Mandating fitness

Mandating fitness

In January, 100 volunteer firefighters in Clearview Township, Ont., took a mandatory physical abilities test. No one quit the department; no one gave up during the test; and everyone passed. Maria Church explains how.

Back to Basics: June 2016

Back to Basics: June 2016

In the final column of his series on rapid fire development, Mark van der Feyst explains how ventilation can be used effectively with water for aggressive cooling.

NFPA Impact: June 2016

NFPA Impact: June 2016

Firefighters need training to be prepared to respond to incidents involving alternatively fuelled vehicles. Shayne Mintz writes about how an NFPA partnership with the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners is bringing that training to Canada.

Volunteer Vision: June 2016

Volunteer Vision: June 2016

Chief Tom DeSorcy suspects fire services experience more change today than they did in years past. Learn to embrace change, he writes.

July 5, 2015, Toronto – Finally! After nine years of attending conferences from coast to coast, members of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) meet next week . . . in my home town, Sydney, N.S.It's a semi family affair: my cousin is the deputy chief of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Fire Service, my sister's brother in law (or my brother in law's brother) is the chief of the neighbouring volunteer Glace Bay Fire Department; the deputy fire marshal (who is also the parade marshal for Sunday's memorial march) learned fire investigating from . . . my dad, who, through his lengthy insurance-adjusting career, knows pretty much everyone who has anything to do with fire.What's more, the late Edna DeSanctis – an amazing and extremely smart woman who was the longtime secretary for the Fire Services Association of Nova Scotia, also helped the MFCA; and she worked at D.M. King Adjusters Ltd. for a very long time.It's a family affair in another way, too. Fire Fighting in Canada writers Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy and I are presenting Volunteer Vision-Live! next Wednesday, and Steve Kraft (a former FFIC columnist) and Bob Kissner, chiefs in Richmond Hill and Kingsville, Ont., respectively, are speaking. If the speakers flop, it's all on me. Yikes! (They won't!)The conference committee is small but mighty – led by Ian McVicar, volunteer deputy chief in Coxheath, whose infectious energy has inspired his team to embrace some extraordinary ideas; I'm sworn to secrecy so you'll have to watch Twitter to find out what Ian has up his sleeve.The MFCA is a regional association (covering the four Atlantic provinces) so it doesn't lobby government, therefore, conferences focus on training and networking rather than political issues.More than 150 delegates are registered, and more than 100 spouses – which makes the conference unique in that the atmosphere is more family vacation with some built-in learning – most chief officers in the region are, of course, volunteers, so the format works. The conference is also open to firefighters.The MFCA conference was last held in Sydney long before I became editor (this is my ninth MFCA conference – Summerside x 3, Lunenburg, Pictou x 2, Fredericton, Yarmouth – I missed Gander in 2012). Having worked closely with the conference committee to add some Cape Breton colour – we've got pipers and musicians lined up, as expected – we also set out early on to focus on quality, all-Canadian education programming. A highlight will be our MFCA Unplugged roundtable/bear-pit session Monday afternoon, on the trade show floor – five panelists and a moderator (yours truly) broadcast onto the big screens in the arena at Centre 200 – the former Sydney Forum, where I spent more hours skating and watching hockey games than I did at school – packed (we hope!) with vendors and delegates.Sydney lacks the beauty of, say, Baddeck or Ingonish – key tourism points on Cape Breton Island – but it has character. The former toxic tar ponds – from years of coal-based runoff from long decommissioned Sydney Steel Corp. – have been transformed into the fabulous and appropriately named Open Hearth Park, where the Kinsmen RibFest happens next weekend; the harbourfront has been rebuilt, with a well-used boardwalk that runs behind Sydney Station 1 and the former Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club, which fell to an arson fire in May 2013. Cruise ships are scheduled into Sydney Harbour every day of the conference, docking near the famous world's largest fiddle (like Sudbury's nickel or Duncan, B.C.'s, big hockey stick), adding a bit of a buzz to the week.The weather, on the other hand, according to Environment Canada's 14-day outlook, is as expected in early July: high teens, a mix of sun and cloud (quite a contrast to this week's heat wave in Toronto).It doesn't matter – a well planned conference (by a great team of Type-A fire-service personalities) with great food, great music, and great speakers (if I do say so myself), in my home town. The trade show opens Sunday afternoon. My long-suppressed Cape Breton accent will be back by supper time.
June 24, 2016, Toronto – I was taken aback yesterday when a builder at the back of the room at the OAFC Home Fire Sprinkler Summit said the information being presented was all new to him – that he'd never heard of NFPA 13D, the standard for sprinklering residential buildings.Residential sprinklers are, of course, optional, so I guess there's some logic to the fact that the gentleman had no clue – to put it bluntly: he had no need to know. Or so I thought.Turns out the gentleman is the CEO of the Ontario Home Builders' Association, so given what I perceived (until yesterday) to have been fairly widespread and consistent fire-service messaging about sprinklers saving lives, it's clear that's not the case.The point of the summit – the first in Canada – was simple: to start a conversation with the people who plan, design and build homes, and, ultimately, to improve life safety.Analogies abounded – seat belts, hockey helmets, and, in particular, air bags, demanded by consumers to keep them safe, and, therefore, embraced by the vehicle industry: safety does sell. The challenge: how to translate that desire for safety on highways to safety at home?Cost, or perceived cost, is a sticking point: NFPA sprinkler guru and myth buster Matt Klaus cited a mere $1.35 a square foot for residential sprinklers but ceded that's in U.S. dollars ($1.72 Canadian), and for multi-unit installations rather than single dwellings or retrofitting. Still, it's affordable – even the builders agreed with that.More myth busting: NFPA 13D is a life-safety standard, not a property-loss standard; and residential sprinklers are different from commercial units – specifically designed to hit walls and drip down onto the myriad combustibles pushed against the four sides of any given room in a typical home, and douse a fire. Sprinklers put out fires, use far less water than a fire hose, and do much less damage.With 100 fire deaths annually in Ontario – a recent inquest examined seven fire fatalities and recommended consultation on sprinklers – what's the hook for the builders?Trade off. In Huntsville, for example, Fire Chief Steve Hernen – the OAFC president – said builders are buying-in, partly because they're getting something in return: higher density housing, waiving of local development charges, more appealing sub-division designs.The key, according to Don Jolley, the fire chief in Pitt Meadows, B.C., is to normalize sprinklers as a critical part of a broader fire-protection system. A Pitt Meadows bylaw passed in 2005 requires sprinklers in most new residential construction – at an average cost, Jolley said, of $1.07 a square foot. Since then, no fire in a residential or commercial building with sprinklers in Pitt Meadows has burned beyond the object of origin; more importantly, there have been no fire deaths in any of those buildings.No one yesterday advocated sprinklers as a replacement for efficient fire-department response. But for developers who hadn't previously seen videos of side-by-side burns or understood 15-minute rural response times, a collective light bulb seemingly came on.There's no need, builders were told, for sprinklers in attics or garages – most fatalities happen in kitchens, family rooms and bedrooms.But to save more lives given factors such as response times and lightweight construction, sprinklers are a necessity."The best builders in the world are not going to stop a smoking fire, or a fire caused by a candle or an arcing wire," Klaus said."I don't care how good you build the home, all I need are oxygen and an ignition source and I have a fire."Smoke alarms work – but children, teenagers, and intoxicated adults sleep through them (builders learned this through videos yesterday), and people take out the batteries. Sprinklers, said Cynthia Ross Tustin, the fire chief in Essa Township and summit chair, are simply plumbing – nothing for builders to fear.Still, as Fire Marshal Ross Nichols told summit participants first thing yesterday morning, change does not come easily.So, then, how to sell safety, and sprinklers, and how to get consumers to buy-in?Ask media strategist Jay Acunzo. Facts and stats are fine, Acunzo said in a presentation about effective messaging, but neither resonates emotionally with homeowners.Essentially, Acunzo said, stop selling sprinklers and sell life safety: hit home buyers in the heart. Be creative.That's a leap for fire-service personnel used to neat stats and facts. But it's clearly necessary, given the wide-eyed builders in the room yesterday.Not to give away Acunzo's shtick, but if you haven't seen it (and need a distraction on a Friday!), Google "Dumb Ways to Die" and watch the YouTube video (or click here). The award-winning Australian public-service announcement for Metro Trains Melbourne is brilliant, different, memorable, and unexpected (apologies – you'll be humming the tune all day!).As Chief Jolley said after the summit wrapped up Thursday afternoon, it'll take time for a para-military organization that generally suppresses creativity to embrace new ideas.Maybe so, but a preventable house fire is, indeed, a dumb way to die.
June 14, 2016, Toronto – The news out of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) conference in Collingwood yesterday – that the province will review the union’s firefighter/primary-care paramedic proposal – is not surprising to those who’ve been paying attention. But it sure hit a nerve.
June 13, 2016, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Where is the chief? I'm sure every fire station in Canada has heard that at least once in the past month and a half. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, many fire chiefs have been attending provincial fire chiefs association conferences, myself included.Two weeks ago the Tsuut'ina Nation became the first First Nation to host the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) conference. With Redwood Meadows being on Tsuut'ina land, it only made sense for me to take vacation time from my paying job to attend the conference.For me, spending time as a fire chief with peers from across the province and country truly is a vacation. I had not been able to attend an AFCA conference since I presented in 2014 and it was good to see friends again. It was nice to hear that challenges I face are not unique. After almost 47 years on this Earth, I have certainly learned that we all face similar roadblocks and that our support networks are what help us all down the road.Support was a healthy topic throughout the conference as many spoke about the beast of a fire that swept through Fort McMurray in the beginning of May. Informal discussions about mutual aid, self-dispatching and the health of firefighters returning from the fire fight were just some of the things heard around the tables. Premier Rachel Notley spoke about the fire as well during her address to the crowd. Notley commended Alberta’s fire chiefs for the work they do continually protecting Albertans, and reaffirmed her government’s commitment to helping everyone recover from the devastating Fort McMurray fire. It will be interesting to see how the wildfire is dissected in order for us all to learn better ways of responding to these types of emergencies. Living in a wildland-interface community, I will be paying close attention to what is learned from this monster fire.At a recent disaster forum I attended a speaker said: "Lessons are not learned unless they are acted upon." I truly hope that those many communities across Alberta and the country that are located close to the interface take action. As firefighters, we should be promoting the FireSmart program in our communities.Another program that we should be promoting is Answer the Call – the volunteer firefighter recruitment program that was the brainchild of AFCA president, Camrose, Alta., Fire Chief Peter Krich. Krich was able to update conference goers about the AFCA's partnership with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) to roll out the program across the country this fall; it really is exciting that smaller departments will soon have resources to help them recruit new members in their communities. While Krich was speaking about the program to fire chiefs in Tsuut'ina, Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., fire chief and CAFC board member Vince McKenzie delivered similar messaging in Ontario and British Columbia at four different conferences. Krich also made the trip to FDIC Atlantic in early June to promote the program.Across the country, fire services face a lot of the same issues. One issue brought up at both the Alberta and British Columbia conferences was firefighter competencies and training. At Tsuut'ina, Alberta fire chiefs passed a resolution to begin dialogue with the province about developing minimum competencies for firefighters. In British Columbia, newly elected first vice-president of the Fire Chief's Association of British Columbia, Don Jolley, gave an update to fire chiefs about the B.C. playbook – the provincial minimum training standards for structural firefighters.At Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES), we used the B.C. playbook as a template for our own in-house firefighter competency program, but we took it even further. RMES is close to a full-service fire department with the exception of some technical-rescue skills that an all-volunteer service just cannot provide, such as dive rescue. Within the RMES rank structure, firefighters work through five classes, each with different competencies. RMES used the B.C. playbook to separate the classes, but also added references to Alberta's fire fighting "S" series courses (firefighting courses offered through Lakeland College Emergency Training Centre in Vermillion, Alta.) as well as references to the different sections of the NFPA 1001 standard. Some refining is still required and improvement will continue, but it was nice to discuss this program with AFCA first vice-president, Lac St. Anne, Alta., Fire Chief Randy Schroeder, and to offer the program for use by our provincial partners.My great take-away from this year's AFCA conference was being able to offer my help and support, and the support of my department, toward the resolution surrounding the competencies of firefighters throughout Alberta. Not only did I get a boost, but I also realized that RMES and our members continue to improve in such a way that we are able to share our experiences to help our brothers and sisters. There really is nothing like a good fire chiefs conference to re-energize and get some focus going forward.Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof
June 9, 2016, Prince Albert, Sask. – My first experience of FDIC Atlantic – held in Wolfville, N.S., on the weekend – is complete and I think my body is beginning to adjust back to the time zone to which it is accustomed.A couple of days before I left home, I booked a rental car so I could drive to Wolfville from Halifax. Shortly after I posted my plans, firefighter Chris Kerr sent me a message and offered to drive me to Wolfville and drive me back to the airport on Sunday. We follow each other on Facebook and I thought it would be great to meet Kerr, so I cancelled my rental.As fate would have it, Kerr is also an instructor at the Nova Scotia Firefighters School in Waverley, N.S., near the airport, and he made a point to stop to give me a tour of the facility. The school has a new state-of-the-art, multi-million-dollar burn building with helicopter and car props, which is impressive to say the least. The best part of the school is that it focuses on multiple partnerships so industry and local firefighters have a place to train and become certified.Upon arrival at Acadia University where the training conference was held, I really didn't know what to expect. I was given a quick tour of the trade show and classroom locations and then basically left to network and meet new friends until my sessions on Saturday.I told almost all the firefighters I met that this was my first time presenting at FDIC Atlantic, and many responded by saying I would love the experience and hospitality.I can only communicate what I saw in Wolfville during the conference, and what I saw was an ocean of blue fire-department T-shirts; I guess that is what happens when more than 400 firefighters come to town to train and be educated.I'm a big fan of the trade show and always look forward to walking around and seeing the latest gadgets, tools and resources. What I didn't expect to see was the volume of firefighters checking out and purchasing products. The last time I experience such a crowd was going for a beer during half time at a Saskatchewan Roughriders game.I wanted to do something to contribute to the rebuilding process in Fort McMurray, Alta., so I brought with me 25 challenge coins that I could sell and then give the proceeds to the Red Cross. I wasn't really sure how that would go over, but I know firefighters and they always step up to the plate to help others. The challenge coins were quickly purchased and I'm excited to be taking $500 to the Red Cross on behalf of the firefighters who attended my sessions at FDIC Atlantic.As always, one of the amazing benefits of of being able to speak to firefighters is building of relationships. The firefighters who attended FDIC Atlantic are truly passionate and care about serving. I continue to meet firefighters who are shakers and movers in their communities, and who give up weekends to learn and grow for the benefit of their professions and their communities.The experience at FDIC Atlantic was incredible and the firefighters were right when they said that I would love the experience and hospitality.Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University's Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes
May 19, 2016, Toronto – First responders in all provinces except Ontario will have access to an NFPA training package to help them handle collisions and extrications involving alternatively fuelled vehicles, under a partnership with fire marshals' offices across the country.The NFPA announced the partnership May 10, a week before the Ontario government on Tuesday committed $7 billion for a climate-change plan that includes rebates for drivers of electric vehicles.The Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) confirmed Wednesday that it does not have the necessary funding to buy the licence to sign on to the NFPA program. All other provinces and territories are contributing up to $100,000 each and providing the training free of charge to firefighters and other responders."The OFMEM is currently looking at other options, including potential partnerships, in furtherance of funding for the NFPA program," said the OFMEM's Tony Pacheco, assistant deputy fire marshal and executive officer, in an email.If my understanding is correct, the partnership had been in the works for a considerable time, and, in fact, had been supported by the OFMEM and previous Ontario fire marshal Ted Wieclawek.That the country's most populous province, with, logically, the highest volume of alternatively fuelled vehicles, found $7 billion to fund its 57-page Climate Change Action Plan but failed to ante up $100,000 to teach responders to safely rescue motorists from collisions is vexing, yet typical.Firefighter training, it seems, is low on the province's priority list, the government seemingly more interested in investigations and enforcing its rules and regulations than ensuring responder safety by developing solid and affordable programming at the Ontario Fire College.Which is rather incongruous given that under provincial occupational health and safety legislation, firefighters and others are prohibited from responding to incidents for which they have not been properly trained.Already some fire departments are reviewing auto-ex responses on provincial highways given the imbalance between the cost of sending firefighters to the scene, and the reimbursement from the government.(Not to mention the state of flux at the OFMEM: as interim Fire Marshal Ross Nichols told fire chiefs in Toronto two weeks ago, frustration with government inaction on long-promised fire-service initiatives – changes to the provincial incident management system, more public education, improved standards – is mounting.)While Pacheco said dangers and common principles of electric vehicles are discussed in other training – NFPA 1001 and 1033, the fire investigator course –there is no dedicated program.Indeed, the NFPA and the council of fire marshals noted in their press release that the federal-government co-ordinated document, Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap for Canada, highlights the necessity for training."Emergency responders need training on EVs to ensure they execute their duties in a safe and timely manner," the report says. "They need to know how to deal with high-voltage batteries and flows of electricity within vehicles in order to safely extricate victims at times of collisions."Nova Scotia Fire Marshal Harold Pothier, who is the president of the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners, said in an interview Wednesday the electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicle safety program should roll out in most regions at the end of the summer or in early fall.According to the release, career and volunteer firefighters, police, emergency medical services, tow truck operators and other first responders will have access to train-the-trainer and in-classroom sessions, resources, and emergency field guides that explain how to handle AFV incidents on-scene.Except those in Ontario.
May 11, 2016, Winnipeg - The Toronto Star published an editorial cartoon yesterday of a group of superheroes standing together in solidarity in front of a Fort McMurray firefighter – Superman, Batman, and other comic-book icons looking stoic and in appreciation of a humble firefighter who was covered in soot from protecting his community; the image has appeared all over social media.
May 10, Prince Albert, Sask. - Well it's been awhile since I put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard. During the last few weeks I have met incredible firefighters and incredible fire service leaders from fire departments attending my seminars in Creston, Errington, and 150 Miles House, B.C., and Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.One of the many benefits of speaking at fire departments and training weekends is being surrounded by passionate firefighters. At every speaking engagement, I have great opportunities to talk about leadership, but more importantly, I get to learn from those who are leading and making a difference.I was fortunate to spend some time with Chief Rick Lasky in Creston, and to sit in and take notes during his Pride & Ownership seminar. Afterwards, being able to talk to Lasky and exchange thoughts about fire-service leadership was a great experience, and getting to know the man behind the Pride & Ownership seminar was even better.I want to write about the leadership in all of these departments, but doing so would take up too much space. Rest assured, however, the fire chiefs from these departments are truly making an impact in their communities and making great firefighters. It's a nice benefit being able to meet all of them and also see some of them successfully advance their fire services' pursuits from the part-time world to full-time, career departments.My most recent speaking engagement was the Northern HEAT (hands-on education awareness training) in Peace River, Alta. I really didn't know what to expect and actually feared that the conference would be cancelled due to the Fort McMurray fire. However, as they say, the show must go on, and indeed it did.With many firefighters and chief officers being pulled away to help at Fort McMurray or in the case of the High Level Fire Department and Chief Rodney Schmidt, an OSB plant fire that threatened to destroy the plant, attendance numbers were down. But, the spirit and passion was very high.As usual, I love walking the trade show and it was always a buzz of activity.My one-day seminar was trimmed so it could meet the changes in the schedule and was held at another hotel. Before my session was to begin, I had to go to the boy's room to get rid of some coffee. When I found the washroom the door jammed open, and feeling that it just wasn't appropriate,, I pulled the cardboard from the jam to close the door. I thought I was doing a good thing until the door closed and I noticed there was no door handle. Yup, a fire-rated door on the washroom with no door handle on the inside. It's been a long time since I actually sweated before a presentation, but believe me, I started to sweat. I was trying to figure out how to get out of the washroom. Do I yell? Do I knock on the door with the hope that someone walks by and hears me? Do I call 911? Nope, that wasn't going to happen (no reason to explain that one). So, I grabbed the door closure arm and pulled, and pulled, and pulled until I got the door open enough to stick my fingers into a gap and pull the door open. I almost cheered out loud when I got the door open! And, I didn't have to go to the washroom anymore. Go figure.Overall, the Northern HEAT conference was incredible. I was lucky to experience a common theme in Peace River, something that I heard from members of the organizing committee as I observed them on many occasions scrambling to meet the ongoing scheduling and logistics challenges as a result of manpower shortages due to firefighters being called away to other communities. I heard the words "thank-you" and "What can I do for you?" Wow, these people were run off their feet and they kept thanking others. Impressive to say the least.Then, I had a three-hour drive with Chief Schmidt, who returned to Peace River to get his luggage and to take me to High Level to give a seminar. On the way to High Level I heard about the OSB plant fire (which was still ongoing), and Schmidt asked if I minded if we could stop and check in at the command post so he could be briefed. Are you kidding me? Why would he ask that question? Because that is the type of guy Chief Schmidt is. Of course it would be OK. So, not knowing what to expect we stopped at the command post, I was witness to one well-oiled machine. I heard Chief Schmidt being briefed as saw the ICS tactical sheets – you name it, they were doing it. A great job that brought in about 70 firefighters from 12 different departments. I was able to tour the site with Chief Schmidt and the IC from the County of Grande Prairie, Deputy Chief Trevor Grant., These neighbouring fire departments responded without hesitation and they all worked together with one objective, and that was to save the plant; which they did. Every time we stopped during the tour, Grant would say “thank-you” to the firefighters; and I mean every time.I took a few pictures of some five-inch high-volume hose that was burned from the fire, which showed how fast the fire moved and how quickly the firefighters had to move to different locations.The last few weeks have been incredible as I got to meet firefighters who are truly making their communities safe. These firefighters are passionate, dedicated and professional. They are the volunteers serving their communities unselfishly and making a big difference.Keep up the great work folks because you make a difference every day. Never forget that!Les Karpluk is the retired fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University's Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes
May 10, 2016, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – I recently commented on social media about the fact that I needed to get back to blogging for Fire Fighting in Canada. My absence from the website has been way too long and it just did not make sense that I was slacking off on something I truly enjoy. Now, this is not meant as a "woe-is-me" type of return to Size-up, but a little bit of background is necessary.Last June, I suffered a serious heart attack that changed my life. I wrote a few times after that, but not as often as editor Laura King or I would have liked. I have to admit that I felt a little sorry for myself and that feeling took over. I returned to work in the new year and was ready to return full-steam to blogging; it was then that my wife and I were involved in a major rollover in our minivan. Well, if that did not knock me off of my feet again, I'm not sure what would.Fast forward to the beginning of May when I posted on social media about needing to get back to the keyboard. The drive was there, but the inspiration wasn't. How was I to return to sizing-up? Sadly, last week's wildfire in Fort McMurray was more than what I needed to get back to blogging. And boy, there was no more feeling sorry for myself after seeing my friend, Wood Buffalo Regional Fire Chief Darby Allen, on the news those first couple of nights.Allen is normally a very happy, uplifting guy to be around, but he looked beat down. I wished that I could go up north and help him out. I wondered if how Allen looked is how I looked after the 2013 floods in Alberta, which we in Redwood Meadows Emergency Services were in the middle of. I understand how and why he looked so tired.I watched as the man I know fought tears while talking about fighting "the beast" – a nickname given to the fire by Allen and adopted by media. As any fire chief should, Allen cares for his community and more so, for those who live and work there. Caring is why we do what we do – not to get the T-shirt, as Fire Fighting in Canada columnist Gord Schreiner often says. And speaking of T-shirts, right now there are hundreds of different fire-department T-shirts on the backs of firefighters from all over Alberta and beyond in Fort McMurray, and each and every one of these departments and their members make us all proud.Many people asked me last week if I wanted to be in Fort McMurray; that is a tough question. I spent time as a dispatcher helping during the 2011 Slave Lake fire and I have seen first-hand the destruction that a wildfire brings to a community.While in Slave Lake, I was fortunate enough to become friends with Fire Chief Jamie Coutts and I remember seeing him before and after getting some much needed sleep. In Fort McMurray, more command and control help recently arrived on scene; this has obviously allowed Allen to get some much-needed sleep, as the videos he has been posting show a rested man. Allen refuses to be called a hero, just like any of us, and deflects the praise to all first responders. The chief was emotional in his video address on Sunday night as he referenced the death of Emily Ryan. Emily was the daughter of Cranley Ryan, the deputy fire chief for Saprae Creek in Wood Buffalo, one of the department's volunteer halls. Emily was one of two people killed in a vehicle collision while evacuating Fort McMurray. Allen's concern for Deputy Chief Ryan was etched in his face.Sizing-up the job that Allen, first responders, residents and businesses have done during this horrendous event makes me so proud to be a firefighter, an Albertan and a Canadian. We are Alberta Strong, and everyone is behind you, Fort McMurray, Chief Allen and all first responders in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.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
May 9, 2016, Grande Prairie, Alta. – It was remarkably fitting that as we approached the fire hall in Sexsmith, Alta., Saturday afternoon, our last stop before our departure point in Grande Prairie after three days at Northern HEAT in Peace River, the Answer the Call recruitment logo appeared, prominently placed on the east side of the building.Because that's what's happening here in Wild Rose Country: firefighters, mostly volunteers, are being dispatched to Fort McMurray and other burning areas of the province, answering the call to help fight a seemingly unstoppable blaze.Our driver, Sexsmith Capt. Chris Welsh, had the Answer the Call logo – the province-wide campaign that goes national in September through the CAFC – made into an outdoor sign for a recruitment drive a year ago and opted to keep it up, despite a waiting list to get on the department, a reminder of the role volunteers play in the community of just 2,400.The three-bay hall, a decades old white, wooden building that's being replaced next year at a site a couple of blocks away, sits on a corner by a blacksmith museum, dwarfed by the town's grain elevator out back.To say that Welsh, who drove fellow Northern HEAT speaker Peter Van Dorpe, the chief in Algonquin-Lake in the Hills, Illinois, and me to and from Peace River, are proud of their department is an understatement: all 20-plus volunteers – average age around 25 – are NFPA 1001 certified.Sexsmith is part of the County of Grande Prairie; firefighters from these parts and elsewhere in the province have shuttled back and forth to Fort Mac over the last several days; others were dispatched to High Level, where Fire Chief Rodney Schmidt needed reinforcements to battle a massive lumber-mill fire, the burning wood piles 80 feet high, 60 feet wide and a mile long and threatening to spread (the massive Norbord building saved by firefighters.)Schmidt, the president of the Peace Regional Fire Chiefs Association, arrived back at Northern HEAT Saturday afternoon, having been called home on Wednesday in the middle of flashover training, the mill fire still burning but in good hands under incident commander Trevor Grant, High Level's former deputy, now a deputy with the County of Grande Prairie.At that point Saturday, 70 firefighters from 12 departments – Grande Prairie city and county, Grande Cache, Slave Lake and others – worked the mill blaze, all brought in under the Northwest Alberta emergency resourcing agreement drawn up by area chiefs and, so far, including 27 municipalities.The agreement was born of a wildfire that threatened High Level last year, to simplify the process of requesting resources from other departments while ensuring that all municipalities remain properly staffed, costs are properly (and fairly) allocated and personnel are properly rotated.Even after the Slave Lake fire in 2011, the province has yet to develop a municipal resourcing inventory, Schmitdt explained, although the Calgary Emergency Management Agency recently set up a portal for that purpose. Peace region chiefs, however, have established their own system along with the resourcing agreement, relying on each for support, equipment and manpower, keenly aware of the need to access additional trucks and personnel during emergencies and having the necessary legalities in place to do so quickly and efficiently.The run to High Level – not far from the Northwest Territories border – from Peace River is 300 kilometres. Grande Prairie is 200 kilometres south, Slave Lake 240 kilometres. Fort McMurray is almost 700 kilometres away.The more than 100 firefighters here, from the likes of Loon River, High Prairie, Fort Vermillion, Fairview, Nampa, Wembley, Whitecourt, Peerless Trout First Nation, St. Isador Three Creeks, High Level, La Crete and Grande Prairie, think no more of hopping in their pickups – or driving aerial trucks hundreds of kilometres – to help a fellow department than they do of going to practice on Tuesday nights or spending vacation time training at Northern HEAT.They have answered the call.View a Facebook gallery of photos from Northern HEAT.
May 6, 2016, Peace River, Alta. - The Northern HEAT – (Hands-on Education Awareness Training) conference here is a wonderful event – and this year held coincidental to a horrific backdrop of the carnage of wildfire.This is my second conference in less than a week and the contrasts are stark and illuminating.Twenty-four hours ago I could see the CN Tower. This morning I smell wildfires in northern Alberta – the other side of fire fighting. We may be a country of densely populated urban centres, but Mother Nature can still deliver cruel reminders about who is really in charge.The deputy chief for the County of Grande Prairie Regional Fire Service, Dan Verdun, was to pick up some of the conference speakers at the airport yesterday. He is in Fort McMurray.The president of the Peace Regional Fire Chiefs Association, High Level Chief Rodney Schmidt, was instructing flashover training earlier this week when he got a call, jumped in his truck and headed north, lights and sirens flashing – an industrial/wildfire threatening his community.Handfuls of firefighters from departments in the region have been dispatched to Fort MacMurray or High Level, everyone being careful to ensure there are enough resources left at home to provide proper coverage in this volatile, tinder-dry province.Driving north to Peace River from Grande Prairie last evening, up Highway 2 and through the stunning river valley with Capt. Chris Welsh and firefighter Craig Rees from Sexmith, smoke from a fire in Fort St. John, B.C., blanketed the setting sun, ash in the air when we got out of the Tahoe.There may, depending how things go today, be more conference speakers here than delegates. But as Schmidt said when I emailed him to check on the conference status, the show must go on.And for good reason.Conferences and trade shows like this are the venue for the intellectual cross pollination that educates and informs the fire service.My email in box is full of notes from the likes of Jamie Coutts, chief for the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Fire Service, who, needless to say, was in Fort Mac helping out earlier this week. He has seen this movie and his institutional knowledge from his community's experience in invaluable. He has spent a lot of nights in bad hotels travelling Canada and sharing his story since 2011.Lou Wilde, assistant chief in Kelowna who fought the devastating wildfires there in 2003 and 2009, messaged me last night, asking to give Fort McMurray Chief Darby Allen his best.Coutts and Wilde know the horror that Allen is living; everyone here is praising the chief's leadership, calm, and authority.The magnitude of the blaze enveloping Fort McMurray is mindboggling. Reading story after story about the fire while waiting for the flight to Grande Prairie, a Canadian Press report put things in perspective: at 850 square kilometres – and having grown nine times in size since Wednesday – the flames have consumed an area the size of Calgary, where I happened to be sitting in the airport.This is not new for Alberta. Three years ago when I was in Peace River, a handful of chief officers met to develop a response team similar to those south of the border that deploy to fires too big for local agencies to handle. There was talk of cross training more municipal/structural firefighters and wildland teams to better understand the urban interface, and subject-matter experts (logistics, for example) who could descend on a stricken community and relieve local fire personnel so they could look after their families with clear heads, knowing others were handling the incident.What struck me, at the time, was the commitment of the group of chief officers in the room – at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night – and their knowledge that the likes of Slave Lake, or worse, was not a possibility, but a given. The institutional memory and the transfer of knowledge among those involved is deep and deliberate: most had been to Slave Lake and were keenly aware that their communities are vulnerable to the winds and climate conditions that whipped the 2011 fire into a frightening frenzy.After consecutive record wildfire seasons in western Canada, a significant portion of Alberta is burning, so early in the year – 49 separate wildfires as of Thursday night – and BMO Capital Markets says the Fort McMurray blaze alone is "by far the largest potential catastrophe loss in Canadian history."Having lived in Edmonton in the early 1990s, smoke wafting south from wildfires in the north was common, just rarely in May.But as fire-and-weather specialist David Moseley, explained in Fire Fighting in Canada in April 2015, May is the most dangerous month."There are two weather conditions that are part of the equation," Moseley wrote. "The first is crossover, when the temperature in degrees Celsius is more than the relative humidity expressed as a percentage. The second weather condition is high wind." All that, and the perfect storm of El Nino, a mild winter and little snow.And as Chief Coutts said in our Fire Fighting in Canada This Week newscast two weeks ago, watch the conditions, not the calendar.That's why conferences like this matter. As sure as Slave Lake learned from Kelowna and Fort McMurray from Slave Lake, so, too, Fort Mac will build become template for success in the face of horror somewhere else.Writing last night from 15,000 feet up, on a northbound Air Canada Bombardier Dash 8-300, it was difficult to fathom that the snowcapped Rockies to the west glistening in the evening sun, and the spectacular river valleys below, are complicit in Mother Nature's caldron of disaster.Conferences like this are the connective tissue of the Canadian fire service. This is where people learn and share and prepare for a day they hope never comes.The backdrop is smokey and real. If that lends an urgency to the learning in the next 48 hours, so much the better.But the show must go on.
May 4, 2016, Toronto – It had to have been the most humbling couple of hours interim Ontario Fire Marshal Ross Nichols has experienced since he was appointed seven months ago.First, Nichols was grilled by the province's training officers, who are meeting during the Ontario Association of Fire Chief (OAFC) conference, their frustration with delayed projects and changes palpable and clearly vocalized.Then, following a speech to fire chiefs by Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi in which the politician put the audience on notice that change is imminent – consistent standards, improved training, clear guidelines and more public education – Nichols, essentially, said . . . nothing.Having been playfully warned by outgoing OAFC president Matt Pegg to refrain from using the phrase "we're working on it" in relation to myriad anticipated changes necessary to modernize the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) and its mandate, Nichols was blunt, admitting that the speed of government is excruciatingly slow and, for him – an OPP inspector seconded to fire – exceedingly frustrating.The frustrations? Things Nichols didn't know he didn't know: that the OFMEM has 17 websites, many of them unnecessary or unworkable; that the time and energy of well-paid people put into the development of a municipal risk-assessment tool was all for naught – the OFMEM, Nichols said, should not be in the tool-making business; that there are issues with the speed of firefighter test results. "We're working on it," Nichols said. More than once.Nichols, looking pallid under the harsh lights in the conference room at the Toronto Convention Centre and in front of more than 250 chief fire officers and public educators, asked for patience and, in a lighter moment, admonished the frustrated masses to refrain from sending emails with multiple exclamation marks, capital letters and threats to carbon copy Naqvi and Deputy Minister Matthew Torrigian. Nichols will, he said, reply to emails and phone calls but, in not so many words, urged everyone to grow up and play nicely together in the sandbox.Nichols, who was likely a good cop but by his own admission is far from an exceptional orator, started well, hauling his 72-hour emergency-preparedness kit to the stage, this being Emergency Preparedness Week. There were chuckles, and even some sympathy among chief officers after the 30-minute speech, of the challenges of fixing an inherited system just as the move to NFPA standards from the Ontario curriculum occurred, and with internal personnel issues and longstanding and complex challenges such as the Northern Fire Protection Program (the NFPP website was closed for maintenance when I checked it this morning). There is, Nichols said, "a working group looking at what's needed in the north."Others were less kind afterwards, questioning the lack of a single announcement in what was undoubtedly a highly anticipated presentation – no update, for example, of the review of the provincial incident management system, recommended in the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry in October 2015.There was mention of the changes at the Ontario Fire College and credit given to principal Carol-Lynn Chambers for Herculean efforts to revamp the institution, but also acknowledgement of slow progress, stalled by government bureaucracy.Nichols acknowledged that there will be change as a result of the recommendations announced last week at the inquest into seven fire fatalities in Ontario in 2012 and 2013 but gave no specifics."The inquest," Nichols said, "highlighted the value of training, standards and public education." Which the OFMEM has known for years. (Earlier, Naqvi had said the government will review the Fire Protection and Prevention Act to clarify municipal obligations of fire prevention and staff training.)Nichols acknowledged conversations about First Nations fire protection, but again, no announcement. "Good meetings," he said.Having roundly apologized for the snail's pace of progress, and thoroughly accepted ownership of the need to get on with things, Nichols opened the floor to questions. Unsurprisingly, given Nichols' full disclosure that there's nothing to report, there were just two – a statement rather than a question from OAFC first vice president Steve Hernen, who acknowledged the fire marshal's forthrightness but made it clear that chiefs, too, are frustrated – and a second that involved more local issues outside the purview of the OFMEM.Hernen was elected OAFC president Wednesday afternoon.
June 2016 - Fire Chief Colin Shewell and Deputy Chief Roree Payment are the only full-time members of Clearview Fire and Emergency Services in Ontario. The department heads were naturally nervous when they decided to introduce a mandatory annual physical-abilities test for all paid-on-call firefighters.
It is taught in IMS 100 that all emergencies are local. But when rivers overflow, trains derail, or wildfires consume subdivisions, regional, provincial and federal assistance is critical.
Those of you who know me know that I am very passionate about the fire service. I have completed 40 years of service and I can’t wait to do a few more. I am excited about the future of fire services, despite our many challenges, and I believe this future is bright; in fact, it has never been brighter.
Halton Hills Fire Department in Ontario, under Fire Chief Brent Marshall, took delivery in May of a Dependable Emergency Vehicles-built rescue. The unit is built on a 2016 Freightliner M2-106 commercial chassis, 18.5-foot walk-in rescue body. It features seating for two in the cab and four in the body, a 12,000-pound front bumper winch, Honda portable generator, FRC Evolution LED scene lights and Whelen warning lights.
Hurst Jaws of Life has introduced four new spreaders to the market that are lighter and stronger than their predecessors. Two of the spreaders have launched as part of the eDRAULIC line and two within the 10,000-psi high-pressure offering. All four include Shark Tooth removable tips and four rows of teeth for grip, and squeezing plates integrated into the arms. The SP 55E2, one of the four new spreaders, is one of the strongest portable spreaders on the market – 16 per cent lighter and 4 per cent stronger than its predecessor. Find more information at www.jawsoflife.com
Lintlaw and District Fire Fighting Association in Saskatchewan, under Fire Chief Greg Smith, took delivery in March of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built pumper. The unit is built on a Freightliner four-door M2 chassis and powered by a 300-hp Cummins ISL engine and an Allison 3000 EVS transmission. It features a 1,250-gpm Hale DSD pump, and an 800-igallon Propoly water tank.
Safety Components, a manufacturer of firefighting fabric technology, has created a new line of thermal liners that are engineered with DuPont heat and flame-resistant fiber to help firefighters handle hotter fires. Called Glide Ice, the liners are designed to feel cool with a weave that combines 60 per cent DuPont Nomex filament yarns with 40 per cent DuPont Nomex/Lenzing FR spun yarns. The liners allow for breathability, freedom of movement, comfort, heat-blocking capability, moisture management and fast dry times. Glide Ice thermal liners are fully UL approved, and will be available beginning in late 2016. Learn more at www.safetycomponents.com
Starland County Morrin Fire Department in Alberta, under Fire Chief Darcy Davidson, took delivery in April of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built pumper. Built on a Freightliner M2 106 chassis and powered by a 350-hp ISL engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, the unit features a 1,250-gpm Darley PSP pump, a 1,000-igallon Propoly water tank, Akron FireFox monitor, FRC Q-65 LED 900 body-mounted scene lights and FRC Optimum 1,000-watt push-up scene lights, and Sigtronics Intercom System.
Minnesota-based EarthClean Corporation – a maker of non-toxic products for fire management – has introduced a new formal for its TetraKO firefighting water enhancer. The new TetraKO XL-P is a biodegradable corn starch-based granulate that, when mixed with water, can be poured into a range of fire fighting equipment such as air-pressurized extinguishers, backpack sprayers, skid units and utility vehicles. The mixed solution provides Class A firefighting and fire management performance. Learn more at www.earthclean.com
Central Frontenac Fire Department in Ontario, under Fire Chief Bill Young, took delivery in June of a Eastway Fire and Rescue Vehicles-built mini rescue. The unit is built on a Ford F550 chassis and is powered by a 300-hp 6.7 Power Stroker engine and a Torqshift six-speed select shift transmission.
Siksika First Nation Fire Department in Alberta, under Chief Tom Littlechild, took delivery in March of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built tanker. Built on a Freightliner 108 SD chassis and powered by a 330-hp ISL engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, the unit features a 750-gpm Hale MBP pump, a 3000-igallon Propoly tank, a Kussmaul Pump Plus 1000, FRC LED scene lights, and air actuated dump chute control.
County of Two Hills Fire Department in Alberta, under Fire Chief Brad Straty, took delivery in February of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-built tanker. The unit is built on a Ford F-650 chassis and powered by a 362-hp 6.8-litre Triton V10 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. It is equipped with a 1,350-igallon galvanized steel tank and a 20-hp Honda pump.
As a chief officer, I expect my firefighters to maintain a level of fitness and competence to enable them to safely and effectively perform their duties. In return, I must keep myself fit in order to be at my best for the people I guide, inspire and serve. Are you a fit leader?
During the interview process to find my replacement as fire chief for the City of Waterloo, Ont., I was struck by a comment made by one of the candidates. In response to a question about leading outside of the box, the candidate said, “Before you can think outside of the box, you need to know what’s inside of the box.”
After retiring as fire chief for the City of Waterloo, Ont., I developed Fire Officer III and IV programs for the Ontario Fire College, and have the pleasure of teaching the programs at the college and to Lakeland Emergency Training Centre, in Vermilion, Alta. I am also finalizing plans to teach in Nova Scotia.
Look at any great and successful organization and you will find behind it a great team. The fire service has always been good at developing solid teams (brotherhood) but we shouldn’t take this for granted.
The demands on volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters just seem to keep ratcheting upwards. The results are better-trained, highly competent firefighters who are able to respond to myriad types of emergencies. If there is a downside to this change, it’s the increased demand on members’ time and the consequent effect on recruitment and retention.
In my past few columns I have focused on career development and the importance of post-secondary education for aspiring and current senior officers.
A leader knows that it’s the people – the firefighters in all branches of a department – who make a fire service creative, adaptable and responsive in saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing property damage. Three lines of defence – public education, prevention and emergency response – against the ravages of fire are the raison d’etre for any fire service.
Defining the steps necessary to get a chief’s position is more of an art than an exact science and depends greatly on your background, fire-service tenure and ultimate career goals.
While instructing a fire officer program at the Ontario Fire College, I noticed a shift occurring in the field of leadership.
There is a struggle these days at the top level of fire-service management. The struggle is internal; chiefs must decide whether to concentrate on public safety or support the political/fiscal war on spending. I hear rumblings that the cost of emergency services is increasing too fast. We need to cut costs; taxpayers can not afford to continue to pay high prices for fire protection.I also hear the concerns from the public when a toddler dies in a house fire. Such was the case in January 2014 when a two-year-old died in a house fire in Langley, B.C., Shortly after a fire in May of 2015, Fire Chief Rick Ennis, chair of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition, asked on social media, “Why are we not giving the [recent] fire death of a two year old in a new home the attention it deserves?”I personally and professionally know the pressures and stresses of addressing the affordability of establishing and maintaining a fire service. I also know the importance of public fire safety and the stress of dealing with a fire death – especially one that could have been prevented. Why is it then that we in the fire service toggle so easily between concerns about public safety and those about affordability? Why do we not give potentially preventable fire deaths and injuries the attention they deserve, yet quickly turn to fiscal concerns, attempting to cut costs by reducing services to the public that funds us in the first place to protect them? Why is there a leadership gap or disconnect between affordability and public safety? Are we fire-service/public-safety leaders or are we fire-service treasurers? I’m all for keeping taxation as low as possible; however, I also believe that you get only what you pay for. I must temper that sentiment with the fact that my first priority as a fire-service leader is public safety. How can we give potentially preventable fire deaths the attention they deserve and attempt to cut costs? Can we bridge the gap?Fire Chief Cynthia Ross Tustin of the Township of Essa Fire Department in suburban Ontario has the taken up the challenge on this issue. She is leading the charge on the installation of home fire sprinklers and is adamant that having more homes outfitted with sprinklers is the way forward. She is steadfast in stating that residential sprinklers would not only help prevent fire deaths and injuries, but would also reduce firefighter cancer rates and health risks to homeowners.Saving lives, preventing injuries and lowering property loss through the installation of residential sprinklers may be the way to bridge the gap between enhancing public safety and reducing costs to municipalities. Just as a combination of education and legislation on the topics of seatbelts, smoking and drinking and driving has saved lives, the same could be true for home fire sprinklers.We need to implement massive home-sprinkler campaigns, coupled with strong municipal/provincial legislation mandating the installation of sprinklers in newly constructed homes.The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs also supports mandated sprinklers. According to the OAFC, 220 jurisdictions across North America already have requirements in place for residential sprinkler systems.Firefighters, officers and especially chief officers need to tackle the concerns about affordability of fire services by emphasising public safety through the installation of home fire sprinklers. We can’t keep trying to cut costs by reducing service levels through successive budget cuts. We can’t keep going to the store with $10 expecting to buy $20 worth of groceries, and then expect to eat healthy.Not only will home fire sprinklers save lives and prevent injuries to homeowners and firefighters, they will save money for home owners through lower insurance premiums when combined with public fire safety education and working smoke alarms. This will address affordability. As fire service leaders we have a mandate to be the leaders on public fire and life safety all the while being mindful of fiscal concerns. We need to eliminate the leadership gap between affordability and public safety through a pan-Canadian home sprinkler campaign. We need to get off our duffs, take encouragement from Chief Ross Tustin and be local champions in our communities on this issue. We need to foster stronger partnerships with our colleagues in the sprinkler, construction and insurance industries to save lives, prevent injuries, reduce property loss and be affordable at the same time. Just as most of us have embraced smart phones, eco/green technology in our fire trucks, and the use of tablets in our pumpers, it is time to install fire sprinklers in our homes; we can’t afford not to. You lead as you are.Doug Tennant is the fire chief in Deep River, Ont. Contact Doug at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
A few months ago I accepted the position of fire chief in the Town of Golden, B.C. As I learn and grow into my new role, I am reminded of important facets of leading a diverse group of people who make up a fire department.Over time I’m becoming more familiar with the community, the department and some prominent local issues; but getting to know the members of the department – those who make the organization tick – is of paramount importance. Of course I’m interested in the hard information such as strengths, weaknesses, qualifications and the like, but I also want to know members’ aspirations, their histories, what troubles them and much more. I want to know them like, well, family. One of our members lost his father to a medical emergency a few weeks after I started. I had not met the father, but I, along with a number of our members, attended the service. Why? So we could support our colleague when he likely needed it most. As I work with our officers, I gradually learn their leadership styles, their insights about the department, its way of operating, its challenges and its strengths. My relationships with the officers are much more than operational; they’re personal too. I enjoy hearing anecdotes about previous calls and meeting the partners who support our members; these are vital ways to become part of the fire family. A rapport is also developed with my supervisor as we get to know each other’s work styles and priorities. Elected officials have significant impacts on many aspects of a fire department, from budget considerations to capital projects, levels of service and much more. Those relationships are works in progress and may need to start anew after an election season. A cardinal rule with CAOs and councils is that they don’t like surprises; approach them with solutions rather than problems. Building relationships also extends beyond the municipality to leaders of other emergency organizations, industry representatives and other governmental and regulatory folks. It will take some time to acquaint myself with everyone, but it will be time well-invested.Getting to know the community here is not only a treat, it’s essential too. There is a ton to learn about historical and current issues as they relate to the fire department. I need to gauge whether we’re delivering the right services at the appropriate levels. Are there risks that are not being addressed? Is there public appetite for other changes in our organization? The fire department should, in my view, be part of the social fabric of the community, which means it is critical for the fire chief to be immersed in the community outside of the provision of emergency services. We are a small enough community and fire department that I may occasionally have to operate our trucks or other equipment. I must be familiar with the department’s engines, quint, rescue truck and all other equipment. Because it is a small department, I would not expect my members to perform any task that I couldn’t. Another bonus of being in a smaller centre is engaging with citizens while promoting fire prevention; that might mean presenting to a class in one of our schools or conducting fire- and life-safety inspections in our businesses and other public buildings. Relationships are built in the community, too, as we educate building owners as to why compliance is so vital in order to reduce harm to occupants and minimize property loss. It was bittersweet leaving the community and department in which I had become an integral member, but it is an absolute thrill to create new connections and take on the challenge of leading and managing a new department. I will spend a lot of time observing and learning over the next little while. I will also be an agent of change in some respects. There will be procedures, equipment and philosophies that remain, and others that will change. Change for change’s sake is unwise; so is holding on to current practices simply because we’ve always done it that way. A move to a new department brings into focus many of the strengths and qualities that are needed for day-to-day and long-term leadership of a fire department. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the importance of leadership. Effective leaders, whether a day or a decade into their positions, continually build and strengthen relationships, are fully engaged in their organizations and their communities and are constantly striving to improve themselves.Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. 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 @FireChiefDaveB
When I was approached to write this column, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss my journey to a deputy-chief position, the challenges I faced in attaining the position and those I have experienced in my new role. I hope my columns provide some insight into how a chief officer experiences the transition from a front-line responder to an administrative role.
There are differences among public education, public information and public relations.  But the differences are often blurred, so before we can understand public education, we need to look at the definitions of all three.
May 2016 - Fire departments across the country rely on provincial or territorial statistics and provincial or territorial, national or international solutions. The more people a community has, the more incidents will occur. If the No. 1 problem in your province is cooking fires, it is likely more reflective of what goes on in major cities than in remote or rural communities.
May 2016 - Does your fire department’s public-education program work? If you think it does, can you prove it?
March 2016 - Public educator Tanya Bettridge has been to several seminars for her job over the years, but the latest one was different.
February 2016 - A shift is happening in the required skill sets of fire-service personnel: firefighters need to be more high-tech than ever, and non-suppression personnel are moving up the ranks. The fire-breathing dragon of the past is long gone, replaced by new challenges such as lightweight construction and alternative energy sources.
It’s that time of year again, when fire departments should start thinking about wildland fire awareness and Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.I know it seems odd that a discussion about wildland fire should begin in the dead of the Canadian winter, but very quickly winter turns to spring, and spring to summer, and – if the proper conditions develop – in many places across Canada that means wildland fire season.According to Natural Resources Canada, wildland fire consumes an average of 2.3 million hectares per year and causes millions of dollars in damage, not just to the forestry industry but also to residential and municipal properties. Wildfire responds quickly to fuels found in the forest, grasslands or backyards, and without proper mitigation and landscape management it will burn homes and any other vulnerable structures in its path.Kelly Johnston, the executive director of Partners in Protection, said unless Canadian communities take action, the threat of wildfires will only become worse.“Wildfires have always been a natural process in Canada’s forests,” Johnston said. “However, as we experienced in 2015, a changing climate, increasing large fire activity and increasing development trends create a serious threat throughout Canada – putting neighbourhoods, communities and firefighter safety at risk every year.”Wildfire is a part of natural ecosystems, however, interface situations can occur in all but the most heavy urban environments. It is important that fire services and their communities recognize that wildfire isn’t just limited to municipalities with towns built within or nearby heavy or dense forests. Wildland interface exists in many more settings such as urban forests, municipal green spaces, farms and recreational areas such as cottage or camp communities. Any place where trees, tall grasses, crops or natural vegetation grow and shed annually should be considered as fuel load that when coupled with an ignition source from human or natural activity all contribute to a wildfire risk.Wildfire management has traditionally been the purview of provincial ministries that work with Natural Resources Canada and co-ordinate with the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. However, there is a growing expectation that municipal structural firefighters will be trained and prepared to respond to and extinguish wildland fires that may or may not impact homes and structures that belong to local taxpayers. There is a great opportunity here for local fire services to take the lead by participating in the second annual national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 7. The national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day program centres around the promotion of wildfire community protection awareness activities. This day is an excellent public-education opportunity for fire services to help community members recognize the hazards of wildfire; suggest ways they can mitigate or prevent wildfire from impacting their community; and teach them ways to minimize any damage done. Partners in Protection Association (the non-profit organization behind FireSmart Canada), in partnership and support from the NFPA, the Co-operators Insurance Group, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction and several provincial natural resources ministries have pooled together $23,000 to award communities that organize Wildfire Community Preparedness Day activities.Beginning Jan. 25 through to March 12, anyone 19 years or older can apply for an award to conduct wildfire-preparedness activities or events. There will be a total of 20 nationally awarded and 14 provincially awarded $500 prizes available. Acceptable projects should focus on reducing the risk of wildfire in a community through education, hazard reduction or advanced-preparedness activities. Projects may include working with neighbours to clear leaves and other combustible debris from gutters of homes and buildings, raking leaves and combustible debris from under decks, moving woodpiles away from buildings, using a chipper service to dispose of slash or winterkill, or distributing wildfire-safety information. Groups of all sorts and individuals of all ages are encouraged to participate.For those communities that may still have snow on the ground on May 7, it is the perfect chance to engage community members in pre-planning and public-education sessions for activities to take place when the snow is gone.To learn more about Wildlife Community Preparedness Day in Canada and how to apply for funding, please visit www.firesmartcanada.ca, or feel free to contact me.Shayne Mintz is the Canadian Regional Director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 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 @ShayneMintz
As public educators we teach, but we are always learning from our audiences. To get our messages across, we need to understand our audiences and determine the best ways to reach them.
A partnership between Regina Fire & Protective Services and a family-advocacy agency has helped to reduce the number of child-caused fires in the city.
My department’s philosophy for making everyone a public educator is to create partnerships within our own Brampton Fire and Emergency Services.
You know the kid: he or she is practically a woven pattern around mom’s leg, peaking out then darting back for cover. When asked a question or prompted to (heaven forbid) touch something, the chin lowers to the chest and the body twists even closer to parental flesh, as if dad will risk his life to protect against . . . a firefighter helmet.
You’re the fire chief – what can you tell me about residential fire sprinklers? Did you know the NFPA can help?
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
I’ve been fighting wildfires for almost three decades and have noted that there are not too many wildfires today that don’t threaten something. And in spite of all the great advances in cross training (wildfire and structural), firefighters are still getting overwhelmed in urban interface fire situations. With more and more people moving into the great outdoors, this challenge is going to increase.
Are your fire crews prepared to respond to incidents involving electric, hybrid, or fuel-cell vehicles?
In this series about rapid fire development (RFD), we have focused on the science behind flashover and how water is used to aggressively cool the gases and the environment in order to reduce the heat-release rate and contain radiant heat. The third and final part of this series is a study of ventilation as a companion to using water for aggressive cooling.
On March 12 and 13, firefighters from 10 Fraser Valley departments in British Columbia took part in an exercise that will shape the standard by which first responders deal with Class 3 flammable liquids delivered by rail in Canada.
Training is a vast subject and is, of course, vitally important to the success and safety of a fire service. I often say that without on-going training a firefighter is just another civilian.
Victory loves preparation. This statement reflects what training officers should aim for on practice nights.
Firefighters should be aware of situations that lead to rapid fire development (RFD) – occurrences such as flashovers, backdrafts and smoke explosions – and how to take aggressive action to protect themselves. In the March issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, we examined why better gear and new construction materials expose firefighters to RFD today more than ever before.
March 2016 - Say the words Lac-Megantic and a flood of images, feelings and thoughts come quickly to mind. The July 2013 train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Que., was a watershed event in Canada, particularly as it relates to the transportation of flammable liquids and the regulations, policies and actions that producers, shippers and consignors must now consider.
Rapid fire development (RFD) is a concern that all firefighters face whether they are undertaking engine-company or truck-company functions. RFD refers to occurrences such as flashover, backdrafts and smoke explosions, and can take place at any structure, at any time of day, anywhere in the country.
As I got out of my truck in the Walmart parking lot, I heard a voice behind me say, “Hey buddy, any change?” I don’t remember the fellow saying, “Do you have any change?” and so as I went about my shopping, I thought about the way the question was phrased and applied it to my role as a training officer.
The transitional fire attack is a relatively new tactic by name, but some of its practices have been around for many years. This tactic gained traction in the last two years as a result of the studies completed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) in New York and Chicago.
It’s a new year and a new batch of recruits. I have the pleasure of instructing a lot of very able and smart men and women. But, to be honest with you, there will be a few recruits this year who will simply be head and shoulders above everyone else; they don’t just do things, they do them incredibly well.
Change has taken over in our fire services, and I suspect we experience more of it today than we did in years past. While it’s not uncommon to learn new ways to fight fire with new techniques and equipment, the greater change is happening to personnel.
In my November column, I discussed firefighter recruitment and the effects of the image projected to potential candidates by you and members of your department.
By now all firefighters are aware of the benefits of social media and many of us are proficient on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. I think it’s time to discuss the risks and hazards associated with social media and what I consider a somewhat disturbing trend in its use.
We all volunteered to become firefighters for a multitude of reasons, and we all have stories about why we chose to help our fire departments. We accept the fact that the role of a volunteer firefighter has changed and includes fighting fires and answering emergency calls for everything from medical calls to hazmat incidents.
Have you ever heard a member of your crew say, “This is not what I signed up for”?
The recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters is critical to the successful and efficient operation of a volunteer or composite fire department.
My life has been built around philosophies – I try to treat people as I wish to be treated and I constantly tell myself that any problems I might have are really not as important to most others.
My daughter graduated high school in June and, like most parents, I was a proud member of the audience for the ceremony.
Too often I’ve heard that things are just not the same as they were back in the day. In fact, I’ve caught myself saying that on more than one occasion. I suppose that comes with age and, in the fire service, it’s always easy to compare the way things are with the way things used to be. Our world is constantly changing and, at times, it’s hard to keep up.    
My colleague, Tom DeSorcy, wrote in March about public perceptions of leadership positions in volunteer fire departments. I think Tom’s analogy of busy fires chiefs who appear calm on the outside but, like ducks, paddle furiously under the surface to keep things running smoothly, was spot on.
It was just a matter of time before this column lent itself to a wildlife analogy – at least considering the two animals that write it. (Sorry Vince, I couldn’t resist.) I’d like to share some thoughts on leadership and public perception in relation to the animal kingdom. Do I detect an eyebrow or two being raised at this point?You might think leadership is analogous to the behaviour of a stately lion or another dominant animal but no, this is a leadership analogy based on a duck. That’s right, the lowly, mild-mannered waterfowl that populate lakes and waterways. While you might think I’m a little daffy (pardon the pun), I’m quite serious. Allow me to explain.The way we, as chief officers and leaders in our community, present ourselves in the public eye is paramount to the trust that others have in us and in our abilities. Staying positive no matter the situation and projecting an air of control carries chief officers a long way with the public, the media and your firefighters.As with a lot of fire chiefs in volunteer departments, I don’t have any staff. My office is in the municipal hall so I frequently interact with people who don’t work directly for me. Being in a small community, I take on more roles than just that of the fire chief; I manage our website, do administration and voice narration for our phone system, and act as an tech liaison for computer troubles, all the while maintaining a host of Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.Often I take it upon myself to inject a positive attitude to my work environment. If someone is having a bad day, I only turn it up a notch. My first thought is “Sorry but you’re not bringing me down,” but in reality I’m just trying to demonstrate perspective.  One of my frequent lines is “And how many people died as a result of this incident?” That kind of brings those turning molehills into mountains down to earth. Perspective quickly turns into the realization that things are being blown out of proportion and, hopefully, the rest of the person’s day goes a lot more smoothly.This example illustrates my attitude toward most things. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to show emotion and concern, but if what is going on inside me doesn’t concern those around me, then I won’t bring it up – especially if it would bring them down.Here’s where the duck comes in. To me, having an air of confidence and control shows balance in your world; a duck is literally living life in the balance whenever it is floating on the water. Many of you have probably heard this: the part of the duck you see on top of the water – the calm, cool collected version – is how people see you and what you project to the outside world. What happens on the inside, or in the duck’s case, below the waterline, is not quite as serene. Upon closer inspection, two webbed feet are paddling like mad, adjusting and correcting, propelling and slowing down, unbeknownst to onlookers.Can you see the comparison now? On the outside, everything is running smoothly yet underneath there is work going on to keep things balanced. Unlike a comparison to treading water, in which case most of a person’s body is below the waterline – thus giving meaning to the phrase keeping your head above water – a duck isn’t paddling to avoid sinking. A duck can coast or it can propel forward, and either way, nobody knows what’s going on underneath. Is the comparison of leadership to a duck starting to make sense yet?What we, as chief officers, face daily takes a toll on us. Whether you get paid to be an officer or it is something you do on the side while running your family business, the job never gets easier. People in authority, from politicians to professional athletes, are well versed at projecting confidence or concern as required; to me, successful leaders are those who do this well.Find your own personal balance and be as positive as you can because while one person’s worst day may be our every day, our worst day is no one else’s, nor should it be. Instead, show strength and confidence for the benefit of those around you.Many of us work and live in smaller communities and we are very public people. While not all of us wear a uniform all the time, people still know who we are and what we represent. I know that it is tough to always be on, and my hat is off to all of you who accept that responsibility and don’t try to duck out of it while you keep on paddling.Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Tom is also very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. as a communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept
You cannot mention the word communication today without a focus on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (and the list goes on) are playing greater roles in our lives. In the past we relied on mainstream media to report the news and inform us of events. Today everyone with an electronic device is photographer, reporter, complainer, and helper. But the public can be a valued communicator too, especially during an emergency.

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