new, fresh set of eyes. Let someone else talk about why you do certain things the way you do. What a great teaching and leadership opportunity. Consider having a professional lead a brainstorming session with only two rules: all ideas are welcome, and there is no evaluation or criticism allowed. It takes courage to do this, but it can pay real dividends. Members are more likely to buy into a new plan if they feel involved in the process.Two cautions: first, don’t try to do everything at once. Have a three-year plan. Then ask yourself, “To accomplish this plan, what do I need to do in one year? In six months? In three months? This month?” Secondly, you are still the boss. Ask for and listen to input from members, accept help in drafting your plans, but in the end the buck stops at your desk.I have left the most important point to the last. Look to your fellow chiefs for support. Attend all of the conventions and courses that you can. Get to know colleagues. There are some very talented, supportive chiefs in Canada who have done the legwork, and they are always willing to chat. Chiefs often hold back on asking for help because of a fear of appearing weak. Being open and vulnerable in the right setting and with trusted colleagues is a good skill to have.Hence the column title “How much can our service handle?” This is not only about the level of service we provide members and communities, but also about us as humans beings and leaders. No community or service should let its leaders drown in an overwhelming workload. If you are caught up in a stream of endless challenges without support, it might be time to make some calls to trusted colleagues. Be wise enough to understand and value yourself and your service before you take on a tough challenge. Education, communication and having trusted mentors will assist you tremendously if you choose to use them. And please feel free to connect with me.Tom Bremner is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island, B.C. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
We are going to identify four basic principles that will help current and future leaders grow and achieve excellence.The principle of change surmises that change is a part of life and achieving excellence as a leader means that you become comfortable with change and accept the fact that without change there can be no progress. This is an important principle because, for the most part, people are not comfortable with change, but when leadership excellence is being pursued (and it should be), leaders must venture into the unknown with faith, and believe they will figure out things along the way and succeed.The principle of belief may seem to have religious undertones, but that is not what we mean here. The principle of belief is based on the belief in oneself; leaders must believe in their abilities and skills. Leaders must believe they can make a positive difference in their departments. Without belief, an individual is simply going through the motions, and when tough times come (and we guarantee they will) the leadership foundation will already be weak and the leader will not survive the turbulent times.Leaders will face challenges and there may be times when they make poor decisions. Poor decisions can impact leadership ability; if a leader believes that he or she failed by making a poor decision, a powerful message of self-failure tends to rattle around in that leader’s brain. The principle of belief simply redirects a leader’s thinking to focus on abilities and skills and to learn from a mistake and move on. Belief is a key factor in whether a leader succeeds, so we highly recommend that everyone understand the simplicity of this principle.The principle of growth means that the path to leadership success is directly connected to commitment and growth. Today’s fire service requires firefighters who are not afraid to learn about the profession and the expectations placed upon fire-service leaders.We all know that complacency can lead to tragic events; the same applies to leadership complacency. Let’s be perfectly clear – complacency does not occur overnight, it happens over time because of poor habits.Growth comes from reading magazine articles, blogs and at least one leadership book a month. Leaders need to expand their minds so they can excel in their craft. The principle of growth must be understood so leaders can be successful in today’s dynamic fire service.The principle of exceeding expectations is based on the belief that life favours those who do just that – exceed expectations. Give more than you expect to receive and you shall be the benefactor. Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”Never forget that actions have consequences. Strive to always exceed expectations because the more good work you do for others and your community, the more success you will achieve.Author John Maxwell said, “If you want to be a big-picture thinker, you will have to go against the flow of the world. Society wants to keep people in boxes. Most people are married mentally to the status quo. They want what was, not what can be. They seek safety and simple answers. To think big-picture, you need to give yourself permission to go a different way, to break new ground, to find new worlds to conquer. And when your world does get bigger, you need to celebrate. Never forget there is more out there in the world than what you’ve experienced.”Leaders must give themselves permission to exceed expectations and understand that leadership is more than leading within the station walls.We have recommended in past columns the importance of having a mentor. Identify the characteristics, skills and vision of the mentor you seek and go find the right person. Mentorrship is an opportunity to learn from those you respect and want to model yourself after. It’s also a future opportunity for you to take the skills you’ve learned and become a mentor for others. There is no greater satisfaction than to be able to share (your knowledge and experience) with others to watch them grow.The principles identified here have been borne out of our experiences as fire-service leaders. As you grow as leaders, you will find that your experiences will bring forth principles that will help you in your journey. More importantly, these principles must be shared so others can learn and grow.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
It is with mixed emotions that I start my 40th year in the fire service. On the one hand, I am so proud of the fire service in many ways. The service impacts many lives in a positive way. Over the years, I have met a lot of great people and I have made many lifelong friends. I am pleased with what I have accomplished to date. I love the fire service.On the other hand, I am embarrassed by the very few bad apples that are out there in the fire service. Over the past few months, there have been a number of stories about chief officers behaving inappropriately. I, like many others, strongly believe that good leadership is vital to a healthy organization. If leaders of the organization are behaving poorly, the negative effects ripple through the entire organization. Some of these chiefs were bad characters to begin with and should never have been promoted. With this in mind, we, as chief officers, need to do our part to ensure that young staff members are taught the importance of ethics. We need to let them know that inappropriate behaviour is not accepted in our organizations.Unfortunately, there have been so many stories lately about chief officers behaving badly that I think we could start a reality series titled Chiefs gone bad! There would be a lot of content. The episodes would include stories of chief officers making racist remarks, drinking and driving, drinking in public vehicles or at their fire stations, drug use, misuse of public vehicles, misuse of public funds, receiving gifts for spending public funds, inappropriate relationships, conflicts of interest, chief officers with fake degrees, chief officers with little to no formal training . . . need I go on?Poor behaviour such as this is totally unacceptable; it’s shameful and gives the entire fire service a black eye. It is hard to believe these things happen. One would hope only the best would be promoted to chief-officer levels in the first place. If this is the fire service’s best, we had better get a handle on this situation quickly before it is too late and the reputation of the entire fire service suffers.The problem of individuals’ behaviour affecting the reputation of the fire service, or any other profession, has been around forever. But with the reach of social media, stories are now shared much easier and faster than before. Make a mistake in the morning and it is possible that millions of people will know about it before the end of the day.I know chief officers are just regular people, but we should still expect them to behave properly. As a chief officer, you have a duty to act appropriately. When you accept a position as a chief officer you have an obligation to be honest and ethical; anything less is unacceptable. If you can’t do this, get out now.While 99 per cent of the chief officers out there are doing the right things right, the small percentage of bad chiefs are making us all look bad. One of the most important things in your life should be your reputation and the reputation of the organization you represent. Good or bad, your reputation is known by the people around you. You are accountable for yourself, no one else is. Do what is right and you should have no worries; do wrong and you could lose your job and your good reputation very quickly.I believe all fire-service members can be a part of the solution by letting others know if their behaviour is unacceptable. (It would be nice if they could figure this out by themselves, but sadly, many can’t). Tell them their poor behaviour (and bad reputation) hurts us all. Annual surveys show that the fire service is one of the most trusted professions; this will surely change if we do not take the necessary steps to address this problem. It is time to clean house.There are a lot of great people in the fire service who are ready to step up and make a positive difference. Let’s call bad apples out and let them know that their inappropriate behaviours are unacceptable. By doing so, you might help them correct their careers before it is too late, and you will help us all continue to make the fire service better; you may even help save lives.I have a reputation of speaking up and saying what is on my mind and I plan to continue to do this until I retire in a few years. If I think something is wrong, I will say so. I ask that you do the same.Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. He is a structural protection specialist with the Office of the Fire Commissioner and worked at the 2010 Winter Olympics as a venue commander. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire
Over the years I have written quite a few columns on leadership styles and the benefits of each style. One style that I have always endorsed and tried to embrace is that of servant leadership.
Teaching in the classroom is necessary for passing on knowledge to firefighters. But chances are that some of your firefighters grumble as they enter the room and cringe at the thought of reliving the educational nightmares of their youth, and for good reason.
There are a lot of firefighter leaders, writers and administrators who talk about leadership versus management, the differences between them, and how each is applied to situations, problems, or issues. As a consultant who specifically assesses, creates programming and instructs on the tenants of these topics, I find it very amusing that the predominant term used by managers in the private industry in which I consult, is in fact, fire fighting or putting out fires. These terms are used to describe dealing with problems that pop up, or people or things that seem to become difficult. You’ve probably heard these terms in the context of business, as emergent issues that always put a wrench in your plans and seem to come out of nowhere and start fires. These fires, if left unattended, seem to grow in these organizations until they consume morale and organizational culture, much the same way a structure fire consumes oxygen. Managers tell me how they fight the fires with aggressive policies and manage the issue from a best-case scenario point of view, sometimes even taking a chance or having to move quickly on an issue to stop it from spreading. Just imagine an organization lacking in oxygen – a slow, dying, stale business with no fresh ideas goes under, and you can almost bet cash money that someone was trying to fight a fire. Fire fighting is extremely dangerous, has unforeseen risks and is an aggressive venture to undertake at the best of times. So why do we do it? Because there may be something to save. But when it comes to business and/or fire fighting, our strategies have evolved to the point at which even firefighters question why we would do something so aggressive.Fighting or putting out fires are horrible terms and mindsets for managers, leaders, and supervisors in any industry,– including the fire service – when it comes to dealing with people and managing resources. For goodness sake, the term fire fighting has the word fight in it. Why would you want to correlate any work activity to the term fight? The new fire officer, fire chief and firefighter all learn the same conceptual ideas now that we know that interpersonal skills and communication skills are paramount to the success of the department, in the halls and on the fire ground. In fact, unless something is happening that is of imminent danger to my life, there is really never a time to yell, ever. Every organizational behavior, conflict resolution, and leadership book or course confirms this.And while we can argue until our face pieces suck in and were out of air, I can tell you I will never be convinced that managing people is the best way to create a successful department. Leaders lead people, and manage policy, directives and process. Managers manage people through a lens of policy, directives and process. The difference is that the leader is out in front with fire-prevention strategies and the manager is chasing fire with a small five-pound extinguisher. There is a notable difference in the approach, wouldn’t you agree? When my lovely wife was promoted to a management position at the hospital and struggled with the new buddy-to-boss paradigm, I suggested she lead the team from a perspective of collaboration, taking in feedback and doing a lot of listening from all of her new stakeholders. Once a deep understanding of the issues was accomplished, she was able to use feedback and suggestions to help draft new policy, and she gave all the credit to her staff for coming up with the ideas. A manager might have first tried to assume what the problem was and direct the fix with no input for others. While in some cases this would be a normal strategy and a proper course of action, rarely does this approach work as well as leading your team to help draw the right conclusions on their own. One solution builds value in the team and eventually prevents similar issues from popping up as stakeholders learn the value of leading forward to find the solution, while the later may solve the problem, but offers no long- term strategy for stopping the issue from happening again; hence the comparison of fire fighting rather than fire prevention. This strategy has worked for me in the boardroom, and the fire officers I trust and respect who use this method seem to have crews and followers who would bust through brick walls for them as well. Funny how building value in people, showing them respect and guiding them to follow policies and procedures that are collaborative in nature gets better results.An ounce of prevention or a five-pound pound pressurized can of cure? You decide.Jay Shaw is a primary-care paramedic and firefighter with the City of Winnipeg. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @firecollege
Scottish rugby player Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” This is what leaving a legacy is all about, and since our retirements from the fire-service, we truly understand the importance of leaving a leadership legacy upon which others can build.  For fire-service leaders, legacy is all about planting leadership seeds within departments so that after the leaders have moved on, the seeds continue to grow. Remember, a leader’s legacy is not just what he or she did while in the fire department; it’s also what is left behind for others to build upon. Leadership is all about growing other leaders.  Imagine how gratifying it is for leaders to look back five or 10 years after leaving a fire department to see how their leadership direction took the department to new levels of success. To us, this is the true legacy of a fire chief. One of the key challenges to leaving a solid foundation to build up is how to ensure that all staff members are not only trained and ready to do their jobs, but are also prepared for future leadership positions. How does a leader know who to help grow and prepare for the future? The simplest and probably the best answer is that leaders need to teach, mentor and prepare everyone to meet the future; by doing so, the best will rise to the top and demonstrate that they are able to meet future challenges.There are five steps that may help fire-service leaders prepare future leaders. Step 1: lay out the plan. No matter what the project is, there must be a plan in place for it to be successful; building leadership capacity is no different. We all know that leadership is more than time served. The leaders of tomorrow require education and qualifications that focus on people; soft skills such as building effective teams and mentoring and coaching sell the department’s vision and make firefighters feel as if they are a part of a team. So ask yourself: what is the plan? What do you want to accomplish and in what timespan? Step 2: identify the existing leadership capacity. Every department has leadership and every department has leadership gaps. Preparing for the future means the fire chief and firefighters must communicate openly about the leadership plans for the department. Working collaboratively, which includes open and timely communication, gives everyone a connection with the plan and will help to inspire members to see it to fruition. Remember, a leader’s legacy cannot continue if it completely depends on his or her presence. Guiding the team and allowing team members to take the reins is part of building the momentum. Step 3: be the team. During any phase of any plan, a leader must ensure all team members know and understand that they are important. It is critical to know the difference between being a part of a team and being the team. Success occurs only if firefighters feel they are part of the team that is building the future of the fire department. One person cannot do everything, but many hands lighten the load and more efficiently complete goals and objectives. Step 4: celebrate successes. Take the time to celebrate accomplishments. We all make an effort to acknowledge when our kids win a ribbon or get an A on a test, but leaders sometimes forget that their staff need to hear that the department has successfully met a goal or worked through a challenge. So take the time to celebrate successful course completions because without celebrating the successes, it’s too easy to feel part of cold-hearted organization. Step 5: empower others. When it comes to leadership, it is OK to empower others to grow and explore how they can fit into leadership roles. Leaders may be surprised what their staff can do if they know they are supported. Lee Iacocca said, “If you really believe in what you are doing, you’ve got to persevere even when you run into obstacles.” When you are building your team and looking to the future to predict what kind of legacy you will leave as a fire chief or chief officer, know that there will be many obstacles and many setbacks that will test you and frustrate you. Persevere and believe in yourself and your team.To us, leaving a legacy is one of the greatest things fire-service leaders can do. Leaving a legacy demonstrates to everyone that the leader was invested in the department. For leaders, a legacy is about what’s in it for the organization, the communities they service and, most importantly, their staff.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
Fire-service leaders have many responsibilities; developing talent in the fire hall is a responsibility that chiefs should take seriously given that one day all chief officers will move on to retirement or other opportunities. Leaving a solid foundation of internal talent is paramount to the stability and growth of the organization. The level of talent demonstrated within the fire station is a good indication of the organization’s leadership. When firefighter talent appears absent or is lacking, it’s a strong indication that the leadership has either stalled out or, in some cases, is unable to keep up with the growth of the department. In cases such as these, the fire chief and senior officers need to regroup and change things.There are various views on the subject of talent development, but one thing is certain: every fire department has talent, and it must be developed, otherwise the future looks grim and the community loses respect for the department.Firefighter talent is a commodity that increases in value as it develops. This commodity improves the fire department, enhances public safety, increases firefighter professionalism and boosts morale, which is why talent development must be the focus of all fire-service leaders, regardless of the size of the department. Many readers might believe that, by default, it is the fire chief’s responsibility to build department talent; we agree to a point, but only to a point. Yes, it is the responsibility of the fire chief to acquire the resources to develop firefighter talent, and this is typically accomplished at budget time by presenting a carefully laid-out plan that identifies the short-, medium- and long-range goals for talent development. But, for the most part, this is where the chief’s job ends. Now it’s time for the real talent-builders to roll up their sleeves and do what is needed. In our opinion, the real talent-builders are the frontline officers. Let us explain.Who is in the best position to know the skills, competencies, personalities and experiences of firefighters? The frontline supervisors. And who is in the best position to lead by example and set the bar high for talent development? The frontline supervisors. Frontline officers have more face time with the firefighters and therefore they are in a better position to understand individual strengths and weaknesses. Frontline officers can determine ways to best use firefighters’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses, which is, ultimately, building talent. Frontline officers are also in the best position to mentor and coach firefighters and to encourage them when they get stuck in a rut. Building talent requires frontline supervisors to understand the importance of firefighter talent; they must lead by example and set the bar high for not only firefighters, but also for themselves. In other words, the frontline supervisors must continually take steps to better themselves. To lead by example, these officers must be the example; when it comes to training and education, frontline officers should be the first to sign up for the course. We cannot expect others to buy into talent development if the frontline supervisor doesn’t buy into it. Building talent rests on the shoulders of every firefighter in the department; it’s a team effort. Who determines firefighters’ attitude toward building their own talent? You guessed it: the firefighters. Firefighters must value talent development and be active supporters of meeting department and/or industry standards. Firefighters may need to juggle their vacation periods to accommodate training, attend seminars on a weekend, or spend time doing homework in order to build their own talent. They need to have some investment in the game.Building department talent can be a challenge as firefighters likely have their own opinions regarding talent-building priorities. Regardless of what comes first or what comes second, successful leaders realize it takes the combined effort of every person in the department to develop this precious commodity. Basketball star Michael Jordan summarized this team effort quite nicely: “There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”It isn’t a matter of wanting to build department talent; rather, it is a matter of making it happen. We recommend you take steps to make it happen sooner rather than later.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. Contact Les at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and Lyle at
We can’t help but reflect on our careers, the adventures we have enjoyed and how we have been privileged to serve our communities.
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
There are many different rapid-intervention team (RIT) techniques for rescuing a downed firefighter from a structure. Most techniques are employed based on specific situations, such as ropes for a sub-level rescue or the Denver drill for a narrow aisle and high window sill. But there are some commonalities among different techniques that can be applied in a very basic way.
July 2015 – Is your department using an aerial master stream to full advantage at major fire incidents? Effective and timely use of a master stream can make all the difference to the outcome.
Responders on the scene of collisions see the direct results of safe or unsafe vehicles. While motor vehicles are much safer than they were 30 to 40 years ago, the death rate due to crashes is still very high.
Thermal imaging cameras (TICs) have been used in the fire service for interior structural firefighting since the 1990s. Every fire department that participates in interior firefighting operations should have at least one TIC in its equipment arsenal. The TIC should be used regularly at incidents and in training.
In April, Greenwood Fire Rescue held a practice night that was based, in part, on Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer’s Q&A in the March issue of Fire Fighting in Canada. A quote from Chief Officer on page 16 caught my attention; “I think probably the lesson for my officers is the note-taking and detail that is required.”
Standpipe systems are designed to supply firefighters with water at any height and at a constant flow and pressure.
Securing and advancing a hoseline using a standpipe system in a building is an important aspect of engine-company operations. Standpipe systems are found in buildings that have multiple storeys or that are very large, such as warehouses or factories.
The Greenwood Fire Department in British Columbia where I am a training officer has come through a major facelift. Department members, along with a group that shares the building, invested hundreds of hours in transforming our hall. The word “our” is important because it shows we have taken ownership. Ownership, whether it’s ownership of a building or the department as a whole, is crucial for all members in order to effect positive change.
Wildfires can, and have, happened at any time of the year, but there is something special about the middle of May in northern Alberta. For those involved, the Redwater, Newbrook, Opal or Grassland fires were big deals, but the Slave Lake fire in 2011 made everyone sit up and take notice. While we hope we never have to face a fire that destructive, those other fires tell us that while the impact to Slave Lake was unique, in Alberta we had better be prepared for May wildfires.
One of the more well-known drills in rapid-intervention team (RIT) training is the Denver drill. This drill is very physically demanding as it involves two RIT firefighters working to rescue a downed firefighter in a very small space. The drill was developed in Denver after the death of firefighter Mark Langvardt.
In the January issue of Canadian Firefighter, I wrote about the Dash-Away – an innovative tool designed by a Sundre, Alta., firefighter to help mitigate issues in extrication, particularly in frontal offset collisions. I have since heard from readers asking why frontal offset crashes are so deadly. Most rescuers will have responded to a frontal offset collision. It’s important we, as rescuers, understand what the industry is doing to address the danger of these crashes.
You’re registered and ready to go to your first firefighter conference – maybe FDIC in Indianapolis this month, one of the training sessions profiled on pages 16 to 19, or your first provincial conference for fire officers. How do you get the most out of three or four days of classroom or hands-on training, enjoy the social opportunities (without overdoing it!) and manage to remember what you’ve learned?
Too often I’ve heard that things are just not the same as they were back in the day. In fact, I’ve caught myself saying that on more than one occasion. I suppose that comes with age and, in the fire service, it’s always easy to compare the way things are with the way things used to be. Our world is constantly changing and, at times, it’s hard to keep up.    
My colleague, Tom DeSorcy, wrote in March about public perceptions of leadership positions in volunteer fire departments. I think Tom’s analogy of busy fires chiefs who appear calm on the outside but, like ducks, paddle furiously under the surface to keep things running smoothly, was spot on.
It was just a matter of time before this column lent itself to a wildlife analogy – at least considering the two animals that write it. (Sorry Vince, I couldn’t resist.) I’d like to share some thoughts on leadership and public perception in relation to the animal kingdom. Do I detect an eyebrow or two being raised at this point?You might think leadership is analogous to the behaviour of a stately lion or another dominant animal but no, this is a leadership analogy based on a duck. That’s right, the lowly, mild-mannered waterfowl that populate lakes and waterways. While you might think I’m a little daffy (pardon the pun), I’m quite serious. Allow me to explain.The way we, as chief officers and leaders in our community, present ourselves in the public eye is paramount to the trust that others have in us and in our abilities. Staying positive no matter the situation and projecting an air of control carries chief officers a long way with the public, the media and your firefighters.As with a lot of fire chiefs in volunteer departments, I don’t have any staff. My office is in the municipal hall so I frequently interact with people who don’t work directly for me. Being in a small community, I take on more roles than just that of the fire chief; I manage our website, do administration and voice narration for our phone system, and act as an tech liaison for computer troubles, all the while maintaining a host of Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.Often I take it upon myself to inject a positive attitude to my work environment. If someone is having a bad day, I only turn it up a notch. My first thought is “Sorry but you’re not bringing me down,” but in reality I’m just trying to demonstrate perspective.  One of my frequent lines is “And how many people died as a result of this incident?” That kind of brings those turning molehills into mountains down to earth. Perspective quickly turns into the realization that things are being blown out of proportion and, hopefully, the rest of the person’s day goes a lot more smoothly.This example illustrates my attitude toward most things. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to show emotion and concern, but if what is going on inside me doesn’t concern those around me, then I won’t bring it up – especially if it would bring them down.Here’s where the duck comes in. To me, having an air of confidence and control shows balance in your world; a duck is literally living life in the balance whenever it is floating on the water. Many of you have probably heard this: the part of the duck you see on top of the water – the calm, cool collected version – is how people see you and what you project to the outside world. What happens on the inside, or in the duck’s case, below the waterline, is not quite as serene. Upon closer inspection, two webbed feet are paddling like mad, adjusting and correcting, propelling and slowing down, unbeknownst to onlookers.Can you see the comparison now? On the outside, everything is running smoothly yet underneath there is work going on to keep things balanced. Unlike a comparison to treading water, in which case most of a person’s body is below the waterline – thus giving meaning to the phrase keeping your head above water – a duck isn’t paddling to avoid sinking. A duck can coast or it can propel forward, and either way, nobody knows what’s going on underneath. Is the comparison of leadership to a duck starting to make sense yet?What we, as chief officers, face daily takes a toll on us. Whether you get paid to be an officer or it is something you do on the side while running your family business, the job never gets easier. People in authority, from politicians to professional athletes, are well versed at projecting confidence or concern as required; to me, successful leaders are those who do this well.Find your own personal balance and be as positive as you can because while one person’s worst day may be our every day, our worst day is no one else’s, nor should it be. Instead, show strength and confidence for the benefit of those around you.Many of us work and live in smaller communities and we are very public people. While not all of us wear a uniform all the time, people still know who we are and what we represent. I know that it is tough to always be on, and my hat is off to all of you who accept that responsibility and don’t try to duck out of it while you keep on paddling.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Tom is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as a communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
You cannot mention the word communication today without a focus on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (and the list goes on) are playing greater roles in our lives. In the past we relied on mainstream media to report the news and inform us of events. Today everyone with an electronic device is photographer, reporter, complainer, and helper. But the public can be a valued communicator too, especially during an emergency.
When you’re a broadcaster, whether on radio or television, you’re constantly reaching out to an audience that you presume is there. For the most part, you’re talking into a microphone or camera in a one-way conversation without any feedback from those to whom you’re speaking. How’s that for motivation? In broadcasting school we were taught to treat our audience as just one person, therefore giving listeners the impression that we were talking directly to them and them alone. This experience was enhanced when broadcasters opened the phones and took calls, thus allowing a direct connection with the audience.  Magazine columnists are in a similar situation: we know the readers are there and we get reaction to what we say via emails and personal contact, but the feedback comes only after the column is published – weeks (sometimes months) after it has been written. Which is why the summer of 2014 was special for me; along with my Volunteer Vision co-author and good friend Vince MacKenzie, we took our opinions and columns off the pages of this magazine and to the people.   Over the summer, we presented what we called Volunteer Vision LIVE – three sessions in two provinces at opposite ends of the country. Thanks to Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King, who moderated two of our sessions in British Columbia, and Tim Pley, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of BC, who moderated in Gander, N.L., we took readers deeper into our columns, explaining where the ideas came from, the inspiration behind our stories and expanding on the issues we had written about, The beauty of our column is that Vince and I seem to touch on the same themes – not necessarily on purpose. It’s just the way we connect with the issues that face the fire service from coast to coast to coast. During the presentations, we brought forward several columns from the past few years; what struck me was that while the issues weren’t new, they are still relevant today, albeit with some new ideas and opinions. To say we all learned something from this exercise would be an understatement. The questions and comments in the rooms as we explored issues from recruitment and retention to retirement opened my eyes to the number of people who read what we have to say; there was a lot of acknowledgment and there were lots of heads nodding in silent recognition – or agreement – in each session.   While we maintained the same format and storyline, each of the three sessions was completely different. We were unscripted and unplugged, so to speak, and if it wasn’t for the moderators, all of our sessions would have run way over. In fact, all of them spilled into the foyers during the subsequent networking sessions.What I took away from those sessions goes far beyond meeting the readers; the experience reinforced to me that what I have to say is relevant to my peers. The fact that I have a hard time recruiting new members and staying ahead of the calendar resonates in other departments. My concerns over the future of the fire service is shared by many more; in fact, I’ve come to realize that while we tend to focus on recruitment on the front lines, we aren’t doing enough to address the need for leaders in our volunteer world. Seriously, it’s one thing to encourage new members to take on the daunting task of becoming a well-trained firefighter, but the need to step up and take on a leadership role adds a whole new wrinkle. Succession planning is vital to the health of any organization, and coming from a world that always has one foot firmly planted in the past, we need to be aware of this. We’re all not getting any younger, which is one thing I see as our biggest challenge in the future. Touching on one of Vince’s topics – the millennials in our ranks – can you actually see some of these people carrying your torch (and yes, I did say “your”)? As we grow older it may seem harder to realize, but it will and it has to happen.  There are times when we exist within our own little worlds, our small departments, without realizing that what’s happening in the next town – or province for that matter – has an impact on what we are doing locally. I guess we just need to be reminded of this; and, hopefully, through a column written by a couple of small-town fire chiefs, those messages are realized. Train as if your life depends on it, because it does, and understand that you are part of a great big family. I’ve been to Newfoundland and Labrador on three occasions and when asked recently if I have family back there, my answer was yes, yes I do have family back there – a fire family that gets bigger all the time thanks in a large part to my written words and those who read them.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
It is common in smaller communities that the volunteer fire department is the only available emergency agency. Most of Canada’s smaller communities have fire stations, but they don’t always have police stations or medical centres. Therefore, when a major emergency incident or disaster strikes these communities, it is the volunteer fire departments that respond. Unlike in larger cities with emergency-management offices and full-time staff, rural, large-scale disasters are usually dealt with by the members of the volunteer department. The rural fire chief or senior fire officer is thrust into the role of disaster operations commander, or, in times of non-emergency, the role of emergency operations co-ordinators and planners. This can certainly be a challenging role to be thrust into without preparation.I would like to focus on one element of emergency planning: communication. When the emergency is over and evaluation and inquiry begins, communication is commonly identified as a key factor in the success or failure of disaster operations.  Emergency management communication includes directing emergency responders, sharing public information, and gathering data about the emergency. Therefore, the fire chief needs to know how to receive credible information and how to communicate to the public effectively. I think we can all agree that forms of communication have changed dramatically in the last five years with the growth of social media. In order to effectively communicate in today’s world, emergency planners now have to consider a social-media component to the emergency-operations plan.Credible information now comes in many forms from the public. It used to be that everyone phoned into the emergency services to report issues, but today, many people who witness the incidents use social media to inform everyone. While most social media information is credible, some is tainted with opinion and rumors that will quickly spread to the public. The deluge of tweets and posts lends itself to misinformation because the public can receive information as quickly as the officials handling the situation. Unfortunately, the constant monitoring of crucial information can rapidly overload a conventional public information officer or media centre. Reports from the public also generally come with photos that cannot be ignored by emergency operations centres. The challenge for local emergency managers is to capture that information to assist in a manner that is credible and timely. I learned a new term during a recent session on media training: the digital volunteer. It’s a relatively new concept as applied to emergency management, but I believe it will soon become a familiar term. The digital volunteer is a person who emergency managers identify to help monitor social media platforms for relevant information and data during emergencies. Digital volunteers are not actively engaged in the emergency operations centre, but are engaged with the public information officer to alert those in charge when significant messaging is trending. Digital volunteers are, in essence, social-media savvy spectators recruited to help filter the barrage of information. If you spend any time on social media, you can probably think of a few of those people now. During almost every emergency, people emerge online to provide information to the public through posts on social media, as though they were officials themselves.  We all know someone who is tuned into the event for whatever reason. Many times these people are actively engaged in the situation and can be a valuable resource to assist with analyzing the volume of information. Enlisting these digital volunteers to filter and inform the emergency operations centre of trending issues or damaging rumors will be very helpful to overall communication. We should not turn away from these opportunities that can help us navigate the changing world of emergency management. So why not write this concept into our emergency planning?This fall, I will participate in an exercise on the concept of the digital volunteer at an emergency management conference in Nova Scotia. I am excited to find out what the organizers have in store for us. While the concept of the digital volunteer is relatively new, I see great value in it as a tool to help fire departments keep on top of today’s busy communication world.Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Service and an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince
There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses.
Fire departments all have jurisdictions – areas that we cover and in which we provide protective services.
Firefighters strive to provide good customer service: that means treating others the way we would like to be treated – going above and beyond whenever possible and surprising people who don’t expect our do-onto-others attitude.
Volunteer firefighters who last a long time in the fire service can certainly gain a vast perspective on many aspects of life.
Social media can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Say the wrong thing, post the wrong picture and you have more than egg on your face.
I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to the designation of Canadian fire services as professional or volunteer.

Subscription Centre

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





Most Popular

Latest Events

Scott FireFit challenge
Sat Aug 01, 2015
Scott FireFit challenge
Sat Aug 22, 2015
Scott FireFit challenge
Sat Aug 29, 2015
Scott FireFit challenge
Sat Sep 05, 2015