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April 16, 2015, Dryden, Ont. – We call him Ken Dryden, the fire chief in this northern-Ontario town where the Domtar mill looms on the horizon and the Northwest Response Forum wrapped up Thursday afternoon. Ken “Dryden” Kurz is like so many other full-time chiefs of volunteer fire departments: always on call, able to spit out statistics and details about every corner of his community, committed to keeping his people safe. He’s also a life-long resident who still shakes his head about the fact that his Austrian ancestors came this far north from Kentucky because the land was free. Dryden is a snapshot of small-town Canada: 8,000 people but a hub for surrounding communities, so much so that the Walmart expanded – twice. I asked Chief Kurz this morning to show me the risks in his town.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriae3bda267fc Domtar, which has two full-time firefighters with whom the Dryden Fire Department work closely. The Ministry of Natural Resources forest fire fighting base where about 400 people work at this time of year, in a complex near the airport; big buildings, no sprinklers. The airport – 10 or so minutes from Dryden’s main fire hall and no internal fire brigade. (Except when the prime minister comes to town and the City of Dryden Fire Service is required to stand by.) Monster homes on Wabigoon Lake – no hydrants, a two-metre drop to the lake from which firefighters draft water; the fire department carries sleds to pull and push equipment up and down, to and from the lake. A Superior Propane facility, smack across the street from a handful of homes. Vulnerable occupancies – well, not officially, but buildings that house people that are . . . vulnerable. Grass fires. Neighbouring Oxdrift and MNR fought one last night. We drove down along the Wabigoon River that opens into the lake. The ice is almost gone but not enough so that water bombers can fill up but today’s sunshine may change that. Sixty volunteer firefighters at two stations. A quint, two pumpers, a rescue, ice-water rescue equipment. A year ago, Dryden’s emergency education officer (a combination emergency management an public-ed position) was cut. Council wants an Office of the Fire Marshal review of fire-protection services. An hour in the work truck with Ken Dryden might be a better idea.Read Laura King's first blog and second blog from the Northwest Response Forum.Follow her on Twitter @FireinCanada, for live coverage of the conference.See a Storify collection of the tweets here.
Dryden, Ont. – Little things. Like how to get inside the Lac-Megantic fire station when the electricity has been cut to the whole town because a massive freight train has blown up and everything is on fire. Like the fact that the only survivors at the Musi-Café were those who had gone outside for a smoke, saw the explosion, and ran for their lives. Like the fact that many of the hoses brought by mutual aid had incompatible couplings. Like the fact that when Lac-Megantic Fire Chief Denis Lauzon finally found enough foam he had to then scramble to get a cheque for $300,000 from municipal officials because the company wanted payment up front – while the better part of the town was burning. Like the woman who ran the Salvation Army food truck and fed more than 1,000 firefighters three meals a day for a month. “We had a problem on Saturday,” Lauzon said Wednesday at the Northwest Response Forum in Dryden, brilliantly interspersing lighter moments among the presentation slides filled with eerie photos of the inferno. “EMS and police were coming and stealing our food! She was our savior!” And like the fact that there were rescues and saves that were never reported. Good work done by lots of people. How Lauzon maintains even a semblance of a sense of humour about the events of July 6, 2013, is remarkable, but it’s clear that it comes from understanding that his firefighters – and others – did everything possible during and after the fire and explosion that killed 47 people. Eighty fire departments helped in the aftermath – from as far away as Gatineau, on the opposite side of the massive province of Quebec. “That’s my mutual aid,” Lauzon said, chuckling and the radius of the encircled fire departments on the onscreen map, but grateful. Six departments came from the United States; Lauzon traded off portable radios for a French/English interpreter for those firefighters. Unified command was used. There was a 3 p.m. meeting every day with dozens of agencies. Manhole covers blew off, becoming “flying saucers,” a problem that was eventually fixed by the use of protective chimneys. Water and air and soil were contaminated by the fuel in those nasty DOT 11 train cars. Lauzon was blunt when I chatted with him yesterday about the US $200-million settlement announced a couple of weeks ago – shaking his head over the fact that only a fraction of the money is destined for the families of the 47 people who died in the explosion. He was also blunt during his presentation, about the stresses of working to change regulations for the transportation of dangerous goods, among other things. “I see it as a moon,” he said. “It has a shiny side and dark side.“The shiny side will work with you and bring ideas to go forward. But the dark side . . . ” I’ll leave it at that.Read Laura King's third blog, or jump back to her first blog from the Northwest Response Forum.Follow her on Twitter @FireinCanada, for live coverage of the conference.See a Storify collection of the tweets here.
Dryden, Ont. – I swear I didn’t know until I was driving here Monday for the Northwest Response Forum that Dryden is in the Central time zone. I’m fairly well-traveled and well-read (and those who know me will tell you that I like to think I know a fair about, well, everything!) so I’m still shaking my head about having missed that crucial detail of Canadiana. I did, however, know that Dryden is the home of NHL defenceman Chris Pronger – as a sign at the entrance to town proclaims – and that Air Ontario flight 1363 crashed in Dryden in 1989, an emergency that killed 21 of 65 passengers and three of four crew members. This week, Dryden and Fire Chief Ken Kurz – along with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Red Cross – host the fourth emergency management conference; first up Tuesday afternoon was Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek, in his fairly new capacity as head of emergency management. Wieclawek crammed a lot of information into the hour-long presentation, and there’s no question that the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management has its hands full as it integrates the two offices – fire and emergency management – and determines how response agencies and organizations can better collaborate. Collaboration is, obviously, critical to emergency management. Which is why I was hoping for more details from the fire marshal about the status of the province’s review of the incident management system and urban search and rescue teams. Wieclawek said the province is bringing together all kinds of organizations to “re-validate” IMS – “to look at it and see if it’s serving our needs” – Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Transportation, the Salvation Army, paramedic chiefs, police, and armed forces, and fire. One goal of the review is to have experienced commanders available to help manage incidents such as ice storms, tornados and structural collapses, Wieclawek said. “So the next time we have a prolonged event in a municipality we’ll have the incident-support teams that can be available to them to help manage that incident.” Who specifically is involved in the IMS review? Which agency is responsible for rescue in Ontario? Will there be clarification on the role of the Ministry of Labour during a rescue, as recommended in the Elliot Lake inquiry report? Is there a plan for search and rescue teams, or funding? Maybe this forum in Dryden wasn’t the right place to go into this kind of detail given the diverse emergency management audience. The agencies mentioned in the Elliot Lake inquiry report recommendations have until Oct. 15 to respond; clearly there’s work going on but lots to do before that deadline. It has been almost three years since the Algo Centre mall collapsed, 18 months since the inquiry finished and six months since the recommendations were released. I guess we’ll have to wait.Read part 2 of Laura King's blog series from the Northwest Response Forum.Follow her on Twitter @FireinCanada, for live coverage of the conference.See a Storify collection of the tweets here.
Toronto – With apologies to family and friends in Atlantic Canada, it’s spring. Which means that in the next few weeks, those of us who write about or sell to the fire industry are heading northwest, to Dryden, Ont., for an emergency management forum, southwest, to Indianapolis, for FDIC, and back to Toronto for the Ontario chiefs conference and trade show. That’s just the first leg, but after this harsh and dismal winter of everyone’s discontent, during which fire fatalities made headlines far too often, bad hotel food and blisters from walking trade-show floors will be a welcome diversion. This week in Dryden we’ll hear (more) about the mall collapse in Elliot Lake and the response to it, flooding in Fort Frances, the Lac-Megantic disaster, and the tornado in Angus, Ont. We’ll hear about pandemics, panic and weather patterns, wildfires and cross-border co-operation. And we’ll hear from partners such as the Red Cross – a vital agency in the emergency-response chain. I used to think emergency management and incident management were bureaucratic terms used in other places where bad things happen to good people – massive earthquakes in faraway countries that kill thousands, for example. But the list for this week’s Northwest Emergency Response Forum blows up that theory: structural collapse with two fatalities in a former mining town; a train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec’s Eastern Townships; and significant weather events in rural Ontario. These incidents alone involved hundreds of first responders, municipal managers and members of partner agencies. And it’s crucial that those people know how to work together. We know that in Elliot Lake after the Algo Centre mall collapsed in June 2012 there were some communication issues among responding agencies, that there was confusion over rescue versus recovery. We know two responding teams – Toronto’s HUSAR and the OPP’s UCRT – had never trained together. We know the province is reviewing incident management and that in Ontario the Office of the Fire Marshal is now also responsible for emergency management. We know that some of the lessons learned in Elliot Lake were applied in Angus in June 2014 when a tornado ripped roofs and backs off homes in a quiet subdivision: communication was first rate; a scribe was used to take notes; duties were clearly defined. Nothing had changed on paper – by government – but those in charge had read and listened and acted. (I like to think we played a small part – that the lessons learned were applied because the responders read our blanket coverage of the Elliot Lake inquiry online and in our magazine!). I’m looking forward to Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek’s presentation Tuesday called The Changing Face of Emergency Management, to find out where things stand. Will there be clarification on the role of the Ministry of Labour during a rescue, as recommended in the Elliot Lake inquiry report? What’s going on with the provincial incident management system – it is being reviewed but what’s the status of the review and who or which agencies are involved? Is there a plan for search and rescue teams, or funding? The province said in November 2013 – almost a year before the inquiry report was released on Oct. 15, 2014 – that it would review IMS, figure out how the HUSAR and UCRT teams could train together, and improve communication among agencies. The province should be well on its way to making the changes recommended by Commissioner Paul Belanger in the report that was released six months ago. Fire Marshal Wieclawek speaks first thing tomorrow afternoon. I’ll let you know what he says.Read Laura King's blogs part 1 and part 2 from the Northwest Response Forum.
Beamsville, April 13, 2015 - The tones go off and you respond to yet another critical incident, another senseless tragedy. You do your best but you can’t fix everything. Yet the tones keep going off and you keep responding. As first responders you deal with traumatic events fairly regularly so emotional struggles are normal and to be expected. From this, one can develop what is called cumulative stress. This is the most frequent form of stress and can cause great difficulty if the warning signs are not recognized, or if they are ignored. These warning signs can include headaches, fatigue, indigestion, back pain, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, apathy and irritability. Yes you are a trained professional but you are also human. I believe that many of the issues with post-traumatic stress revolve around finding meaning – in other words, how to make sense of the world and one’s self after experiencing trauma. Research shows that our basic morals, values and beliefs are negatively impacted by traumatic events. This, in turn, can create moral conflict. In Canada we have grown up with, and try to live, according to reliable standards of right and wrong, of what is noble and base, just and unjust. These principles and values tend to be quite stable and traditional morals such as these are not dead. We believe in right and wrong and in justice and mercy but as a first responder there seems to be no shortage of bad stuff. The mind longs for answers and we find ourselves searching for inner truth and reflecting on life in general. Pythagoras designated a latent force in man/women by the word psyche; soul. This is the idea that there is something within us that corresponds to the highest principle of the universe. Sadly this part of the human person is too often ignored in today’s society. My experience with veterans indicates that those who have suffered a loss of meaning in their lives are the ones likely to seek help from clergy or veterans affairs mental-health professionals. Unfortunately many civilian mental-health professionals treat only the clinical aspects while missing the psyche. From my training and understanding the existential search that most veterans (and first responders) are pursuing is central to the spiritual care chaplains can provide. Believe it or not chaplains are trained to be a nonjudgmental presence. A good chaplain won’t preach to you but will walk along beside you to help you sort things out. People can and do experience positive transformations in their lives after trauma, and for many these may take on a spiritual component or understanding. This is post-traumatic growth and happens concurrently with the struggles and difficulties that may occur when you respond to and process traumatic events. Remember the saying whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Life still has meaning; it’s just not always about you. In fact the purpose of your life is actually far greater than your peace of mind, your happiness or your personal fulfillment. You are here for a reason and you are valued. 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
Beamsville, Ont., March 23, 2015 - Society appears to place great emphasis on what’s on the surface – on the outer appearance. Many people fail to attend to the actual substance, or lack thereof, in their lives. People see a great building, they see its lines, and how it uses and reflects light. They see its outer beauty but fail to concern themselves with its great foundation and strength; its inner beauty. As firefighters you know there is much more to a building than its outer appearance. You also know there is much more to life than mere appearances. Everywhere I look I see busy, insecure and hurried people. Many appear fed up and want to slow down but fear losing the edge. Today, everyone is expected to work day and night to improve their stations in life; to go, go, and go some more. In my last blog I mentioned we should periodically pause to check in with ourselves. There are a number of self-inventory worksheets available on the Internet that will suit this purpose. However, don’t think you can run through one during a coffee break as it will involve some serious reflection on your life and dreams. Writing this I am reminded of a quote from Aristotle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While some people maintain this principle describes the synergy that exists when working together in a co-operative effort, I wish to apply it to people. I believe we are more than flesh, bone and electrical impulses. I believe we also have a soul that animates us. In order to better explain what I am attempting to say I want to touch on trees. Growing up in the country I was surrounded by trees. I appreciate their majesty, strength and character. Trees are beautiful to look at; yet there is more to them than just beautiful leaves. Trees are calming, they provide shade and they provide oxygen and moisture. Trees also have other positive environmental impacts by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, intercepting rainfall and reducing land erosion. Trees also provide emotional benefits. Studies have shown that hospital patients with a window view of trees recover slightly faster and with fewer complications that those patients without a window view of trees. Trees are made up of five layers; an outer bark, an inner bark, the cambium cell layer, sapwood and heartwood. As trees have several layers so too do people. A tree’s outer bark protects it from the outside world. As humans, our outer bark is the appearance we project. However, we shouldn’t allow our outer bark to block access to our heartwood. The heartwood is the central supporting layer of the tree, and a person’s heartwood is his or her inner strength, character, and essence. Now consider this: a bag of leaves is as light as balloons and to me this indicates that our outer appearance has no real weight, no merit in the end; it’s just external dressing and has no substance. Trees are more than just leaves and we are more than appearances. You will experience distressing situations on the job and they may leave you with distressing memories. Conducting a self-inventory can help you put things in perspective. At first, in your self-inventory, you may find yourself focusing on the negatives, however don’t forget the positives. Someone you trust can help you with the positives. Like a tree, try to stay anchored to earth while still reaching toward the sky. 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
March 23, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. - On the weekend I had the opportunity to work with some great firefighters from five volunteer departments. These firefighters gave up their weekend to attend leadership and operational training in Carrot River, Sask., and they attended so they could learn and grow as leaders and gain new information to keep firefighters safe. The idea for a weekend training session for paid on-call fire officers was the brainchild of Carrot River Fire Chief Scott Debienne. The intent was to provide cost-effective and targeted leadership/operational training for those going into officer positions (succession planning) and for those already in the officer position in volunteer departments. Why targeted leadership and operational training? Because the vast majority of firefighters and officers serving their communities are volunteers and they have few opportunities to take days away from their livelihoods to become better leaders and learn safe and effective fire-ground management. With the majority of communities in Saskatchewan (and across Canada) being protected by volunteer firefighters, the rationale was to give as much information that we could deliver over a weekend and present more options for the fire-officer toolbox. After a few phone calls to discuss the training weekend, a big step of faith was taken by Chief Debienne to host the event. I say a big step of faith because a program was being created which, to our knowledge, has never been available for volunteer fire officers in Saskatchewan. The $64,000 question was whether firefighters would attend.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria9f85cde986 The weekend had a purpose, it had an outline, and a quick call to Comox Fire Chief Gord Schreiner was made to see if he would be interested in presenting his StopBad seminar for one of the days of the weekend. If you know Chief Schreiner, you know that he is going to jump at the opportunity to get out and spread his message to keep firefighters safe. Several months of work went into developing the weekend material and 2 1/2 days of leadership and operational training was scheduled for the first annual Boot Camp for the Paid on-call Fire Officer. The weekend was a huge success with representation from five departments. The host committee was impressed by the attendance of the deputy chief from the La Pas Fire Department in Manitoba who demonstrated that even chief officers continue on the path of self-development. The agenda was tight, with session 1 starting Friday evening, session 2 all day Saturday, and session 3 all day Sunday. Even with this tight schedule the group finished my leadership session at 4 p.m. on Saturday and immediately donned protective gear and took part in an auto-ex training session provided by instructor Greg Churchman of Rescue Consulting Canada. Greg did an excellent job and there is no doubt that he is passionate about teaching firefighters how to safety perform auto extrication. One of the thrills for me is networking with firefighters and officers from other departments and learning from each other. The weekend was remarkable because of the fact that volunteer firefighters/officers took time away from work and their families to attend a weekend training session. When you get a group of passionate firefighters/officers together all working toward the same goal of self improvement you know good things are going to happen. The first annual Boot Camp for the Paid on-call Fire Officer was a huge success and a big thank-you needs to go to Chief Debienne for spearheading the weekend. I look forward to participating in the 2016 camp. 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
March 4, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - I believe that we all share a common destiny. I further believe that as we grow we are to become more aware of that destiny. Life is a journey and periodically we need to check in with ourselves to see how we're doing. This is the main point of this edition of my blog. As first responders you know the work you do is worthwhile; you know that you love and care for others and you know that you have a certain amount of courage. First responders also understand the dignity of human life and fight to preserve all life. While not everyone always appreciates what you do, your lives do have meaning. Never forget that. Yet you may still suffer anxiety. Anxiety is an intense dread, a nagging worry. To me, anxiety indicates a sense of restlessness and a spiritual uncertainty. Anxiety can also be very tricky; it may lead you to do all sorts of dangerous things. There are a number of subtle self-harming activities that we use to work against ourselves. These can include, but are not limited to, smoking, drinking excessively, drug use, and driving too fast. There is no need to further endanger or degrade you life; your job does enough of that on its own. As a chaplain I believe that it is important that we find a happy and accurate connection between psychology and spirituality. Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung was one of the first to make the connection clear. He argued that more than one-third of his clients were looking for meaning in their lives. He further stated, "A neurosis should be understood as a suffering of the soul that has not discovered its reason for being." Often your job as a first responder can be difficult and scary. But you have the skill set, the compassion and the courage to keep moving forward and to make a difference. On the fire ground you focus on the mission - activities such as size-up, rescue and knockdown. You try to focus on the positives as this reduces some of the fears you may have. I believe that each one of us also has a personal life mission. I recommend that you take some time to reflect on the mission of your life. In my last blog I mentioned the term post-traumatic-growth. Today, I ask you to consider the term compassion satisfaction; this is the pleasure you derive from the work you do - fighting fires and saving lives. These two terms have actually been around for a decade or so but are just now starting to find their way to the front lined of critical incident stress management. These two terms, although subjective, focus on the positive. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event will suffer predictable psychological harm. Trauma can profoundly change your fundamental thought patterns, beliefs and goals. Survivors often suffer an identity crisis. They search for themselves. They often ask, "Who am I now after I have experienced this? And plead, "Make me who I was before." No one can. It is a wound of the soul. Trauma can also affect your ability to manage emotional distress. However, with a certain amount of work you will be able to grow from your distressing feelings and memories. Remember the old saying that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Well there is some truth to it. Accordingly, we need to eliminate the stigma associated with post traumatic and cumulative stress. In the last few blogs I have mentioned that you may feel powerless to battle against your negative feelings and distressing memories, and that they may make you question the meaning of life. You may also need to build trust again. The concept of compassion satisfaction is the point in our journey at which we work on our self-inventory – the point at which we extrapolate the positive from the negative. When you start going through your self-inventory you may at first find yourself aware of many negative qualities. Don't let this dissuade you. Ask someone you trust to help you see your positive qualities. You may want to ask yourself what you are spending and what you are being spent for. What commands and receives your time, your energy? There are a number of self-inventory check sheets on the Internet; you may want to peruse them. Jung (yes, I do like his work) once wrote, "One's identity is the origin of one's mission." He further wrote, "Your vision will become clear only if you see into your heart. Whoever looks outward loses themselves in dreams; whoever looks inward awakens." 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
Editor's note: This is part 1 of a four-part blog series on first responder mental health from Rob Martin.Jan. 28, 2015, Kitchener, Ont. - As a firefighter, I am called to the worst moments in people’s lives. From fires and car accidents to drug overdoses and suicides, it’s my job to mitigate the damage, reduce the losses and save lives. If you’re a first responder of any kind your job description isn’t much different and neither are the stresses that come from these demands. The physical stresses are obvious – run, lift, carry, stairclimb, etc. – but what about the other sources of stress? Are they as obvious? Are you even aware that you’re absorbing stress in other ways? I’m going to assume (I know it’s a risk, but it’s what we do) that if you’re reading this, it’s because you are aware or want more awareness about your health. So let’s look at stress for a moment. Stress itself isn’t a terrible thing. In fact, every time we lift weights we stress the muscles and if we’re properly nourished, they respond by rebuilding and becoming stronger. The concept of vaccines is similar. A controlled dose of stress allows our bodies to adapt and overcome. So what happens when we experience mental or emotional stress? Is it possible to become stronger in the same way? Ask yourself “Is it a controlled dose?” Clearly control and emergency scenes are at opposite ends of the spectrum so it becomes a matter of perspective and perception. How we perceive our roles and, more importantly, our effectiveness in our roles directly affects the dose of stress. If we view our involvement as having had a positive impact, then the experience will be stored in our mental hard drives and fit neatly away for recall if needed at another scene (a small, controllable dose that makes us stronger). If, however, we feel the outcome of the incident was not impacted by our actions in a way we expected or wanted, the dose of stress can crush us. So how do we prevent that from happening? Awareness. Awareness of what our operational limits are: of course we need to be good at what we do but we also need to understand that even when we do everything right, the outcome is sometimes decided before our arrival. It sounds simple (and it is), but give it some thought the next time a call stays with you. Awareness of your sympathetic response: learn to recover from fight or flight. Quick decisions are required to mitigate emergencies. We make better decisions when not in fight-or-flight mode. More on that in another blog. Awareness of your value: just by being at the scene you are providing the patients with a feeling that someone cares. Don’t underestimate your impact. Awareness of the big picture: constantly adapt your perspective gathering in the larger picture and understanding as much of the puzzle as possible. If your mind is searching for answers it’s impossible to control the dose through perspective. Awareness that you took the job to help people and that means you care! Don’t ever be sorry for caring. Don’t ever feel ashamed for caring. Sometimes you will need help to cope with the levels of stress. Ask for it, because you are surrounded by people just like you – people who CARE!Continue reading this series with Part 2.Rob Martin is a captain with the Kitchener Fire Department in Ontario. He is a passionate advocate for healthy living and encourages a balanced approach where functional movement, nutrition, quiet time and fun are the fundamental building blocks for staying fit for duty. Rob is a master trainer with the Ontario Fire College, training firefighters in fire-ground survival techniques, and has attained the disaster canine search team qualification through FEMA. Rob has been trained in critical-incident stress debriefings, defusings and peer-to-peer support, and has served for more than a decade on a critical-incident stress-management team. Following the research chain for mental health led Rob to yoga, where the benefits were immediately obvious. After a couple of years of a personal practice, Rob studied to become a registered yoga teacher. Contact Rob at   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @fit4duty101  
Editor's note: This is Part 4 of a four-part blog series on first responder mental health from Rob Martin. Read Part 1 here, read Part 2 here, and read Part 3 here. March 12, 2015, Kitchener, Ont. – There are many methods and tools studied and proven effective for building a resilient mind. Arousal control, positive self-talk, visualization, and goal setting are considered the big four when discussing mental resilience. Separately they are impactful, but when combined they are far more effective game changers. Arousal control begins with your breath. Breathing is such a basic function of life that we often take it for granted. Yet without breath, we all know what happens . . . Breathing properly has so many benefits that ignoring it and leaving it to the autonomic system is like taking a Formula-One car for a spin and setting it on cruise control; you miss out on epic potential. In an earlier blog I talked about awareness, and referred to being aware of your sympathetic response. Of course it’s not enough just to be aware that your heart rate has increased, your heart is contracting harder, your blood vessels are dilating in your muscles and your breath rate has increased. You need to be able to make a change, consciously, to your body’s response. This is a tremendous tool, which when applied can change your life. Yep, it’s that big! Here’s how to get started. Find a comfortable place to sit preferably a quiet area with no distractions. Sit or stand tall lengthen your spine (no slouching) Close your eyes (optional) Begin by inhaling through your nose for a count of five seconds. If possible constrict the back of the airway so it makes noise similar to the sound of wearing a respirator. Allow your stomach to expand and draw down with the diaphragm. When you reach five seconds, hold it in for five seconds Then exhale through your nose for five seconds. Maintain the constriction to cause the respirator noise. Draw in and up on your diaphragm so you feel like you’re pressing the air out. Again, hold the exhale for five seconds, then repeat the cycle for 10 minutes. The Navy Seals call this box breathing. In yoga, breathing with intention is called pranayama. Like everything you will get better with practice and you may even start to experiment with varying the lengths of the inhales/exhales and holds. Breathing with intention puts you in the driver’s seat of your nervous system, and gives you the choice of how you respond. It’s no secret that positive affirmations promote successful outcomes. But did you know that the average person has over 50,000 internal thoughts per day. If we heed the experts advice, a two-to-one ratio is considered healthy self-talk. Think about that for a moment. How many of us can say we give ourselves even close to one-to-one ratio? I’m willing to bet negative thoughts start for many people from the first look in the mirror in the morning. We compare and judge ourselves constantly to the standards set by media and mega corporations who make billions off of our discontent. To change the pattern, we need to set our own standards and be conscious of any negative thoughts that counter our forward momentum. Positive self-talk is a major player in your overall happiness, but it also affects your performance. In fact, studies show that negative thinking can actually trigger fight-or-flight response. Here are some steps you can take to switch your internal dialogue. Use your new awareness and catch yourself using negative words. Live in the moment. Decide what you can do right now and do it. Create your own mantra, something that supports you and is in your own words. It might feel weird at first, that’s ok you need to learn to laugh at yourself anyway. Write and read aloud positive affirmations. Write one or two short believable messages. Repeat often. Goal setting is a wide topic based on many variables. It can be as large as setting your own standards as mentioned earlier in positive self-talk, or it can be as small as taking one more breath. To effectively use goal setting as a resilience tool, break down the situation that is creating the stress into small steps. After you’ve set the goals, give yourself a pep talk and take time to visualize yourself successfully navigating the obstacles. There may be times in your life when a full sympathetic response is required in order to save your life or the life of someone else. These tools will allow you to maintain situational awareness during these high-stress moments, but more importantly allow you to return to a calm, restful state after the threat is gone. It isn’t going to be simple, but daily practice and regular awareness is necessary to successfully overcome your body’s autonomic response. Rob Martin is a captain with the Kitchener Fire Department in Ontario. He is a passionate advocate for healthy living and encourages a balanced approach where functional movement, nutrition, quiet time and fun are the fundamental building blocks for staying fit for duty. Rob is a master trainer with the Ontario Fire College, training firefighters in fire-ground survival techniques, and has attained the disaster canine search team qualification through FEMA. Rob has been trained in critical-incident stress debriefings, defusings and peer-to-peer support, and has served for more than a decade on a critical-incident stress-management team. Following the research chain for mental health led Rob to yoga, where the benefits were immediately obvious. After a couple of years of a personal practice, Rob studied to become a registered yoga teacher. Contact Rob at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , find him on Facebook – Rob Martin yoga – and follow him on Twitter @fit4duty101
March 6, 2015, Winnipeg - I was recently assigned a temporary position seconded to our Winnipeg Fire Paramedic headquarters to assist with our Emergency Preparedness Program. As well, I’ve was asked to look at some policies and see if there are ways to streamline some of our processes. As you know, an emergency service organization runs off of rules, procedures, guidelines and orders, and it can be quite a task to keep track of all these directives. So far, adjusting to a nine-to-five work week has been OK, however, I did find myself in a Costco on Saturday afternoon cursing my nine-to-five existence. Such is life – as I found out – that Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Costco is virtually empty. There are some perks, however; I have not missed one of my kid’s hockey games, and I’ve attended a few more dance classes to watch my youngest daughter learn ballet, which I might add is extremely difficult. I’m not sure how these dancers aren’t recognized, along with their instructors, as competitive athletes. I never would have thought that ballet would be so rigid in structure, and yet so understated in all of its elegance and splendour. I actually found myself putting my phone away and watching how the transitions play out from one dance segment to the next. My wife took me to the Nutcracker many years back and I did not know it was a ballet. I thought we were going to some stuffy, up-tight building to see some guys in big hats and soldier suits sing some songs and march around at Christmas time; it was all just Nutcrackers to me. I guess when you’re not actually seeing the trees through the forest you have no idea what you’re actually looking at. Not only have my perceptions of routine things in my personal life changed, but I have also taken a new view in my work life of how a Fire Paramedic department works. I’ve always known generally how it works, just as you know the trees are there; but I had never realized just how important the administration staff members are to a fire and paramedic department. First, the administration support staff basically make up the nucleus of headquarters – without this bunch of dedicated soldiers the work of the department does not get done, period. There is no other way to define these women and men other than as absolutely crucial, and a gazillion times awesome. Here in Winnipeg, the HQ staff that support all the different branches are vital in collecting, analyzing, sorting, creating and processing everything. While the chiefs are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the organization, the actual management of these forward-moving directives is carried out through the work of these fine people in administration. Secondly, the Information technology folks are, by and large, my new secret service, spy-type heroes. IT folks are amazing, and I have unfortunately realized by watching them shoot lasers out of their fingers that I really have no clue how to use a computer. I’m very jealous of their knowledge and the ease by which they do their work. There are probably 10 other working groups up here at WFPS HQ that I could throw compliments to, and they all deserve their kudos as well, however I’ve only been upstairs for a month, and have not had a chance to meet and or work with everyone yet. I think it is very important that every fire and paramedic personnel get a chance to see how the job is run from inside the forest. I can tell you that I certainly see a few more trees today than I did just a few short weeks ago. And while emergency services work may not always be as elegant as the ballet, the professionalism and dedication to the task unquestionably produces an orchestrated masterpiece. Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it @firecollege
March 5, 2015, Port Severn, Ont. - “Hi deputy; it’s nice to meet you. My name is Jen. I heard you mention two positions in prevention that your department is currently recruiting for . . .” Voicing those words was not something that I would have necessarily done in the past, but I did it last weekend. I may not have been as super confident in my approach as I had envisioned prior to that moment (are we ever?), but the point is that I did it. A fellow volunteer firefighter and I attended the 2015 Firefighter Career Expo in Vaughan, Ont., on Saturday. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew that it would be a good experience (any gathering of fire service members always is) and a great opportunity to make new connections. The first speaker was Kory Pearn who provided us with an overview of the recruitment process from his own experience. Attendees also received a copy of his book, The Complete Guide to Becoming a Firefighter – a must read for anyone interested in a career in the fire service. Pearn talked about the importance of networking, which had clearly made an impression on me and was the catalyst for me to approach the deputy later that day. Chelsey Reid from Emergency Services Academy in Alberta was up after Kory to share information on programs and courses, followed by Chris Bedwell from TESTREADYPRO, who offered valuable tips and resources about the test taking portion of the recruitment process. Jason Loyd and Chris Framsted from Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) introduced the group to the Firefighter Academy virtual classroom and on-site programs for current and future firefighters. After a short networking break, Richard Boyes, executive director of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, spoke to the future firefighters about the newly created Candidate Testing Service (CTS) offered by Ontario Fire Administration Inc. (OFAI) and their mission of establishing a standardized selection process for firefighters in Ontario. After lunch, Deputy Chief Deryn Rizzi and Chief Training Officer Jim MacDonald of Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service, as well as two HR reps from the City of Vaughan, Gina Lijoi and Sandra McKenzie, took the stage to offer information and advice about recruitment trends in career departments. Following that was a presentation by Tonya Rumas from Isagenix about food science and nutrition. Who knew that maintaining a healthy body is 75 per cent diet and 25 per cent fitness? I guess a lot of fitness buffs would know that, but I sure didn’t. The final session of the day was my favourite and worth its weight in gold. Deputy Chief Deryn Rizzi and Toronto Deputy Chief Debbie Higgins from Fire Service Women of Ontario, along with Sandra McKenzie from human resources at the City of Vaughan, took part in mock interviews with volunteers from the audience. I cannot say enough about the value of that session. I’ve been through a suppression interview before and I worked with an interview coach to prepare myself – which was hugely beneficial – but I learned things in the mock interview session that I’d never heard before. If you remember only one thing that you’ve read today, let it be this: the STAR acronym. When you’re asked a question that starts with “Tell me about a time when . . .” the criteria that the panel members are looking for are STAR – situation, task, action, and result. If you hit those benchmarks in your answer, you’ve given them what they’re looking for. Knowing about STAR ahead of time allows you to respond in the best way possible. You may be up against 20 to 30 other candidates going through the interview process so you need to stand apart from the rest. You must demonstrate why you’re unique and what sets you apart from the competition. Prepare yourself, do your homework and check out the speakers and websites of the people and/or organizations I’ve mentioned above. And if the opportunity presents itself to meet a higher ranking member of a department that you’re interested in, don’t be intimidated by the uniform. Be thankful that you’re in the right place at the right time and in the company of those that inspire you, and introduce yourself. You never know where it could lead. 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
Most North American fire departments use adequate fire flows at private dwelling fires. However, this same flow is also used for fires inside large, un-compartmented, high-fuel-load commercial buildings. Commercial buildings require the use of a 2 1/2-inch (65-millimetre) hose, not just for its higher flow capabilities, but also for its stream reach and thermal penetration.
Change. Big change. To better serve you, our readers.
In our society today about one-third of the total amount of food produced is thrown away. This statistic is even more troubling because roughly 805 million people worldwide are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. Food waste is a huge problem, and that is an understatement. As portion sizes in North America grow, so does food waste. But we can all do a small part to help combat food waste, which supports an overall healthy lifestyle for yourself and your family.
What is it about a profession that makes it professional? What qualities do we look for when we define a vocation as having high levels of integrity and trust?
Your mother is upset with us,” my husband told my older daughter as he drove her to school one Monday morning after I had experienced a bit of a meltdown.
It is no secret that a firefighter’s line of work is hard on the body. Most firefighters work hard, train hard, and play hard as well. The sheer physicality of the lifestyle many of us in the fire service choose is rewarding, but also brings aches and pains. It is estimated that 80 per cent of the general population will experience back problems at some point in their lives, and you can bet the number among firefighters is even higher. There are, however, effective ways to dodge those debilitating aches and pains.
I recently taught a basic rapid-intervention course to a group of seasoned firefighters. The consensus was that rapid-intervention team (RIT) techniques are very physical; even the smallest firefighters are awkward and heavy in full gear. Whether you are initiating self-rescue techniques, dragging in needed equipment or hauling out a downed firefighter, you need to be fit to be effective at RIT rescue.
April 14, 2015 – A new app available in Canada makes it easier and faster for firefighters to privately track injury and exposure incidents for future medical use. The Exposure Tracker App, created by Sand Diego-based TrackTrain, is a website and mobile platform that allows firefighters to report and record detailed documentation of injuries as well as smoke, chemical, and communicable disease exposure. The Exposure Tracker App is available for purchase as an individual or as an enterprise. Learn more at www.exposuretrackerapp.com
April 6, 2015 – Following the success of LEADER North America Inc.’s Hasty 2 sensors, the equipment manufacturer has further expanded its Hasty range with version 3 wireless seismic sensors. Specifically designed to be lightweight and mobile, the Hasty search devices are multifunctional, combining a search camera mode with a wireless seismic detection mode to meet the needs of search-and-rescue teams in the field. Learn more at www.leadernorthamerica.com
Greater Napanee Emergency Services in Ontario, under Fire Chief Terry Gervais, took delivery in January of an Eastway Emergency Vehicles-built tanker. Built on an International 7400SBA chassis and powered by a Navistar Maxxforce 10 350-hp engine and an Allison 3000 EVS transmission, the truck is equipped with a Hale AP50 PTO driven 420-gmp pump, a 2,500-gallon aluminum water tank, a Newton dump valve with swivel and extension, electric porta-tank storage, Amdor Roll-Up doors and a Whelen LED emergency light package.
The Stone Mills Fire Department, in Ontario, under Fire Chief Frank Haylow took delivery in December of an Eastway Emergency Vehicles-built tanker. Built on an International 7400SBA chassis and powered by a Navistar Maxxforce 10 350-hp engine and an Allison 3000 EVS transmission, the truck is equipped with a Hale AP50 PTO driven 420-gpm pump, a 2,500-gallon aluminum water tank, a Newton dump valve with swivel and extension, electric porta-tank storage, Amdor Roll-Up doors, and a Whelen LED emergency light package.
The Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards Fire Department, in Ontario, under Chief Bob Gareau, took delivery in February of an Arnprior Fire Trucks-built pumper. Built on an International 7500 SBA 4X4 chassis and powered by an Allison 3500 EVS transmission and a MaxxForce 9 330-hp engine, the truck is equipped with a Hale DSD 900-gpm pump and a 1,500-gallon aluminum water tank.
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.
Public safety is paramount in our business. Indeed, public safety is not just for the public, it also includes safety for those who provide emergency services to the public.
It is absolutely amazing that we are in our fourth year of writing these joint columns for Fire Fighting in Canada.
You lead as you are. I learned this adage from a dear friend and mentor of mine – retired Cambridge, Ont., fire chief Terry Allen.
Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King sat down with Volunteer Vision columnists Tom DeSorcy, the fire chief in Hope, B.C., and Vince MacKenzie, the chief in Grand Fall-Windsor, N.L., to get a coast-to-coast perspective on the Canadian fire service.
Three Breast Friends put one foot in front of the other and set off on an adventure they never expected.
How do we help every member of the fire service educate the public about fire safety?
Earlier this year, the National Geographic channel aired a six-part documentary, titled Inside Combat Rescue.
Being in the fire service seems to imply to others that we are tough and armour plated.
Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek outlined to fire chiefs on Tuesday the details of proposed changes to the Ontario Fire Code that focus on fire prevention in homes for seniors and some other vulnerable Ontarians. See story below. Photo by Laura King
It’s a little-known fact that on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire there was another huge fire the United States: a fire burned so out of control in Peshtigo, Wis., on Oct. 8, 1871, that 2,500 people died
A strategic partnership has emerged in British Columbia with the intent to reduce fire injuries and fatalities among at-risk populations.
As I wrote this in late November, all thoughts were on the approaching Christmas season and fire departments were focused on holiday safety.
This past summer I watched more of the Olympics than I ever have before.
The number of fires and break-ins in an at-risk neighbourhood in Surrey, B.C., dropped significantly after a one-day education and safety blitz conducted by firefighters and RCMP officers.
I’ve been intrigued by the story of Hélène Campbell, a double-lung transplant recipient. Campbell, suffering idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, made headlines after appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show a few months ago.
I’ve been writing for this publication for more than a year now and my focus has been to get firefighters
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?
On April 10, 2013, at about 9 a.m., I stood in the frozen mud at the fire training ground in Peace River, Alta., waiting to be fit tested and watching lead instructors Lance Bushie and Rodney Schmidt prepare for evolutions in fire behiaviour and rollover – many, many evolutions.
Chainsaws used in the fire service for ventilation are much more powerful than the average home-use chainsaw; the engines are bigger, the chains have large, wide teeth that are designed to chew through a range of materials, and the units are larger and heavier overall. Most firefighters rarely use chainsaws, and many are first introduced to these pieces of equipment during courses at entry-level fire academies.
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 Western Canada, the collaboration among industry stakeholders, first responders and government agencies during last summer’s wildfire season was remarkable. Information and resource sharing, situation updates, timely and effective communication, and a lot of plain old hard work provided the necessary tools to get us through a crazy summer. During that time, there were record-sized fires in British Columbia’s Tumbler Ridge and Moberly Lake to Mt. McAllister, and the entire community of Hudson’s Hope, B.C., was evacuated. However, there were also some valuable lessons learned about the hazards first responders typically encounter when responding to emergencies near industrial activities.Pipeline crossings, specifically in rural areas, are one of the most important topics to address for emergency response personnel. Under federal and/or provincial regulations, oil and gas companies that own and operate pipelines are required to monitor, and in many cases prevent, heavy equipment from crossing pipeline right of ways. There are many reasons for this. First, the depth of pipelines varies due to factors including farm activities stripping away layers of soil, hot ground/surface fires, flooding and erosion. And secondly, companies spend a lot of time and resources identifying and mapping pipeline crossings. Nothing is more frustrating to the owner/operator of a high-volume pipeline than seeing that heavy equipment impacted a section of pipe – especially when a designated crossing was close by. Always check with the pipeline company prior to mobilizing heavy equipment.Knowing what the pipelines contain is also critical. Information about the specific products will help determine safe distances for setting up temporary camps, staging areas and incident-command posts. Always verify with the pipeline company what distance should be maintained from the hazard area, which is generally referred to as the emergency planning zone (EPZ). The radius of an EPZ depends on the product being transported, the operating pressure and the liquid/gas volume. Pipeline companies will gladly share product information and emergency protocols with emergency-response personnel. Understanding this information ensures everyone is aware of the potential hazards as well as the do’s and don’ts.The oil and gas industry has numerous sites at which large volumes of hydrocarbons are stored in tank farms. And even though industry works hard to reduce the storage of flammable materials during the fire season, the potential fire/explosive hazard is always present. Tank sizes vary, but it is important that fire departments confirm with the local company the contents of the tanks and the volumes. This information is usually found in the wildfire-mitigation plan for the area.Having up-to-date emergency contact information for industry stakeholders in a given operating area is vital. Company personnel change frequently, which presents communication challenges for everyone. Creating a real-time and accurate list for single points of contact within organizations avoids unnecessary time delays in pushing the critical information to those who need it most. Industry stakeholders also need updated contact information for local emergency services, response agencies and government authorities. A great information-sharing mechanism was created and co-ordinated by Emergency Management BC in Prince George last summer. Interagency and industry conference calls were set up to provide wildfire-situation updates, weather forecasts, fire impacts and much more. Participants were able to get fast, accurate information. By opening up the phone lines, industry stakeholders could then use the most current information to prepare for wildfire threats.Mapping proved to be another challenge with respect to the wildfires. However, industry has many geographic-information-system (GIS) resources available to ensure pipelines, roads, bridges, water sources, work camp locations and other important landmarks are clearly identified on the maps used by response personnel. In fact, most emergency-response plans have updated maps. The maps help responders quickly prioritize their actions and tasks; for example, the structural protection of a large work camp would likely take priority over a pipeline. On the other hand, protecting a bridge may take precedent, depending on the access and egress.Any time we can learn lessons from our past experiences demonstrates a willingness to continually improve response systems, processes, methods and tools.Mike Burzek is the senior HSE co-ordinator for Progress Energy Canada Ltd. He has 26 years of experience in emergency response and public safety. He lives in Fort St. John, B.C., and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
The presence of other moving vehicles makes emergency-response operations on roadways and highways extremely dangerous for the crews on scene. Firefighters have been injured and killed by distracted or intoxicated drivers while responding to motor-vehicle collisions or other emergencies on highways. In Ontario, the Fire Service Advisory Committee on Occupational Health and Safety issued a Highway Traffic Control guidance note in 2003 that seeks to protect firefighters on highways and roadways. The guidance note recommends, among other things, that departments use apparatuses or other available municipal vehicles to block traffic at collision scenes. The committee also recommends that responding firefighters: Never trust the traffic Wear high-visibility reflective vests Reduce motorist vision impairment by turning off headlights that face approaching traffic Use traffic cones and flares whenever possible Leave red emergency lights on in accordance with the Ontario Highway Traffic Act Most fire departments in Ontario, as well as other provinces and territories, will send two fire trucks to emergencies on roadways and, on an as-need basis, use one apparatus to block or divert traffic. This is referred to in Ontario as a blocker truck, and is positioned a ways back from the incident (roughly 30 meters or 100 feet) to provide an isolation zone for the work area. The blocker truck acts as a barricade between the incident work area and the collision scene. The truck is positioned at a 45-degree angle in order to deflect traffic around the incident scene. In some situations, the blocker truck may be required to block off the entire roadway and force traffic to come to a complete stop. Creating space between the blocker truck and the work area also allows for ambulances, police cars and other fire trucks to pull in and away from the traffic. When the incident is located at an intersection, the blocker truck is positioned in order to direct traffic around the scene while still providing protection for emergency workers. More than one blocker truck may be required, depending on the size of intersection. Police can help by directing traffic.Public works or roads-department vehicles, if available, are beneficial when dealing with a prolonged incident. These large trucks are often outfitted with rear-collision bumper systems and warning lights, and with traffic-direction indicator lights that are able to warn the oncoming vehicles of the need to slow down and merge either left or right. The indicator lights are valuable, particularly when the incident occurs on a high-speed highway.  Most fire trucks have high-visibility reflective chevron markings on the back (see photos 1 and 2), as well as traffic-direction indicator light bars. These two safety devices are proven assets for the protection of firefighters on roadways; they get the attention of drivers and warn them that there is a situation ahead.If a department does not have access to a second fire truck to use as a blocker truck, then firefighters should use flares and cones to direct traffic during a roadway incident. High visibility is key on roadways and not all traffic cones are built as such. A good way to achieve high visibility is to combine traffic cones with strobe lights or other flashing-light devices. Photo 2 Photo 2 Figure 1 Figure 1   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria5829113926 To determine where cones or flares are placed on the roadway in relation to the incident, firefighters should follow suggested guidelines or local regulations, which are based on the speed limits of specified roadways. In Ontario, the advisory committee recommends that traffic cones not be deployed on highways with speed limits greater than 90 kilometres per hour. (See figure 1 for recommended starting points for traffic cones or flares.)Another way to maintain high visibility on the roadway is to ensure each firefighter wears a high-visibility vest. High-visibility vests are designed with colours that can be seen from a distance, typically bright yellow or green with reflective striping. Most structural firefighting protective gear is not adequately outfitted with enough reflective stripping to meet the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard Z96-09 for high-visibility safety apparel. Refer to this standard to see what the requirements are for adequate protection. Adding a high-visibility traffic vest will help your department meet the CSA standard.Parking the fire apparatus too close to the edge of the roadway or too close to the emergency scene can hinder the team’s ability to operate. When the roadway has a steep drop on the shoulder, parking the apparatus too close to the edge will limit accessibility to the equipment on that one side. If the truck is parked too close to the scene, it can become a part of the scene.    Be sure to park the fire truck in a spot that allows adequate access for firefighters to all equipment on all sides, and also provides enough protection to the crew without being too far or too close. All personnel should exit the fire truck on the side facing away from the traffic. This means the rear crew members and the officer should exit out of only one door. The driver’s side of the fire truck usually faces traffic so the driver must be diligent when exiting.Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. Mark teaches in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. He is also the lead Author of Pennwell’s Residential Fire Rescue book. Email Mark at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
All training officers face the same basic challenge: they have to find a way to actively engage students in the learning process. And since firefighter training is ongoing, training officers constantly have to deal with this particular issue.Take a hard, brutally honest look back at your last year’s training program. Did it go as you expected? Was it successful? Did you get any feedback (good or bad)? Don’t ask yourself if you could you have done better, because we can always do better. But was there something you tried that worked particularly well, or something that you should never do again? The main question is: were your instructing methods and topics effective?Training officers have a great influence (good or bad) on their departments. Being an effective trainer takes real dedication. Even after 20-plus years of instructing, I still average two to three hours of prep time for each training hour I put in on any given practice night.Along with providing a safe and positive training environment, training officers have many training objectives to cover. It is easy to get burned out – even for superhero trainers. My advice is to get some help; find your Robin or Tonto.Get students involvedOver the years I have noticed that people learn more and retain more if they are more actively involved in the learning process. However, getting firefighters – especially veterans – to engage in the training process can be difficult to say the least. We all know of veteran firefighters who step to the back of the classroom (especially during demos) and disengage from the lesson. Worse yet is when two or three firefighters group together to chat it up or critique you as you train.The following are proven engagement techniques. Ask a veteran firefighter to help you prepare and present a training lesson. Be sure to give the veteran a copy of the training objectives or any other relevant material several weeks in advance. (Not everyone is comfortable flying by the seat of his or her pants.) Institute a big-brother system by pairing up a veteran with a younger firefighter, and then divide them into teams to deal with training scenarios. Learning is optimized when students are actively engaged in learning. There is an oft-quoted chart (found through web searches for learning styles) that is cited by learning experts as a solid guide for those who teach. The chart states that we remember: 10 per cent of what we read (taking turns reading training material) 20 per cent of what we hear (lecture) 30 per cent of what we see (video) 50 per cent of what we both see and hear (PowerPoint with a lecture) 70 per cent of what we have discussed with others (brainstorming) 80 per cent of what we have experienced personally (hands on) 95 per cent of what we teach someone else (helping instruct) Keep this in mind as your prepare for training night.Gender can play a part in the learning style. If you listen to parents interact with their children, you are more likely to hear a mom say, “Listen to me, and I will tell you how to do this.” Whereas a dad is more likely to say, “Watch me, and I will show you how to do this.” Find a balance between spoken instructions and demonstration. The three-Ds system (describe, demonstrate, do) seems to work well.PowerPoint can be an effective teaching tool to engage students in learning, if it is used properly. PowerPoint appeals to visual learners and can be a good way to organize a presentation. However, it is easy to misuse PowerPoint. Reading from the slides (especially if you turn your back to the students) is the easiest way to kill students’ attention. With PowerPoint, less is more. Resist the temptation to cram as much information as you can onto one slide. Instead, the words on a slide should be visible from the most distant point in the classroom. Most learning happens during a discussion of the topic, not from reading the words on a slide. Rely on the discussion to flesh out key points. (You can read more tips for classroom instructors in Chris Davison-Vanderburg’s article “Instructions for instructors” in Fire Fighting in Canada’s February issue.)   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriac49ae9d3b3 Attitude adjustmentOne area of instructing that is far too often over looked is the teacher’s attitude. As the training officer, you have a great influence over your trainees. They will, in a very short time, reflect your attitude regarding safety, respect, zeal for knowledge and professionalism in the fire service. When you meet the training officer, you meet the department; simple as that.Encourage discussion during training sessions by providing a positive environment for all students who participate. This can be difficult, but remember, nothing shuts down a group discussion like the words, “No that is wrong.” Give firefighters opportunities to correct or add to the information presented. Above all, do not make them look bad in front of their peers. Here are some positive examples: Thanks . . . does anyone want to add to that? Interesting point . . . what do the rest of you think? Good start. Let’s hear some more ideas. Consider using the rule of 10 and two: for every 10 minutes of lecture, students should have at least two minutes to talk to each other about what is being presented. It is important for students to interact with the material in order to retain the information and become engaged in learning.Use incentivesIt is paramount that training officers continually strive for excellence. Set the bar high and your students will reach for it and respect you for thinking highly of them.Look for ways to show you acknowledge students’ positive progress. One way we at Greenwood Fire Rescue do that is by giving in-house certifications. Each Greenwood firefighter receives a department training-program certificate. These are mounted in picture frames and hung on the training-room wall. As candidates successfully complete our training sessions they are awarded a coloured seal, which is affixed over that particular topic.Because this is an ongoing program, each firefighter sees his or her progress within a short time. For example, our first-quarter training session (January to March) covers safety and communications, PPE, SCBA and fire behaviour. Each topic has an exam and evaluation component. In this quarter, there are five basic topics, so in three months firefighters could earn five seals.The potential for a seal every three weeks is a great learning motivator; this simple acknowledgement has a very positive influence. The certification program is also a great asset for when you are making up future training schedules, and aids in your required record keeping.Encouragement goes a long wayEvery once in a while you will meet firefighters who are hungry for knowledge. They are unusually keen about one area of the fire service (fire behaviour, arson investigation, or suppression, for example). What a privilege to be able to nurture interests and mentor those firefighters to reach their full potential. I encourage you to help firefighters discover insight into their key topics. Give your students access to your books, videos and internet resources; sign them up for extra training sessions. Do whatever you can with your budget and resources to satisfy their hunger.Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote, “Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory.” Who knows, you may be training future leaders in the Canadian fire service; or at least your department’s future training officer. Every firefighter has the potential to become an instructor, and the best thing an old firefighter can teach a young firefighter is to become an old firefighter.As always, stay safe and keep training as if lives depend on it, because they do.Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue. He is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor/evaluator and an ordained disaster-response chaplain. Ed has written the Trainers Corner for 13 of his 26 years in the fire service. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
An apparatus driver helps to set the tone of a rescue or fire-ground operation. How the driver positions the apparatus at a scene is crucial to a successful fire-ground operation or motor-vehicle rescue.
British Columbia has changed its minimum standards of training required for fire-services personnel. In September, the Office of the Fire Commissioner implemented the Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook. (You can download the 22-page playbook at www.embc.gov.bc.ca/ofc)
Firefighters sometimes deal with emergencies involving unpredictable and possibly dangerous participants. This is especially true for members of rural departments who are more likely than their urban counterparts to respond to calls involving farm animals. These incidents can test both the skills and the wit of even veteran firefighters.
Vaughan Fire and Rescue Service (VFRS) was the first department in Ontario to have all its firefighters certified to the province’s firefighter curriculum after the program was introduced in 1993. Now that Ontario has transitioned to NFPA professional qualifications, Vaughan has become the first career department in which all firefighters are certified in NFPA 1006 core competencies for technical rescue – all 300 of them.
It was just a matter of time before this column lent itself to a wildlife analogy – at least considering the two animals that write it. (Sorry Vince, I couldn’t resist.) I’d like to share some thoughts on leadership and public perception in relation to the animal kingdom. Do I detect an eyebrow or two being raised at this point?You might think leadership is analogous to the behaviour of a stately lion or another dominant animal but no, this is a leadership analogy based on a duck. That’s right, the lowly, mild-mannered waterfowl that populate lakes and waterways. While you might think I’m a little daffy (pardon the pun), I’m quite serious. Allow me to explain.The way we, as chief officers and leaders in our community, present ourselves in the public eye is paramount to the trust that others have in us and in our abilities. Staying positive no matter the situation and projecting an air of control carries chief officers a long way with the public, the media and your firefighters.As with a lot of fire chiefs in volunteer departments, I don’t have any staff. My office is in the municipal hall so I frequently interact with people who don’t work directly for me. Being in a small community, I take on more roles than just that of the fire chief; I manage our website, do administration and voice narration for our phone system, and act as an tech liaison for computer troubles, all the while maintaining a host of Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.Often I take it upon myself to inject a positive attitude to my work environment. If someone is having a bad day, I only turn it up a notch. My first thought is “Sorry but you’re not bringing me down,” but in reality I’m just trying to demonstrate perspective.  One of my frequent lines is “And how many people died as a result of this incident?” That kind of brings those turning molehills into mountains down to earth. Perspective quickly turns into the realization that things are being blown out of proportion and, hopefully, the rest of the person’s day goes a lot more smoothly.This example illustrates my attitude toward most things. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to show emotion and concern, but if what is going on inside me doesn’t concern those around me, then I won’t bring it up – especially if it would bring them down.Here’s where the duck comes in. To me, having an air of confidence and control shows balance in your world; a duck is literally living life in the balance whenever it is floating on the water. Many of you have probably heard this: the part of the duck you see on top of the water – the calm, cool collected version – is how people see you and what you project to the outside world. What happens on the inside, or in the duck’s case, below the waterline, is not quite as serene. Upon closer inspection, two webbed feet are paddling like mad, adjusting and correcting, propelling and slowing down, unbeknownst to onlookers.Can you see the comparison now? On the outside, everything is running smoothly yet underneath there is work going on to keep things balanced. Unlike a comparison to treading water, in which case most of a person’s body is below the waterline – thus giving meaning to the phrase keeping your head above water – a duck isn’t paddling to avoid sinking. A duck can coast or it can propel forward, and either way, nobody knows what’s going on underneath. Is the comparison of leadership to a duck starting to make sense yet?What we, as chief officers, face daily takes a toll on us. Whether you get paid to be an officer or it is something you do on the side while running your family business, the job never gets easier. People in authority, from politicians to professional athletes, are well versed at projecting confidence or concern as required; to me, successful leaders are those who do this well.Find your own personal balance and be as positive as you can because while one person’s worst day may be our every day, our worst day is no one else’s, nor should it be. Instead, show strength and confidence for the benefit of those around you.Many of us work and live in smaller communities and we are very public people. While not all of us wear a uniform all the time, people still know who we are and what we represent. I know that it is tough to always be on, and my hat is off to all of you who accept that responsibility and don’t try to duck out of it while you keep on paddling.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Tom is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as a communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
You cannot mention the word communication today without a focus on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (and the list goes on) are playing greater roles in our lives. In the past we relied on mainstream media to report the news and inform us of events. Today everyone with an electronic device is photographer, reporter, complainer, and helper. But the public can be a valued communicator too, especially during an emergency.
When you’re a broadcaster, whether on radio or television, you’re constantly reaching out to an audience that you presume is there. For the most part, you’re talking into a microphone or camera in a one-way conversation without any feedback from those to whom you’re speaking. How’s that for motivation? In broadcasting school we were taught to treat our audience as just one person, therefore giving listeners the impression that we were talking directly to them and them alone. This experience was enhanced when broadcasters opened the phones and took calls, thus allowing a direct connection with the audience.  Magazine columnists are in a similar situation: we know the readers are there and we get reaction to what we say via emails and personal contact, but the feedback comes only after the column is published – weeks (sometimes months) after it has been written. Which is why the summer of 2014 was special for me; along with my Volunteer Vision co-author and good friend Vince MacKenzie, we took our opinions and columns off the pages of this magazine and to the people.   Over the summer, we presented what we called Volunteer Vision LIVE – three sessions in two provinces at opposite ends of the country. Thanks to Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King, who moderated two of our sessions in British Columbia, and Tim Pley, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of BC, who moderated in Gander, N.L., we took readers deeper into our columns, explaining where the ideas came from, the inspiration behind our stories and expanding on the issues we had written about, The beauty of our column is that Vince and I seem to touch on the same themes – not necessarily on purpose. It’s just the way we connect with the issues that face the fire service from coast to coast to coast. During the presentations, we brought forward several columns from the past few years; what struck me was that while the issues weren’t new, they are still relevant today, albeit with some new ideas and opinions. To say we all learned something from this exercise would be an understatement. The questions and comments in the rooms as we explored issues from recruitment and retention to retirement opened my eyes to the number of people who read what we have to say; there was a lot of acknowledgment and there were lots of heads nodding in silent recognition – or agreement – in each session.   While we maintained the same format and storyline, each of the three sessions was completely different. We were unscripted and unplugged, so to speak, and if it wasn’t for the moderators, all of our sessions would have run way over. In fact, all of them spilled into the foyers during the subsequent networking sessions.What I took away from those sessions goes far beyond meeting the readers; the experience reinforced to me that what I have to say is relevant to my peers. The fact that I have a hard time recruiting new members and staying ahead of the calendar resonates in other departments. My concerns over the future of the fire service is shared by many more; in fact, I’ve come to realize that while we tend to focus on recruitment on the front lines, we aren’t doing enough to address the need for leaders in our volunteer world. Seriously, it’s one thing to encourage new members to take on the daunting task of becoming a well-trained firefighter, but the need to step up and take on a leadership role adds a whole new wrinkle. Succession planning is vital to the health of any organization, and coming from a world that always has one foot firmly planted in the past, we need to be aware of this. We’re all not getting any younger, which is one thing I see as our biggest challenge in the future. Touching on one of Vince’s topics – the millennials in our ranks – can you actually see some of these people carrying your torch (and yes, I did say “your”)? As we grow older it may seem harder to realize, but it will and it has to happen.  There are times when we exist within our own little worlds, our small departments, without realizing that what’s happening in the next town – or province for that matter – has an impact on what we are doing locally. I guess we just need to be reminded of this; and, hopefully, through a column written by a couple of small-town fire chiefs, those messages are realized. Train as if your life depends on it, because it does, and understand that you are part of a great big family. I’ve been to Newfoundland and Labrador on three occasions and when asked recently if I have family back there, my answer was yes, yes I do have family back there – a fire family that gets bigger all the time thanks in a large part to my written words and those who read them.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
It is common in smaller communities that the volunteer fire department is the only available emergency agency. Most of Canada’s smaller communities have fire stations, but they don’t always have police stations or medical centres. Therefore, when a major emergency incident or disaster strikes these communities, it is the volunteer fire departments that respond. Unlike in larger cities with emergency-management offices and full-time staff, rural, large-scale disasters are usually dealt with by the members of the volunteer department. The rural fire chief or senior fire officer is thrust into the role of disaster operations commander, or, in times of non-emergency, the role of emergency operations co-ordinators and planners. This can certainly be a challenging role to be thrust into without preparation.I would like to focus on one element of emergency planning: communication. When the emergency is over and evaluation and inquiry begins, communication is commonly identified as a key factor in the success or failure of disaster operations.  Emergency management communication includes directing emergency responders, sharing public information, and gathering data about the emergency. Therefore, the fire chief needs to know how to receive credible information and how to communicate to the public effectively. I think we can all agree that forms of communication have changed dramatically in the last five years with the growth of social media. In order to effectively communicate in today’s world, emergency planners now have to consider a social-media component to the emergency-operations plan.Credible information now comes in many forms from the public. It used to be that everyone phoned into the emergency services to report issues, but today, many people who witness the incidents use social media to inform everyone. While most social media information is credible, some is tainted with opinion and rumors that will quickly spread to the public. The deluge of tweets and posts lends itself to misinformation because the public can receive information as quickly as the officials handling the situation. Unfortunately, the constant monitoring of crucial information can rapidly overload a conventional public information officer or media centre. Reports from the public also generally come with photos that cannot be ignored by emergency operations centres. The challenge for local emergency managers is to capture that information to assist in a manner that is credible and timely. I learned a new term during a recent session on media training: the digital volunteer. It’s a relatively new concept as applied to emergency management, but I believe it will soon become a familiar term. The digital volunteer is a person who emergency managers identify to help monitor social media platforms for relevant information and data during emergencies. Digital volunteers are not actively engaged in the emergency operations centre, but are engaged with the public information officer to alert those in charge when significant messaging is trending. Digital volunteers are, in essence, social-media savvy spectators recruited to help filter the barrage of information. If you spend any time on social media, you can probably think of a few of those people now. During almost every emergency, people emerge online to provide information to the public through posts on social media, as though they were officials themselves.  We all know someone who is tuned into the event for whatever reason. Many times these people are actively engaged in the situation and can be a valuable resource to assist with analyzing the volume of information. Enlisting these digital volunteers to filter and inform the emergency operations centre of trending issues or damaging rumors will be very helpful to overall communication. We should not turn away from these opportunities that can help us navigate the changing world of emergency management. So why not write this concept into our emergency planning?This fall, I will participate in an exercise on the concept of the digital volunteer at an emergency management conference in Nova Scotia. I am excited to find out what the organizers have in store for us. While the concept of the digital volunteer is relatively new, I see great value in it as a tool to help fire departments keep on top of today’s busy communication world.Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Service and an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince
There are many tools synonymous with the professions they serve. Think of firefighters and we think of everything from helmets and trucks to ladders and hoses.
Fire departments all have jurisdictions – areas that we cover and in which we provide protective services.
Firefighters strive to provide good customer service: that means treating others the way we would like to be treated – going above and beyond whenever possible and surprising people who don’t expect our do-onto-others attitude.
Volunteer firefighters who last a long time in the fire service can certainly gain a vast perspective on many aspects of life.
Social media can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Say the wrong thing, post the wrong picture and you have more than egg on your face.
I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to the designation of Canadian fire services as professional or volunteer.
As one generation gives way to the next, so does the makeup of our fire departments.
The past summer seems to have been rife with disaster and conflagrations. Newscasts and social media sites were filled with details of events and suffering, with floods in Alberta, forest fires in every province from British Columbia to Newfoundland, and the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que.

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