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Editors' pick 2014: Interior attack in hoarding conditions

Editors' pick 2014: Interior attack in hoarding conditions

The presence of hoarding conditions does mean firefighters must opt for a defensive attack. Ryan Pennington describes the conditions that firefighters must consider before and during an interior attack in hoarding house.

Editors' pick 2014: Between Alarms - January

Editors' pick 2014: Between Alarms - January

As Arjuna George writes, the phrase, “You are too young to be a fire chief,” is vanishing from today’s fire service. Young chief officers – with hard work, the right attitudes and the willingness to step out of their comfort zone – are successfully breaking the mould and challenging tradition.

Editors' pick 2014: Volunteer Vision - February

Editors' pick 2014: Volunteer Vision - February

Vince MacKenzie has a number of pet peeves when it comes to he designation of Canadian fire services as professional or volunteer. Members of the fire service, he writes, have a collective responsibility to work professionally, hold themselves to professional standards and put forth a professional effort for the people they serve – whether as career, composite or volunteer firefighters.

Editors' pick 2014: Pencilling and PPA

Editors' pick 2014: Pencilling and PPA

The fire service has evolved a great deal since Neil Campbell joined its ranks almost 20 years ago. Now, Campbell makes the case for employing pencilling and positive-pressure attack at every fire – something he was taught never to do.

Editors' pick 2014: Understanding flow paths

Editors' pick 2014: Understanding flow paths

Flow paths have directly caused the line-of-duty deaths of several firefighters. Ian Bolton explains the science behind the movement of flames and hot smoke inside a structure, and how fire crews can control these flow paths to more safely and efficiently extinguish a blaze.

Dec. 19, 2014, Port Severn, Ont. – The other day I paged out at 6:45 a.m. for a multi-vehicle collision (MVC), and got back to the hall at 7:50 a.m. I had to be at work for 8:30 a.m. I technically only had to walk across the parking lot to get to work, but I don’t think my boss would have appreciated me showing up in sweat pants, a hoody, my big winter boots and a toque. Although that is common attire for late-night or early-morning fire calls, I don’t think it is acceptable in the office. The injuries to the lone occupant involved in the MVC were minor; lucky for him and a bonus for us because we were not there for long. Once we put the med bag back in order and returned to the hall, I ran home (not literally ¬– I don’t run anywhere) in order to get ready for work. I managed to make it to work only 10 minutes late, which was great, but I definitely required a coffee to get my head in gear. I will admit that I was in a bit of a fog without my morning java. It’s a good thing I have patient co-workers. That same day, I had to leave work early to get my hockey-playing daughter to the doctor’s office in order to be cleared to return to hockey following a slight concussion. My husband called as my daughter and I were returning from her appointment. Since I have Bluetooth in my car, my daughter and I both answered when the phone rang. We joked around and tried to talk at the same time. My husband cut us off by eagerly asked where we were, to which we both answered at the same time again. (We didn’t clue in right away to the serious tone in his voice.) It turned out that a good friend and neighbour of ours ¬¬– who is a fellow firefighter’s wife – fell and had possibly broken her femur. Her husband (the firefighter) was home with her when it happened and knew right away that it was serious. He called 911 and requested fire with the ambulance so that he could get her onto a backboard because she was lying on the ground and he could not move her on his own. My husband called our neighbour him at the same time that he was on the other line with 911. When he learned what had happened, my husband, who was about 20 minutes away, called me to see if I was closer. I was about seven minutes away and said I’d go straight there. My phone rang right after I had hung up with my husband. It was the firefighter calling. “Are you bringing the rescue?” he asked me frantically. “No, we haven’t gotten paged out, but I’m on my way in my car.” “I need the rescue. I need the backboard. I can’t move her on my own. I asked for fire. Why haven’t they paged it out yet?” “I’ll go to the hall and call it in myself. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” We arrived at the hall and my daughter and I ran in. When I tried to call the firefighter back to get his house number, the line was busy. My daughter was on her phone before I knew it, calling another neighbour to get the address. Smart kid I got there. I radioed our dispatch. No answer. I keyed the mic to call them again and heard the tones go out as another firefighter ran into the hall. My husband had called him too, trying to find someone close to bring the truck. When we pulled up on scene at our fellow firefighter’s house, we grabbed the backboard and ran over to him and his wife. I knelt down beside her and almost cried. That’s only ever happened to me when something has happened to one of my daughters. I am OK with medical calls, until it’s one of my kids or a loved one from my fire-service family. I quickly choked back the emotions and saw my fellow firefighter do the same. The three of us carefully positioned my neighbour’s wife and got the board underneath her. Paramedics arrived not long after and took over patient care. “Thanks for coming, guys,” the firefighter said as the paramedics loaded his wife into the ambulance. “It felt like forever.” That was one of the hardest calls to which I have responded. It was bound to happen sooner or later since we live in such a small community. When it is one of your own you are helping, it really tugs at the heartstrings. We offered to drive the firefighter’s vehicle to the hospital for him so that he could go with his wife in the ambulance. It was the least we could do. “Call us if you need anything at all,” we told him. He called later with an update and asked us if we could feed his dog because he didn’t know when he would get home. “No problem,” I told him, and took my youngest daughter with me to feed the dog. When we got there and let the dog outside, he walked right to the spot where his owner had been laying on the ground a couple of hours earlier. I told my daughter about it and we watched him sniff around the ground in that exact area. Then he sat down in the same spot, looked down the driveway, and waited. Tell me that does not get you. We are all in this together. Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow her on Twitter at @georgianbayjen
Dec. 15, 2014, Port Severn, Ont. – There’s a quote often misattributed to William Shakespeare: The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Many of us have discovered our gifts through the fire service; we give those gifts away by attending the emergencies to which we are called. Our gifts are evident in the way we treat patients and their concerned family members during medical calls, in our efforts to extricate and treat people involved in collisions as quickly and safely as we can, or in the way we organize and deploy equipment and manpower to contain and extinguish fires and protect homes and property from further damage. When we’re out in our communities, providing life-saving fire prevention education to the children in the schools and the residents in our neighbourhoods, we’re also giving our gifts. Sometimes, during our service, we are forced realize that life is about much more than just us. When we lose someone on whom we’ve feverishly done CPR while waiting for the paramedics to arrive and provide further treatment, we’re affected. When we try to console family members but find that our words offer little consolation, we feel helpless. When we’ve witnessed a child with a life-threatening injury, it weighs heavily on us; we go home and hug our children, hold them tighter and say a silent prayer of thanksgiving for their safety. Witnessing the devastation of people’s homes and lives after a fire makes us appreciate what we have. These situations cause us to stop and reflect on the important things in life; our families, our spouses, our children, and our brothers and sisters in the fire service with whom we’ve just gone through a tough experience. These are the things that really matter in life. A line-of-duty death gets everyone’s attention; no matter what’s going on in your life, when you see a post on social media, or hear about it from other members in the fire service, it makes you pause and reflect. Honestly, it makes most people pause for a moment, but the response is deeper than that for firefighters; it affects us on a visceral level. It hits home. No matter where the firefighter is from and no matter where we live, we all feel it. We know it could have been one of us or one of our brothers or sisters in our department, or someone we know on another department. We empathize with fellow firefighters as they grieve the loss of one of their own. How could it not hit home? We put ourselves in the place of the firefighter who died. What a terrifying thought. We’ve pretty well all been in a situation, at one time or another, that had the potential to turn out that way. And just when the fear of that moment and the realization of the potential danger in which we’re putting ourselves starts to sink in, you remember that you possess something more powerful than fear: you remember that we’re here to serve, and we’ve been incredibly blessed to discover a gift in ourselves that not everyone has. It’s a unique breed of people who have a passion for the fire service. We all have our unique gifts to share, and being a member of the fire service is ours. None of us knows when our time will come. Therefore, we should strive to share our gifts as genuinely and as often as we can. You know you are always a firefighter, whether you’re on duty or not; remember that when you go about your day, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Let everyone who crosses your path benefit from what you have to share. Give away that gift of yours. Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow her on Twitter at @georgianbayjen
Dec. 5, 2014, Winnipeg – Darius is my new hero. Truth be told, I didn’t even know the kid before his babysitter and this little man showed up at my fire station; the young woman, all bundled up for a Winterpeg day, rang the fire-hall doorbell and I happened to be right there. I answered the door and the woman asked if she and her young charge could see a fire truck. I looked down and there was this bright, smiley-faced kid that I put at about three years of age. As I started to say, “Sure come on in,” the kid ker-klonked right by me, snow boots on and all. He loves fire trucks his babysitter said. For the next 15 minutes, Darius and I talked about the job in a way that I’ve never had the pleasure to do with a four year old. You see, Darius will be a firefighter but he can’t apply now because he is only four, he informed me. He told me with certainty that when he is maybe 20 he can drive the truck. Darius and I talked about hoses and water supply, as he did not know that the fire truck had water in it already, explaining to me that firefighters get the water from the hydrants. It was quite apparent that this child had had someone in the family read to him about the fire service. I asked some more questions to find out if Darius had a relative on the job, but it did not seem like it. Darius will be our future. Darius will be a first-generation firefighter when he is 20, and, until that time, I will do my best to keep the job moving along so when it is his time to take over the reins, the job will still be the same magical place for him as it is for me now. For the rest of the day I felt invigorated and happy to serve, and Darius was the reason I felt this way; it was a quick reminder of the importance of what we do. Every day in the media we seem to see stories of public emergency services under some sort of attack – budget cuts here, firefighters doing this over there, and horrifically sad stories everywhere. It can get to you some times, and I will admit that there are days that the seed of complacency could be planted. It takes a good fire – which sounds awful but you now exactly what I mean – or a great save to really appreciate how lucky we are to do this for a living. That same day we had that good fire in the middle of the afternoon at which the crew pulled together and made a really good stop on a dirty basement fire – high heat, lots of smoke and all in -25 C conditions makes for a stellar afternoon. There were no injuries and we were all thankful for the chance to practise our trade under really challenging conditions. Right after the fire I had to get to my kid’s hockey practice; I am now the head coach of a group of 13-year-old boys. Several of the other coaches and a few mothers commented on how I smelled like a bonfire, even though I had had a quick shower. I informed them that I had just come from work. Suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed and parents were now looking at me funny. One dad said, “Wow I can’t believe you guys do that.” But all I could think about was how in 16 years I hope I am still on the job so I may have a chance to fight a fire with Darius.When Darius left the fire hall, I loaded him up with fire-prevention colouring books and a stuffed fire dog and I asked him in front of his babysitter to tell his folks to check his smoke alarms. She smiled at me and knew I was really talking to her. I have to keep this kid safe for a few more years until he can drive me around on the truck. Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Along with multiple fire and emergency services courses and certificates, Jay holds a master's degree in disaster and Emergency management from Royal Roads University and is an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @firecollege*Carousel photo from Flickr by Michael Himbeault
Nov. 28, 2014, Toronto – It was, perhaps, a bit of much-needed closure for Paul Officer when Elliot Lake inquiry commissioner Paul Belanger said on Oct. 15 that the chief’s submission to the Ontario Awards for Firefighter Bravery should proceed. “These awards should wait no longer,” Belanger said. “Those commendations are richly deserved.” If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, there was some scrambling in the last five weeks to ensure that the three Elliot Lake Fire Department members who went back into the collapsed Algo Centre mall on June 23, 2012, to search for anyone trapped in the rubble, received their medals last night at Queen’s Park. Chief Officer’s long-ago submission had been put on hold until after Belanger completed his report from the inquiry into the collapsed mall and the emergency response to it. Belanger’s words, written in his lengthy report and also spoken solemnly and clearly in the auditorium at the Lester B. Pearson Civic Centre in Elliot Lake, were applauded – the only applause, and certainly one of the only pleasant moments, during the hour-long news conference after the document was released. Captains John Thomas and Ken Barnes, and firefighter Adam Vance were honoured at the legislature last evening for their willingness to do everything they could to extend the search for anyone trapped in the mall, for their courage and compassion. (You can read more about the ceremony and the recipients here, and browse a gallery of photos from the event here.) Thirteen other firefighters, from Mississauga, Kenora, and Shebandowan, and six police officers from Niagara, Toronto and the OPP, also received medals from Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi. The ceremony was formal and elegant and by invitation only. For whatever reason, the government chose to keep the names of the recipients quiet until 6 p.m. last night, so I smiled when I saw on Facebook shortly after 7 a.m. yesterday that the proud sister of Elliot Lake Capt. Thomas, had posted congratulations, hours before Queen’s Park did so. For the firefighters from Mississauga and Kenora and Shebandowan, the remarkable acts of bravery for which they were honoured – rescuing trapped and injured colleagues from a burning warehouse (“Your son helped to save my life,” I overheard one Mississauga firefighter, still on crutches from the April 23 incident, tell the dad of one of the honourees last night), rescuing a woman from a house fire, and rescuing a couple from Shebandowan Lake – will likely stick with them as tests of character, strength and teamwork and memories of high-risk and terrifying jobs well done, of positive outcomes. John Thomas, Ken Barnes and Adam Vance had no idea on the afternoon of Saturday, June 23, 2012, while they were doing their jobs and attempting the impossible – to find and save anyone who had been trapped – the same way any one of you would have, that they would later endure a media circus, public derision in the community in which they work and live, and a seven-month inquiry. I was at the ceremony, thanks to some good people who did some good things to secure me a place at Chief Officer’s table, with Vance and his family, and next to Barnes and Thomas and his Cape Breton contingent. As Chief Officer said to me last week, “It will be nice that you can see the guys get over the finish line with a smile.” Indeed it was.
Nov. 26, 2014, Port Severn, Ont. - I was watching A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY on TV. Vincent Dunn was talking about when he was promoted to district chief 10 years after 12 FDNY firefighters lost their lives in a building collapse, and he began writing book after book about structural collapse. He told his wife that information just kept pouring out of him, and it became his post-traumatic stress debriefing.
Last Friday I was tasked by the chief of the household, my wife Jennifer, to pick up our two younger children, Nick and Michaela, at school. When I was met by Michaela’s aide – as a child with autism, Michaela has special needs – I was given the synopsis of her day and was told she had a great day baking brownies and took particular joy in handing them out and sharing with her classmates.
Nov. 11, 2014, Toronto – There’s still so much to say about the report into what happened in Elliot Lake in June 2012, when the roof of the Algo Centre mall collapsed. But I’ll stick to what I find most frustrating.
Nov. 6, 2014, Toronto – We know you don’t like change. (Neither do we – don’t tell our bosses!) But technology and a demand for more original content from our writers and columnists that you can more easily access on your smartphones and tablets led us to redesign our website. It’s change for the better!
Nov. 6, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - This past weekend, everyone should have rolled their clocks back an hour (unless you are in Saskatchewan) to observe daylight savings time. On Friday, my dad and I took it a step further and turned the metaphorical clock back by going to watch an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators. The outing took me back to a time when I was a kid and we would go to Maple Leafs Gardens to watch Dave “Tiger” Williams take the fight to visitors on Carlton Street. Sadly, over the weekend, turning back the clock could not help five people across the country who were killed as a result of residential fires in Sooke, B.C., Toronto and St. Catharines, Ont. The fatalities in Sooke occurred in a house without working smoke alarms. It’s 2014 and we are still responding to homes in Canada that do not have working smoke alarms. You all must feel as frustrated as I do when you read news articles about fire-related deaths and injuries every day on the Fire Fighting in Canada website. “Change your clocks. Change your batteries.” It is not a new program, yet we still do not seem to get the message across. With the prevalence of social media, have we, as a fire service, forgotten about those who may not be plugged in? The Alberta government announced changes to fire code last week, making it manditory to have sprinklers in seniors’ residences, which falls on the heels of the horrible fire in L’Ise-Verte, Que., last year. Ontario took similar measures in May last year. This is great, but other provinces have to follow suit before more of our vulnerable citizens fall victim to heat and smoke. Of course, these code changes only affect those seniors living in care homes. In Canmore, Alta., the fire department, led by Fire Chief Todd Sikorsky, has teamed up with the local Canadian Tire this week to promote fire safety within the community’s aging population. The town, department and store are offering smoke-alarm battery replacement for free to seniors and people with mobility issues. Canmore Fire and Rescue staff will visit homes and all people have to do is make an appointment by calling the fire station. This is a great program being offered by the mountain town of about 12,000, and hopefully other departments across Canada will follow this lead to promote seniors safety in their communities. Just as it was great, as a kid, to watch Maple Leafs take the fight to visitors of the Gardens, it is exciting to watch fire departments take the fight to fires that occur far too often across this country. But the consequences of losing this fight are far greater than adding to penalties in minutes (PIM) on the stats sheet. As we saw this past weekend, we need to win this fight to keep from adding to the death and injury stats – a far more important game. Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof
Oct. 30, 2014, Prince Albert, Sask. - I recently had the opportunity to present at the Southern Alberta Fire Department Conference in Lethbridge. I also had the privilege during the conference to listen to three men who are passionate about changing the fire service.
Oct. 29, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - Oh Canada, our national anthem. I have to admit, in recent years, any time I’ve been at a sporting event, I stood and shuffled from foot to foot, mouthing the words. Last week was very different. I think I sung the anthem at least a half dozen times in my car, at work, at home.
Oct. 27, 2014, Gravenhurst, Ont. – It was Day 2 of a courtroom procedures course at the Ontario Fire College. I had a great sleep, was up early, had been down to the dining room and grabbed my morning cup of coffee. Back in my room, Breakfast Television was live streaming on my laptop; I had a coffee in hand, and was ready to blog.
A phrase I often used to hear, “You are too young to be a fire chief,” is vanishing from today’s fire service.
Clara Hughes, Canadian Olympic cyclist and speed skater, came to my town during the summer and huge crowds came out to welcome her and listen to her speak. Hughes’ visit was a planned stop on Clara’s Big Ride, an annual bike ride across the country to encourage healthy conversations about mental illness – including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD? Isn’t that a severe mental illness for which only soldiers, police officers and paramedics are at risk? Me – suffer from traumatic events? I don’t think so. After all, I’m a firefighter. Yes, I still ride in the officer seat and wear a SCBA at calls, but I am tough. Firefighters don’t suffer from mental illness and we certainly aren’t affected by what we see, smell, hear, feel and otherwise sense at emergency scenes. PTSD is defined by the Ontario government as an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a traumatic event or experience. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and intense feelings of fear or horror. Yes, firefighters do suffer from mental illness generally, and are exposed to traumatic events in particular. Some even suffer from PTSD, which not only affects them, but also affects their spouses, family and friends.Take encouragement from Clara Hughes and many other Canadians who are taking the lead by acknowledging and discussing mental illness; it’s real, it’s in our fire stations and it affects all members of our fire-service families – those in the fire station and those who love and care for us. The anxiety and suffering of firefighters is not acceptable; it’s debilitating and affects our performance on the job – both career and volunteer. It affects our relationships, our mental health and also our physical health. All firefighters need to be leaders when it comes to talking about mental illness. We can’t wait for others to pick up the mantle on this sensitive and growing issue. Indeed, some will deny that PTSD actually affects firefighters. People may say that firefighters signed up for it, that they are not forced to become firefighters, or that workplace claims by firefighters suffering from PTSD are simply cash grabs or  even organized scams.Firefighters need to recognize that it’s cool to seek help when they are suffering, and not cool to keep it inside and let it fester and cause pain. It’s cool to talk about a traumatic event you experienced or what triggers your PTSD, and not cool to pretend that those feelings are not there. It’s cool to be vulnerable and let others into your private world, and not cool to put up walls and not share your inner feelings. It’s cool to talk with your spouse and children about your traumatic events or PTSD, and it’s not cool to keep your situation from those who are closest to you. It’s cool to talk to your doctor, pastor or someone you trust about your traumatic events or PTSD, and not cool to think you can handle it without professional help. It’s cool to seek medical help with your personal situation and not cool to self medicate with drugs or alcohol.Unfortunately, the suffering of firefighters from traumatic events has become politicized. Governments, both municipal and provincial, and some vocal individuals, are concerned about the potential cost of presumptive workplace claims for PTSD by first responders, which are similar to claims made for presumptive cancer. Let me be clear – I am not a medical professional; however, my personal experience is that PTSD in the fire service is real. Responding as a firefighter to horrific and gruesome scenes over the past 35 years has left its mark on me. The sights, feel, sounds, smells, and, indeed, the aura of an emergency scene affects me and impacts all of us. I have suffered for almost 30 years now following an incident that involved a car colliding with a snowplow. I was the first to arrive on scene as the driver lay dying and trapped inside his vehicle. The night terrors are the worst as they impact not only me but also my family. It is normal to be affected when someone you are holding dies; it is normal to be affected by the sight and smell of a mangled, burned body; it is normal to be affected as you gather up body parts at a vehicle collision. What is not normal is to keep your feelings to yourself. Take the lead and make yourself vulnerable. Talk about your anxiety, fears, and triggers and, just as importantly, seek support and ask for help. Talk to your spouse, your fire service critical-incident stress team, your pastor, your family doctor. You lead as you are.For more information on PTSD and support services, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association at www.cmha.caDoug Tennant is the fire chief in Deep River, Ont. Contact Doug at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it *Carousel photo from Flickr by Shona/Reikilass
On July 31, 2013, members of the Sooke Fire Rescue Department in British Columbia responded to one of the largest fires in their community in recent history. Evergreen Mall, a two-storey commercial strip mall was gutted by the work of an arsonist. The fire was spectacular and fighting it was a major challenge for the department. Five mutual-aid fire departments were called in to help combat the fire over a 15-hour period.Exactly one year later, July 31, 2014, Sooke firefighters were recounting this fire at an anniversary thank-you barbeque hosted by the local Royal Bank of Canada branch, one of the businesses destroyed in the 2013 fire. Nobody imagined that just four hours later, the same six volunteer fire departments that responded to the 2013 fire would be summoned to another major fire in Sooke. This time, the fire began at a single-family home, which erupted into flames that rapidly spread to the surrounding tinder-dry forest.  The fire occurred in a rural section of the community, which does not have a municipal water supply, requiring the establishment of a complex tender shuttle operation. Many of the valuable lessons learned during the 2013 fire were incorporated into this incident, resulting in a more orderly and safer operation for all personnel involved.  The fire was called in to the department at 4:36 p.m. by a man cutting firewood on the property. He reported smelling something burning and at first assumed something was wrong with his saw. After turning off the saw, the man looked around and saw dark smoke issuing from the kitchen window. Thinking that the occupant of the home – who had left about 45 minutes earlier – may have left his dogs inside, the man kicked in the front door to see if the dogs were inside, but was driven back by intense smoke and heat and could see fire “swirling in the living room.” He then ran around to the side door and opened a small dog door at the bottom and tried to call the dogs heard no barking or noise. With the fire rapidly spreading, the man retreated to the road to wait for the fire department to arrive.  It was a hot, dry summer afternoon. Fortunately there were no prevailing winds that day. Given Sooke’s location on the west coast of Vancouver Island, wind off the ocean is often a daily occurrence.   Sooke Car 1 was the first to arrive with the fire chief assuming command. An older, ranch-style, wood-framed home was fully involved. Fire was visible at all the windows and through the roof, and multiple exposures were already burning or about to ignite. The exposures on fire included a detached two-car garage, a 12-metre-long travel trailer, a passenger car, several motorcycles and outboard motors, household objects, and numerous trees. Seconds after arrival, there was a large explosion, which was later thought to be a propane barbeque tank rupturing. Radiant heat caused several other objects to begin smoking or melting including a pickup truck, a fiberglass sailboat on a trailer, a second utility trailer and many other objects scattered throughout the property. The location of this fire was in hilly terrain surrounded by dense forest. Several of the surrounding 30- to 40-metre-high trees exploded into flames. Directly behind the burning house and up a steep hill, a large log home was in the path of the rapidly spreading fire.    With no available water supply, rapidly deteriorating conditions, and multiple spot fires igniting from falling embers, assistance was needed to combat the fire. While still en route, Car 1 observed a large column of smoke about four kilometers from the fire and immediately requested mutual aid. In addition to two engines, a tender, a command unit, a communications vehicle and a utility truck from Sooke, the neighbouring Otter Point Volunteer Fire Department dispatched an engine and tender, East Sooke Fire Department sent both of its tenders and the Metchosin Fire Department arrived with a tender and an engine. As the incident progressed, the Langford Fire Department was called in and supported the operation with an additional engine, bringing the total number of firefighters to 45.  The structure fire was located only metres away from Sooke Road, also provincial Hwy. 14, which closed for public safety and to allow the tenders room to safely traverse to and from various water-supply points. Two 8,000-litre porta-tanks were set up on the roadway. As Hwy. 14 is the only route into Victoria from Sooke and the fire occurred during the start of the evening commute, it did not take long for traffic to back up for kilometres.  Due to the embers being produced from the fire, several spot fires flared up in the surrounding forest. A request was made for the BC Forest Service to attend. A three-person rapid-attack team arrived shortly after by helicopter to assist, which was also very useful in locating the additional spot fires hidden in the dense forest. As these fires moved through the brush and grew in size, several crews were diverted to attack the rapidly growing spot fires, one of which grew to cover about 300 square metres. The escalating situation resulted in the establishment of two more porta-tank sites and a complex operation of co-ordinating six tenders using two fill sites, and supplying four engines with four portable tanks at three different drop locations. With several homes in the fire path, Sooke RCMP evacuated residents in the highest-risk areas and placed those further away on evacuation notice. The highway closure added to the problems as tender crews were forced drive with caution using only one side of the winding, two-lane road while travelling to and from the fill sites and drops sites. Adding to this were dozens of cars that gave up waiting and decided to turn around and go back in the direction from which they had come, rather than wait out the fire and the opening of the road.The temperature was almost 30 C that day, thus dehydration and exhaustion of responders was a major concern. The BC Ambulance Service provided monitoring and rehab for all personnel and ensured that responders were hydrated and in good condition before allowing them back to the fire line.  The fire was brought under control and contained by about 6 p.m., however many hotspots on the original property and surrounding forest still had to be dealt with. With the water-supply requirements stabilized, crews were able to remove one of the porta-tanks off the highway, which allowed single-lane traffic to begin flowing. As the incident stabilized, mutual-aid companies returned to their stations, with the last Sooke unit clearing the scene at 9:30 p.m. One crew returned around midnight when an old tree stump started burning as result of the earlier fire.  The home, contents and several exposures were totally destroyed by the fire. However, crews were able to save the sail boat and pickup truck. While the fire did not destroy any additional homes in the area, it came within three metres of the neighbouring log home. The damage to the home in which the fire started was too severe to determine a definitive cause, but the fire did not appear to be suspicious. While the home was insured, the tenant was not and he lost almost all his possessions.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria97bd3bb77b Lessons learnedAccountability of large numbers of firefighters from multiple fire departments is a difficult task. In the past, several area departments used different types and colours of accountability tags for their firefighters. Following the 2013 mall fire, all area fire departments have switched to the same colour-coded accountability tag system.Better use of senior officers at major incidents played a key role in ensuring overall safety, accountability, and monitoring of sectors. All available senior officers from responding mutual-aid departments reported to command for sector assignments. In the past, mutual aid officers often stayed and operated only with their own fire department members. For some departments, this change required alterations to their SOGs.Enhanced joint training sessions in such areas as accountability, RIT, tender shuttle operations, and communication, helped to streamline efficiencies on the fire ground.   Better use of non-suppression personnel to assist in non-hazardous areas helped to free firefighters from roles that they would normally fill. With limited daytime firefighting resources a key concern in Sooke, the department enhanced its training of volunteer public-education members to take on additional duties. These members – now known as support services – can be assigned to traffic control, crowd control, photography, as scribes for command officers, to assist the accountability officer and to fill SCBA cylinders.Assigning a media-relations officer played a critical role in providing accurate information to news agencies, as on social media platforms. Messages on Twitter and Facebook at regular intervals helped to keep the public informed as the incident progressed, and provided up-to-the-minute details on the road closure and pending resumption of traffic flows.  The protocols used in the control of this incident were reviewed in the days following to determine what areas of concern may have been noted. Nobody expected that just six weeks later, on Sept. 11, 2014, these practices would be employed at a much larger incident that would completely tax the resources of almost every volunteer fire department in the region. Watch for that story in a future issue of Fire Fighting in Canada.DEPARTMENT PROFILESooke Fire Rescue Department - established 1913Location: 40 kilometres west of VictoriaPopulation: 11,500Area protected: 65 square kilometres Equipment: Two fire stations operating with three engines, one ladder truck, one tender, one brush truck, two squads and two utility vehicles. Average annual calls: 750Membership: Fire chief, deputy chief of prevention, assistant chief of training and two career firefighters; 30 volunteer firefighters and 10 volunteer support servicesSteven Sorensen is the fire chief and emergency operations co-ordinator for the Sooke Fire Rescue Service in British Columbia. Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
We’ve all been there. The station gong goes off and you hurry your way to the printer, the driver plots the route on the map and we take off, leaving a swinging Plymovent and four sets of shoes on the ground as the bay door closes. En route, in the back of the engine, we look up the call details on the laptop and I start running through possible what-ifs for what will no doubt be another routine shortness-of-breath call. The run time is about 2.5 minutes and the conversation quickly changes to the weather, and whether the Jets will pull out another victory on the road. We take the trauma bag, television, and the 02 kit and make our way up the sidewalk. I remember hearing one of the guys on the crew say we should get some fuel on the way back from this run. As I walk into this split-level house I am greeted by a young West African man sitting on the steps who says a pleasant hello. This guy is talking and breathing well, so A and B are good, I’m thinking. As I introduce myself and reach for the patient’s wrist to take a radial pulse and start asking some questions, I turn to pull out a stethoscope from the trauma bag to start doing vitals; the man starts to cough violently. Because my body is turned down and to the right below him, I can feel his wet cough land on my left forearm. With in seconds I start to wonder: the symptoms sound like the flu. This guy seems OK but he will need to be checked out at the hospital. The medics arrive and we load the patient onto the stretcher. The charge medic takes my report and we agree that this is not an Ebola call. The medic starts to ask the patient some more questions, and all of the sudden the answers are different: a family member has recently travelled back home from Guinea. The patient is coughing and trying to speak; my heart starts to race as the man coughs and tries to explain that his mother has, in fact, travelled to Guinea. My mind is racing, I feel ill to my stomach, as I am now thinking about what it will mean for my family if I have to be quarantined. This can’t be happening here, in Winnipeg.I’m afraid, nervous, and start to guard my left arm from touching anyone or anything as I listen and stare intently while the patient forms his words and tries to speak while catching his breath from coughing. The man is pleasant and co-operative, and when he finally catches his breath and slows down his speech, he tells us his mother moved back home last month, she is in Guinea now, and everyone is safe.Fear, if only for a few seconds, can paralyze you, make your heart pound in your chest as it solicits a powerful response of emotions, actions and thoughts. Multiply this by millions and you’ve captured the collective mindset of North America since Sept. 30 when Thomas Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Dallas after returning on Sept. 20 from Liberia. Since Duncan’s death, three other cases were brought back to North America as known cases – all aid workers – for treatment. Ebola has infected us with a virus of fear, like no other. The graphic images of bleeding eyes, and the descriptive stories of patients hemorrhaging, lying row after row in shelter cots waiting to die in makeshift hospitals, were strewn across televisions for weeks. North Americans have called for everything from compassionate aid to militaristic controls of air space and borders. As of Nov. 3, Canada had donated more than $95 million to assist with everything from vaccine research to  humanitarian aid and personal protective equipment for health workers. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tried to assure us in September and October that they believed they have the situation under control. But for some reason, the reassurances had not quelled the constant media attention and fear that enveloped Canadian and American emergency-response agencies as department after department, and city after city, rolled out their response and training plans for EVD. When Dallas firefighters dressed in encapsulated hazmat suits and started cleaning out the apartment of Thomas Duncan live on CNN with helicopters circling the skies above, fire departments across Canada and the United States took a collective gasp and phones started to ring; you can imagine fire chiefs receiving phone calls from their municipal leaders asking how they would handle a similar situation.Dr. John Embil, who is the head of the Infectious disease unit of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, believes the media have overplayed the story; he says people need to understand that as of early November, the risk in North America was still miniscule. “We really should be more concerned with the thousands who will die from influenza here at home,” Embil said in an interview. “Albeit, I see how the fear perpetuates when the mortality rates in Africa are 70 to 100 per cent in certain areas. The issue is understanding that the disease process in West Africa is working in a perfect storm of transmission. The risk here, compared to there, is very different, and while there are still unknowns as in how the [Dallas] nurses got sick, from a risk point of view it is exceptionally low.”Closer to home in Winnipeg at the National Microbiology Laboratory – Canada’s only top Level-4 containment laboratory for handing diseases such as Ebola – work to prepare for possible outbreaks on home soil has been going on since the WHO started to declare Ebola a threat to world health back in August. Back then, no one in Canada was concerned, as most felt Ebola was someone else’s problem, until it landed in Dallas, pretty much on our doorstep. Specialists in Winnipeg have been dealing with this outbreak for months; scientists from the national lab have regularly travelled to Africa’s outbreak regions to work and study, with detailed plans in place to deal with the returning scientists who have had possible exposures to the disease. Dr. Rob Grierson, who is the medical director for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and an emergency-room physician by trade, believes the city and most of the country is prepared well. “We’ve had plans in place in Winnipeg since the summertime, when scientists from our national virology lab started coming back from those affected areas,” Grierson said. “We had to make sure safeguards were in place to protect them and the citizens, as well as their families. Now that there have been confirmed cases in North America, we’ve trained and tested our policies and were confident we are doing all we can do with what we know. “I can’t speak for the rest of the country but I know my counterparts across the nation are in meetings and briefing sessions and we’re all taking a collaborative effort to do the absolute best we can.” Those plans are, of course, the best-case scenario, but there are so many variables that can interfere with those protocols: the subjective nature of the incubation period of EVD of two to 21 days; the upcoming flu season; and the fact that infrastructure and policy development has thus far been reactive given that the WHO does not have one universal policy for dealing with many issues such as PPE and transport of infected individuals, and jurisdictional laws that can or cannot force a person into quarantine. The what if questions that firefighters love to ask have been flying around, and the lack of answers is forcing departments to spending money on whatever they can get their hands on to protect their workers. All you have to do is look at Twitter and Facebook to see how many different ways department are training and preparing. Grierson couldn’t quantify how low the risk really is, but he provides crystal-clear data from Winnipeg’s 911 centre. Between the time the centre started screening calls for possible EVD cases and early November, there had been 4,439 calls to 911, with 1,427 highlighted for flu-like symptoms. Of the calls for flu-like symptoms, eight patients indicated a possible travel history to West Africa, or contact with a person who had possibly been there. After further consultation, none of the calls warranted enacting EVD procedures. “If it does happen, where a suspected EVD case is present,” Grierson said, “we believe our plan is a good one and with the infrastructure of our hospital system our mortality rates should be significantly lower due to basic medical principles of keeping patients hydrated via IV fluids, using proper isolation rooms, supportive care, and mitigating blood pressure issues.” Winnipeg has room for 10 EVD patients; like fire departments, hospitals are charged with planning for the worst.Grierson believes the lack of infrastructure in the affected West African countries – primarily Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea – is the major factor contributing to high mortality rates there. “The hospitals are isolating all Ebola patients in the same ward or area,” he said, “when best-case practices would have each patient completely isolated.” Dr. Renate Singh, who is the associate medical director of Manitoba Air Ambulance, says she believes EVD planning has been comprehensive and has included  many stakeholders. Singh says there are challenges associated with moving an EVD patient in a fixed-wing or rotary aircraft.“The PPE the CDC is recommending is for exposures of approximately an hour, so flying a patient in a small, enclosed space for several hours in close proximity to responders is an issue. “Everyone is working well together to come up with plans and processes but the reality is there is know 100-per-cent way to remove the risk, and so many scenarios that have to be planned for.”  While Canada has donated millions in relief funds, it wasn’t until EVD landed in North America that governments started to take the threat seriously. According to The Globe and Mail, while Sierra Leone was in dire need of medical gloves and masks as the outbreak started to escalate in June, the federal government, through Health Canada, was selling these items at rock-bottom auction prices to those who then turned around and re-sold them for incredible profits to aid agencies that were trying to get the needed PPE to responders in Africa. The needed items were considered surplus in Canada and were put up for auction; eventually – once the government was made aware – the process was stopped.Firefighters do what we do, because there is an attraction to the unknown and risks that have a chance of making a difference in someone else’s life; it does not matter what the hazard is, or how dire the situation. The fear I felt for a mere 15 seconds was real, but it was dissolved by common sense and information. When I asked all three physicians interviewed for this story what firefighters could do to reduce their risks, they all said the same thing: follow your training and policies, learn how to use the PPE you are given, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn as much as you can. Oh, and Dr. Embil says wash your hands and get the flu shot, because if we can go inside a burning building then we can certainly handle the fear of a little tiny needle. 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
Writer Jay Shaw suggested that the headline for our cover story about Ebola preparedness be “Fear virus,” because of the seemingly over-the-top angst among first responders about a threat which, as of Nov. 6 when this issue of the magazine went into production, had yet to surface in Canada.While we left the words virus of fear in the story on page 10, we wanted to make sure the headline on the cover was balanced and fully explained the context of Jay’s thorough report.But Jay’s point is well taken: while Ebola is a horrible disease, it’s tough to contract and as of early November – save for three cases in Dallas and one in New York – had been contained primarily to regions that lack the adequate infrastructure to mange it.While media hype is a given – pictures of doctors in full PPE and rows of suffering patients make for great TV – and fear of the unknown is human nature, failing to pay attention to credible sources and getting caught up in overblown and sometimes inaccurate details is easier than doing the necessary research to refute bad information.As Dr. John Embril, the head of infectious diseases with Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, told Jay, first responders should be more worried about the thousands of people who die in Canada every year of influenza than about the risk of Ebola. While influenza can affect anyone, it is particularly hard on young and older people – those for whom family members are inclined to call 911. First responders are not required to be immunized against this known threat that leads to thousands of deaths annually, yet there has been a huge and cry over a perceived lack of preparedness against a disease that does not exist here. Go figure.Think back a few years to when responders insisted they be among the first to receive shots for H1N1. Or back to 2003 and the SARS outbreak in Ontario. These were real, but manageable threats.On Oct. 16, after the three confirmed cases of Ebola in Dallas, IAFF president Harold Schaitberger posted a YouTube video in which he called for a safety stand down for Ebola preparedness.“The IAFF made this decision because too many jurisdictions in the United States and Canada have not adequately provided the training, equipment and resources needed so you can respond appropriately to potential Ebola incidents,” Schaitberger said. But as Embril says in Jay’s story, the risk of Ebola in North America is minuscule simply due to already-in-place protocols. The situation in West Africa, he says, where patients lie side by side, is a perfect storm of transmission.If you really want to protect yourself from viruses of all kinds, he says, get the flu shot, pay attention, and wash your hands.
Dec. 9, 2014 – Ram Air Gear Dryer has released a complete system for proper decontamination of special-ops gear that cannot be washed in a mechanical washer. Called the Special-ops Decon System, it uses a newly introduced Gear Decon Sprayer to go with the rinse station and staging accessory and the 4-IHT gear dryer for quick and effective washing and drying. The compete system is designed for decontamination of hazmat, immersion and ice-rescue suits. Learn more at http://www.ramairgeardryer.com/
Dec. 9, 2014 – Holmatro has introduced a new airbag-protection cover that is a one-size-fits-all solution to neutralize the impact of an accidental airbag explosion after a vehicle collision. The new Secunet III is designed for application on steering wheels in cars, vans, buses and trucks with a diameter of 35 to 51 centimetres. Made of an aramid-reinforced fabric, the device is quick and easy to install.Find out more at http://www.holmatro.com/en/
Dec. 11, 2014 - Holmatro has created a new function to minimize noise and fuel consumption on three of its Spider pump models. Called the ECO whisper mode, the function, at the push of a button, allows the pump’s engine to slip into a low idle speed while it’s not being operated; the pump will continue to run quietly and efficiently until it’s needed again. The ECO whisper mode is currently equipped in three new Spider range petrol pumps, and conversion sets are available to retrofit existing equivalent pumps. Learn more at http://www.holmatro.com/en/
Norfolk County Fire Department in Ontario, under Fire Chief Terry Dicks, took delivery in January of an Arnprior Fire Trucks Corp.-built pumper. Built on a Spartan Metro Star chassis and powered by a 330-hp Cummins ISL9 engine and an Allison 3000 EVS transmission, the truck is equipped with a 6,000-lpm Hale QMAX pump, an 800-gallon polypropylene tank, and a Foam Pro foam system.
St. Catharines Fire and Emergency Services in Ontario, under Fire Chief Dave Wood, took delivery in November of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built rescue pumper. Built on a Spartan Metrostar chassis and powered by a 400-hp Cummins ISL engine and an Allison 3000 EVS transmission, the truck is equipped with a 1,250-gpm Waterous pump, a 600-gallon Copoly tank, and a Foam Pro 2001 foam system.
The McKenzie Clearwater Bay Fire Department in Ontario, under Fire Chief Russ Bell, took delivery in May of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built portable pumper boat. Built on a 23-foot ThunderJet Boat chassis and powered by a 150-hp Mercurey 2 Stroke Optimax Outboard motor, the boat is equipped with a 560-gpm CET-TohatsuV82 pump, a Federal Signal Legend LED lightbar, Go Light Stryker, a Whelen Pioneer LED Scene Light, a Federal Signal siren and 100-watt speaker, eight Amdor red LED ground lights, a 1.5-inch Potter Roemer monitor with stream shaper with tips, Speedlays for 300 feet of 2.5-inch hose and 300 feet of 1.5-inch hose, and a Checkerplate storage cabinet.
The Milford and District Emergency Services in Nova Scotia, under Fire Chief Ralph Wardrope, took delivery in November of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built tanker. Build on a Freightliner M2 106 chassis and powered by an Alison 3000 EVS transmission and an ISL 350-hp engine, the truck is equipped with a 835-gpm Hale PTO pump, a 1,500-gallon Pro Poly tank, three air actuated dump chutes, a Federal Signal camera system, and Zico SCBA storage.
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.
We have had the pleasure of writing leadership columns for Fire Fighting in Canada since 2010.
Welcome to the first edition of what we hope will be a long and prosperous partnership between the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and Annex Business Media/Fire Fighting in Canada. 
Many chiefs feel caught between opposing forces: on one side are fiscal pressures, including the conflict of downward pressure on budgets versus increasing service delivery costs; on the other side is the demand for sustained or increased delivery of fire-protection services.
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and exist at all levels within an organization. When I want to learn more about how to be a good leader, I look beyond the fire service.
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
"Attack 1 to command: this is a hoarder house.”
When I started working in the fire service in 1995, much of a new recruit’s training was based on knowledge passed down from senior members to rookies.
From the Vandalia Avenue fire in New York City in December 1998, in which three FDNY firefighters died, to the Forward Avenue fire in Ottawa in February 2007
As the new year approaches, training officers across our nation get out their calendars and begin their juggling act, known as planning out the year’s training schedule.  Realistically, a year boils down to 42 (on average) nights. And when you consider practice nights (volunteer departments) are usually between 1.5 and two hours, there really isn’t a lot of time (between 63 and 84 hours). Responding to MVIs (extrication), first-response medical calls and/or first response hazmat calls really impacts training requirements. Once each quarter, departments should schedule a live-fire exercise and a driver training drill.The following are some basic topics training officers should consider as part of their scheduling: cold-weather emergencies; ropes and knots; CPR and AED; forcible entry; chimney fires; apparatus and equipment; ventilation; SCBA; hose handling; preplans; area familiarization; fire suppression; fire extinguishers; advancing hoselines; cold- weather pumping; drafting; hose testing; hazmat operations; ground ladders; vehicle extrication; vehicle fires; below-grade fires; RIT; roof operations; hose streams; confined-space rescue; LPG emergencies; wildland fires; interface fires; structure fires; downed-firefighter rescue; arrival reports; size-up; ICS 100; PPE; firefighter safety; communication; alarms; water supply; nozzles and streams; building construction; fire suppression; BLEVE; salvage and overhaul; firefighter survival; mayday, disaster and large-incident response. Once you lay out the main topics you can add specific objectives under each. I have included 13 such topics as examples. Each member should be given the opportunity to demonstrate safe knowledge of and ability to perform safely.■ Rescue equipment The set-up of the hydraulic tools system The set-up of the lifting bags system The set-up of emergency lighting ■ Building entry The proper procedure for entering a fire building ■ Ladders Proper ladder handling techniques Ladder the side of a building and safely secure the lanyard Climb the ladder and demonstrate leg lock Demonstrate sounding the roof Lower and stow the ladder  ■ Small equipmentDemonstrate the starting and safety procedures for: Chain saw / Reciprocating saw PPV fan Heat detector Generators under load with all lights ■ RIT Demonstrate the steps for rescue of a downed firefighter with SCBA  ■ Pre-connect deployment and loading Demonstrate the deployment of a 1-1/2 pre-connect Participate in loading a pre-connect ■ Over the bank Perform at least three rescue knots Demonstrate proper life-line anchoring  ■ Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) Demonstrate knowledge of SCBA use Demonstrate the donning and doffing SCBA Demonstrate troubleshooting the SCBA ■ Foam induction Demonstrate knowledge of setting up the foam inductor (E52) Demonstrate the proper cleanup procedures Demonstrate the proper application methods of foam ■ Hose rollsDemonstrate the following hose rolls Straight roll Single donut roll Double donut roll Locking donut roll  ■ Hose appliances Demonstrate extending a hose line using a hose clamp Demonstrate replacing a broken hose section Describe and/or demonstrate the proper use of gated wye add hose clamps  ■ Hose lays Demonstrate knowledge of a forward lay Demonstrate knowledge of a reverse lay Demonstrate knowledge of a split lay Demonstrate knowledge of a hydrant lay  ■ First responder Perform at least two first-responder core skills Demonstrate these core skills in a complete scenario Set up the basket stretcher in preparation for an over-the-bank rescue Package a patient in preparation to be rescued   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria61aebd29ac Further considerations: Think through each practice objective. Follow your department’s SOGs. Use the incident command system throughout your training, and it will become automatic in your response operations. Have a stop procedure (usually a blown whistle). There should be no tolerance for horseplay. Assign safety officers for any hands-on drills or evolutions. Instructors should, whenever possible, use the three Ds at their stations:Demonstrate: instructors demonstrate the proper steps to complete the tasks required.  Describe: instructors demonstrate the proper steps again, only this time they describe what is being done one step at a time. Do: instructors will ask each member to do the task in the proper manner.I hope this helps. The goal is to practise the basic skills until they become automatic.  Two last things: your best instructional tool is preparedness, and, when possible, mix in the fun of competition. Please continue to train as if lives depend on it.  Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and Greenwood Fire and Rescue. The 25-year veteran of the fire service 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. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
The position of apparatus driver is not a glorious one. As with a football team, on which the quarterback or wide receiver gets all the attention from scoring or passing touchdowns, suppression firefighters tend to be in the spotlight, with their pictures in the paper or on the TV news. In both cases, however, the stars are able to do what they can only by virtue of the others doing their jobs. What a truck driver does for the crew affects that crew’s performance. Success comes only from all of the team members working together. Driver duty is a fitting topic considering we are now in the winter season. The driver’s primary job is to drive safely and defensively. Fire trucks are heavy pieces of machinery that require special skills to operate. A general rule for braking distance is the heavier the vehicle, the greater the braking distance required. Normally a four- to seven-second gap between vehicles is required for a truck driver to brake effectively, depending upon how fast the apparatus is moving. Always remember to use defensive driving skills and scan the roadway ahead of you in order to anticipate problems that will require the use of brakes. Photo 1 Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 3 Photo 4 Photo 4   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria3e885d17e1 Besides driving and operating the pump, drivers can help the crew in several other ways. For starters, drivers can help to ladder the outside of the building as part of the proactive fire-ground activities. Once a pump is put into gear and water is delivered to the hoselines, the driver then monitors the pump. He or she is therefore free to place ground ladders at windows around the structure to provide a means of egress and access for the rest of the crews (see photo 1). It is possible for a single firefighter to ladder the second-storey or third-storey windows; it takes practice, but it can be done and with ease once a firefighter learns how. When there is limited manpower, the driver can help in this area. The driver can also help with hose advancement from off of the apparatus. Sometimes, the crew arriving on scene first is not dressed in appropriate PPE and SCBA for the situation. If this is the case, the driver can easily assist the team by pulling off the hand line from the hose bed and advancing it for the crew to the front door (see photo 2). Of course, the pump has already been engaged and is circulating water from the onboard water tank to the pump in the meantime. Good drivers are able to put their pumps into gear, have the pump circulating water, and pull off the line, all before the crew is fully dressed. Drivers can also help to advance the line into the structure from the outside (see photo 3). Standing just outside the entrance point, a driver can feed hose inside the building and stage outside hose closer to the entrance. Because the hoseline is stretched off of the apparatus, there is still a good length of hose outside; by looping the hose and bringing it to the front door or entrance of the building, the interior crews can access and easily advance more hose as needed. The driver can also listen attentively to the radio. If the driver hears that a team needs certain equipment, he or she is in the best position to retrieve it and bring it to the front door or thereabouts. In this case, the driver’s actions save valuable time that it would take for crew members to go outside to get the equipment. On the scene of a vehicle accident requiring extrication tactics, the driver is often instrumental to the overall operation. Certain tools will be grabbed and used right away by the extrication team members, but as the incident unfolds, other items may be needed. If a driver is close enough to hear the communication among members, he or she can predict what the team will do next. If the operation is not going well and a change in tactics requires different tools, the driver will ideally have already left to retrieve those tools (see photo 4.) The driver can also act as a substitute when a member becomes fatigued or exhausted.  If the apparatus used during an incident is an aerial device, then drivers are tasked to operate the aerial ladder for either water delivery or for access to an elevated area. Skill is required to operate an aerial device, including an awareness of the surroundings with respect to power lines. Depending on the number of firefighters responding to the incident and the order in which the fire trucks arrive, a driver may be a part of the crew handling interior or exterior operations, or can assist another driver with various duties. Drivers can also be used by command as accountability officers or as scribes.  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
If the effects of the approaching cooler weather stay true to our country’s history, there will soon be an increase in fire calls. Most residential fires in Canada occur during the winter. This is also true of fire fatalities. Sadly, more people are likely to perish due to an accidental home fire during the holiday season than any other time of the year.There are three major causes of residential fires during the winter. Two of the three will come as no surprise: chimneys and candles. The third cause is clogged dryer vents. In fact, according to the NFPA, the number of dryer-vent fires has exceeded chimney fires since 2005, and most dryer-vent fires occur in January. Some researchers list dryer-vent fires as the No. 1 cause of residential fires.As for candles, we all love the warmth and ambiance they provide, but it is easy to forget that a candle is an open flame that can reach 1400 C. Most candle-caused fires start in the bedroom, except during the holidays when decorative candles are involved.  The most common cause of chimney fires is the ignition of creosote in the flue. Creosote forms primarily due to the use of unseasoned or green wood in the fireplace. There are other factors that can lead to creosote buildup, such as failure to maintain a proper temperature inside the flue, burning wet wood, or failure to clean the chimney regularly.Fires in masonry chimneys can burn to a temperature of 1093 C. These fires can damage the masonry material, which can then provide an opening for fire to escape into voids of combustible components such as the inner walls or attic space. There are several indicators of a working chimney fire: Sparks or flames exiting the top of the chimney A whistling or buzzing sound in the chimney A back flow of smoke through the heating device into the structure Discoloration on the walls adjacent to the chimney Smoke emanating from the cracks in the wall or electrical outlets near the chimney The minimum response to a chimney fire should be one engine company, one ladder company and an EMS unit. The engine company is required for fire extinguishment and the ladder company is required to supply tarps, ventilation fans, overhaul tools and ladders. Smaller volunteer departments may have all of this equipment on the engine, however, they still need EMS on site due to the fact that firefighters are working on the roof, often in freezing or otherwise inclement weather. The potential for injuries at a chimney fire may be greater than previously thought. NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program requires an EMS unit on fire responses. The following tactics should be considered when establishing standard operating guidelines for chimney fires: Establish command upon arrival; safety officer and RIT should be assigned. Conduct an exterior size-up and look for signs of a chimney fire. Call for resources to ensure safe operations. Gain entry; search for and remove victims; wear full PPE and SCBA; monitor oxygen levels and ensure adequate ventilation. Consistently monitor oxygen levels for carbon monoxide (CO). Chimney fires can cause the flue to fail allowing CO to escape into the walls, ceilings, attics and other voids. Perform horizontal ventilation if needed. Positive-pressure ventilation is the method of choice in these situations. The ventilation exit point should be as close to the heating device as possible, thereby minimizing the spread of smoke within the structure. Advance a hoseline to the front door as a precaution. Spread a runner or salvage cover on route to the stove or fireplace. Not only does a salvage cover catch any ashes or embers that may fall, when and if the wood is removed from the firebox it also keeps bunker boots from tracking dirt onto the carpet. Plastic tarps fail quickly when they come in contact with fire embers, so consider fire-resistant cloth tarps. Stop the flow of oxygen to the flue. Reducing the oxygen flow to the flue decreases the intensity of the fire in the flue and in some cases will extinguish it completely. This step may not be possible on open fireplaces. Extinguish the fire in the firebox. Before you put the fire out, consider using the fire in the firebox to your advantage. Sometimes a mere cup of water applied onto the burning fuel will cause the resulting steam to travel up the chimney and extinguish the flue fire. Multipurpose dry-chemical agents will put out the fire in the firebox, but will not usually extinguish anything further up. Only remove fuel from the firebox if it has been extinguished and if absolutely necessary (there are very few good reasons to take this step). Ladder the roof. If an aerial device is used, it should be extended to the chimney opening. If ground ladders are used, a wall or extension ladder should be placed at a good roof entry point, and a roof ladder should be extended to the roofline adjacent to the chimney. If the roof is covered with combustible material, a charged hoseline should be advanced onto the roof as soon as the ladders are in place. Do not place the ladder or secure the ladder to the chimney. Cautiously remove the chimney cap, bird screens, or spark arrestors with a hand tool. All firefighters on the roof should be wearing full PPE, including SCBA. Each of our trucks has a chimney kit consisting of a mirror, a length of chain (4.5 metres), and a chimney bomb (zipper-seal bags containing dry-chemical powder), and a small fire-place shovel, all placed inside a metal bucket. Inspect the chimney using the mirror. If there is fire, drop the chimney bombs down. When the chimney bomb reaches the firebox, the bag will burst and the normal draft will carry the powder up to extinguish the creosote. (Be sure to communicate your actions to the interior team). Slowly lower the chimney chain from the top of the flue to the firebox. Spin the chain to knock the creosote from the walls onto the firebox where it can be extinguished with water or a dry-chemical extinguisher. There is some opposition to putting water down the chimney based on the fear that the water may rapidly cool the flue causing it to fracture. These fractures may then go undetected and future use of the chimney may result in products of combustion being released into the walls or attic. The key is in the amount of water used and how it is applied. There are special nozzles (six liters per minute) designed to apply water inside the chimney. Check the clean-out box. This is perhaps the most over-looked step. Clean-out boxes can be found both inside and outside the house. The boxes are usually covered by a 20-by-20-centimetre metal plate with two handle tabs on it, mounted on the wall in line with the chimney. There may be more than one – I once found three. After locating the box, use a small shovel and a metal pail to clean out the burning embers. Once this is done, you can place a small, handled mirror into the box to look up into the flue. You should be able to see if there is still a fire in the flue.   Check for fire extension. Look for obvious signs of fire extension beyond the chimney. All roof, attic and wall areas near the chimney and heating devices should be checked for the following signs of fire extension: discoloration or blistering of surface materials; hot-to-touch areas; smoke coming from cracks, electrical outlets, light fixtures, eaves or roof coverings; visible glowing embers. This is a great time to use a thermal imaging camera or heat sensors if your department has them. Be sure to check each floor. If the fire extends beyond the chimney, treat it as a structure fire. Before leaving the scene, inform the resident that the chimney must be inspected by a certified chimney inspector before it is used again. Our department has forms made up that clearly lay this out for the resident. We get them to sign and date it and leave them with a copy. We also inform our dispatch that the resident has been advised.   Check the CO levels one more time before terminating the incident. The previous tactics can be customized for use with a dryer-vent fire.Thank you for your continued efforts to make sure all our firefighters get home safely after each call. Please drop me a line if your department has any hints for dealing with dryer-vent fires. There is very little information available in print, so your input would be invaluable. Stay safe and remember to train as if their lives depend on it.Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and Greenwood Fire and Rescue. The 25-year veteran of the fire service 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. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Change is something progressive fire-service leaders must embrace to help keep firefighters safe and do the best job they can to protect their communities. It’s time; time to change the strategies and tactics used to fight fires in today’s buildings, loaded with highly combustible content. We know that fires are hotter and burn faster than ever before. So why do we use techniques taught 25 years ago to fight fires in buildings made of – and full of – different and more combustible materials? Furnishings made of composite materials, coupled with elements of modern, lightweight building construction are game changers. Response times were once predicated on the estimated burn time a compartment could withstand before the effects of fire made it untenable for occupants and the building’s structural integrity. Today’s quicker, hotter fires have an enormous impact on responders. Using yesterday’s response tactics on today’s buildings – according to significant research and field trials from organizations such as the National Institute for Science and Technology and Underwriters’ Laboratories – is not only ineffective, it is also dangerous. The standard approach of entering through the front door using an offensive (interior) attack is a perfect example: buildings and contents now reach flashover potential much faster than they did a generation ago – up to eight times faster. When firefighters arrive at what was once considered a routine fire, they now see a lot of black smoke – flammable products of combustion. This fire may well be vent driven by the time firefighters are on scene. Firefighters must now be aware of the combustion air that’s allowed into the structure, which may come from uncontrolled venting due to broken windows, or failure to manage entry points after the suppression crew gained entry. Perhaps the biggest change in the way firefighters think of and manage structure fires is awareness and management of flow path. Simply put, the flow path is the movement of heat, smoke and fire gasses to areas of lower pressure. Knowing and controlling the flow path accomplishes two goals; it improves occupant survivability and it helps direct the fire away from unaffected parts of the structure. We now know the old belief that an exterior attack pushes fire further into a building isn’t true. In fact, a transitional attack has been proven to be a great way to buy a little time for interior-suppression crews in this hostile environment. Essentially, a transitional attack is early application of water through an existing opening using a straight stream into the fire compartment. This cools flammable products of combustion in the room, buying a little time for the attack crew, and avoiding flashover as responders introduce air to the fire upon entry.The pneumonic SLICE-RS has been coined to provide some guidance with these concepts. Size-up: this starts pre-incident and during an alarm includes, as always, the establishment of incident command, a 360-degree scene assessment, and much more. Locate the fire: determine exactly where in the building the fire is located. This information will drive decisions made in the next step.Isolate and control the flow path: restricting openings such as doors to unaffected areas is the simplest way to manage the flow path. Cool the fire: direct a straight or solid stream into the fire compartment for a few seconds from the exterior of the building before crews enter. This cools the superheated fire gasses.Extinguish the fire: a well-co-ordinated attack with ventilation is critical as the time between ventilation and flashover in today’s fires is much shorter than in older buildings with familiar fuels.Rescue: information gathered during size-up will determine where rescue fits into the process; confirmed or possible occupants makes rescue a higher priority. Salvage: this step, like rescue, occurs at anytime during the response. It can be achieved with salvage covers or simply by closing doors during operations.As fuel loads, structures and the fires within them have changed, so must we in the fire service. The adage “we’ve always done it that way” has no place in fire fighting. I am not suggesting that everything the fire service knew and practised has gone by the wayside; in fact, many aspects of SLICE-RS should be very familiar to firefighters. This is simply a guide for first-in engine companies that reflects today’s techniques for today’s fires. Firefighters must keep doing what works, discard what doesn’t work, and be prepared to embrace new practices that are backed up by fire science and research.Dave Balding, a 29-year veteran of the fire service, is the fire chief and emergency co-ordinator for the Village of Fraser Lake in British Columbia’s Central Interior. Contact Dave at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FraserLakeFire
As driver comfort and safety become more important to car buyers, it’s crucial for rescuers to understand the myriad occupant-safety devices in today’s vehicles.
This edition of TimBits takes some of the lessons from the truck-company operations classroom series and boils them down into a short primer.
We are continuing to look at sub-level rescues with a focus on rescue tactics. In the July issue, we reviewed the use of a charged hoseline for rescuing a downed firefighter.
Firefighter safety must be every incident commander’s objective. The first steps toward crew safety on scene are size-up and the 360-degree walk around.
Yes, we are still talking about giving firefighters the training and permission to call a mayday.
I have a couple of pet peeves when it comes to the designation of Canadian fire services as professional or volunteer.
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.
As one generation gives way to the next, so does the makeup of our fire departments.
The past summer seems to have been rife with disaster and conflagrations. Newscasts and social media sites were filled with details of events and suffering, with floods in Alberta, forest fires in every province from British Columbia to Newfoundland, and the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que.
I have written before about the benefits of involvement in the fire service beyond our own departments. As I expand my affiliations, both provincially and nationally, I continue to be amazed at the dedication and passion that those in the fire service hold for what we do, and just how that passion and pride fuels my positive attitude toward life.
Canada’s fire service is a network of firefighters, officers and departments of all types. Training opportunities are growing.

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