Training for life is a phrase I hear often from the likes of Fire Fighting in Canada columnist Ed Brouwer and others whose job it is to prepare firefighters not only to do their jobs, but to survive the unexpected.
Sometimes, though, as I’ve said in blogs and stories about the tragic line-of-duty deaths of Kenneth Rea and Raymond Walter in Listowel, Ont., and the two firefighters who were injured doing a primary search in a restaurant fire in Meaford, Ont., things just go wrong, despite rigorous training and adherence to safety standards.
When I wrote this in mid-June I had just come back from a Module A training day in Quinte West, Ont., where 25 volunteer firefighters from Prince Edward and Hastings counties were training on search and rescue, firefighter self rescue and the like. The four-day course ran Wednesday to Saturday and most of the 25 participants had taken days off work to attend.
Their first task of the day was to put on their SCBA and put it on quickly – the goal was 30 seconds – under the watchful eyes of six (rather intimidating!) instructors. Most of the students were challenged to get their gear on properly in under a minute, but as the exercise went on and muscle memory improved, some managed it in 45 seconds – although faces were contorted and foreheads were dripping with sweat by the third go round.
As one determined student said later that afternoon after two sets of rigorous training evolutions, “I’ll will make the 30-second time by Saturday.”
A few weeks earlier, I had been at FDIC Atlantic in Wolfville, N.S., where 450 firefighters – mostly volunteers, who gave up a beautiful June weekend – practised live fire training in the Nova Scotia Firefighters School mobile burn unit (a rarity for most volunteer firefighters in the province) and other hands-on-training courses, including sessions by Canadian Firefighter Back to Basics writer Mark van der Feyst. (Ed Brouwer and CFF writer Bob Krause were also in Wolfville, doing classroom training.)
The determination of those groups of (mostly very young) volunteer firefighters got me thinking about the cover story for this issue. Training is the transfer of knowledge to prepare for the real thing. The North Perth Fire Department in Listowel is known for its rigorous training – three, or four hours a night, twice a month, faithfully (even as some departments are considering reducing training to just once a month).
Chris Williams of the Office of the Fire Marshal was generous with his time in discussing the investigation into the fatal dollar-store fire. That an Ontario Ministry of Labour investigation did not result in any charges against the municipality or the North Perth Fire Service is testament to the training and precision of execution that North Perth Fire Chief Ed Smith brings to his department. Still, something went wrong.
In our story on page 8, Williams presents a compelling case for communities to make more of an effort to learn about the construction of commercial and industrial structures, do pre-plans, and take time to size-up the scene. Chief Smith rightfully worries about the onus all that puts on overburdened volunteer services. The role of fire chief as risk manager is one we’re going to hear about a lot.
Meantime, in Listowel and Atwood and Monkton – the communities that make up the North Perth Fire Service – the commitment to training hasn’t changed, because it was always there. The only difference is that the volunteer firefighters under Ed Smith’s command know what it means to train for life.