Hot topics

Does your fire service utilize NFPA 1001 as your minimum training standard for your firefighters? Does every firefighter have that level – even if you are one of the thousands of small volunteer fire services in Canada?
In my travels, certain NFPA standards come up more often than others in conversations. Recently there has been interest in NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
When will something finally be done to develop a building code for the wildland urban interface?
Over the winter, there were more large-profile barn fires in the news than I can recall in recent memory. At one point it was difficult to keep track of them all.
Good fire-service leaders know the benefits of a solid and comprehensive strategic plan; it provides the opportunity to analyze the current state, identifies what risks or threats may exist or lie beyond the horizon, can help highlight future opportunities and pitfalls, and can provide the organization with vision, goals, and objectives to pursue in a world of continuous improvement.
February 2016 - In our fire departments, we throw around terms such as leadership, accountability and management. Why do these terms matter and why do we always talk about them?
May 2016 - Evacuee response to a fire can appear random and beyond understanding. Until relatively recently, fire engineers, safety managers and designers typically assumed that evacuee response would be dominated by panic – people being insensitive to the actual incident conditions they face, causing them to bolt for an exit or freeze to the spot.
May 2016 - A few years ago I received a mass email from our regional Alberta Emergency Management Agency field officer asking if our community, the Lesser Slave Lake Region, was interested in participating in a province-wide emergency management exercise. After four years of constant rebuilding, repairing and reimagining our emergency services after the 2011 wildfire decimated our region, I thought: “Yes, we absolutely have to do this.” (I should have maybe asked around before sending a positive response . . .)
Do you ever feel like the world is testing you a little harder than others?On Thursday, Oct. 29, I firmly believed that it was.
Fire Fighting in Canada editor Laura King interviewed Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer on Oct. 15, the day Commissioner Paul Belanger’s report on the inquiry into the collapse of Algo Centre mall – and the emergency response to the incident – was released. Part II of the report, on the emergency response, contains 34 recommendations from a more manageable – but mandatory – incident management system, to interoperability, but also praises the Elliot Lake Fire Department’s response to the collapse on June 23, 2012, in which two women were killed.Chief Officer and captains Darren Connors and John Thomas testified during the seven-month inquiry in 2013.Responses from government departments and agencies to the commission’s recommendations are due by Oct. 15 this year.Q Commissioner Paul Belanger’s report is favourable to the Elliot Lake Fire Department, and the commissioner had good things to say about the response. What is your take on the report?  A I’m happy to see that our firefighters received the recognition that they deserve. There was a lot of effort put in on that day. They did risk their lives when they first went in and I’m happy to see that recognized.Q One of the criticisms during the inquiry was the lack of a written incident action plan; the commissioner, however, says the department did everything right. Is that vindication?A I think to a certain extent [it’s validation that we did things right]. Of course you can always learn from things. [Commissioner Belanger] did say in his report that although there was no written incident action plan he did feel that there was a plan formulated in the minds of the various commanders and myself, and I think that’s quite true. Writing things down at the time . . . I had a scribe, but putting up a white board might have helped to clarify things so that if somebody comes on – I won’t say for a shift change because there really wasn’t one – that could potentially help in identifying the whole organizational chart.Q There was considerable discussion during the inquiry about the incident management system and the fact that there were some communication challenges among the various responding agencies. The commissioner has recommended mandatory IMS, and we know the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal is reviewing the provincial system; is it broken and does it need to be fixed?A Even during the inquiry I had a real concern that the commissioner would make recommendations or changes to incident [management]. I can’t speak for the OPP on their training, or EMS, but I do know the fire incident command works, and I had a real issue that they might end up playing with that going forward with something that doesn’t work. I think [the commissioner’s] part in those recommendations is making sure we’re all on the same page – that all agencies are on the same page, that we’re all trained to the same standards, share the same terminology, and, of course, everybody works for a united goal. Q The commissioner’s remarks are pretty scathing in some regards, particularly in terms of the provincial emergency management system. What’s your take on all of that? What needs to be reviewed and how do you create something that works for everybody?A That’s the problem with the diversity in the province, I mean, it should be able to [work for everyone]. IMS is scalable, and if everyone is speaking the same language there shouldn’t be a problem. I think what [the commissioner] was referring to is the silos among the different agencies; he did identify in the report that there are definitely silos and we need to take those down and all go for the same common goal.Q What do you do differently in your department now than before June 23, 2012?A I think probably the lesson for my officers is the note-taking and the detail that’s required. I’m seeing more detail in their reports and we haven’t had another major incident, but I think everyone sees the value in having a scribe at a big incident – that’s one thing I did pretty much immediately and I’m thankful that I thought to do it because it was something that really helped. When I finally sat down to write [my] notes . . . with the scribe’s notes and the recordings, I was able to piece everything together.I think we were a pretty tight-knit bunch before [the incident] and probably, if anything, it has made us more tight. I think everyone is also more concerned about our health and safety; obviously if a firefighter goes down it changes the whole focus of what you’re there for, so that seems to be a little more prevalent as well. As for what ends up happening with the recommendations, we always knew there would be issues on a major call with radio communications and I think that was identified by the commissioner, that there are silos there, and that’s going to be a very difficult one to get over [because of potential costs involved].Q What about the effect of the incident and the inquiry on your members?A We’re still monitoring folks; we have a few who have had some issues. Of course, we offered our employee-assistance program and my door is always open, and I go out of my way to talk to those individuals and tell them they’re not alone. I probably feel a lot of the same things that they do, so talking about it and getting it out there is a big help, so we’ll continue to do that.Q You were a building inspector before you were a fire chief. When you take into consideration the whole report today, how do you feel about it and how do you move on?A Well the whole report took in 30 or 35 years; the way I look at that, everybody had a couple of pieces of a big puzzle and now we can see the big picture and that’s where the recommendations come from and hopefully that will stop anything like this from happening again.Q Does the report provide closure for your department?A I was hoping that it would. I was looking forward to the report and finally putting this behind us. It has been a daily thing and, of course, you’re still trying to do your daily duties and serve your municipality and the citizens. It has been a difficult couple of years.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&Itemid=10&lang=en&layout=latest&view=latest#sigProGalleriac63a26524a Q You are speaking over the next while to chief officers at conferences across Ontario about your experience. What will you tell them?A Well, obviously these events can happen anywhere. I’ve said it before: Elliot Lake should be a fire chief’s dream location, and we still had an event like this. I will probably do a quick summary on the conditions; one of the things I’m the most proud of – at one point I think we had close to 400 people on scene, and we ended up, in those conditions, with just three minor injuries (a shoulder injury, a minor cut hand and a minor ankle sprain), so with the conditions that we dealt with and the fatigue, I’m pretty proud of that fact because we could so easily have had some pretty serious injuries, if not deaths. I’ll reinforce the note-taking, and some of the recommendations I’d like to see that were put forth by the commission. I tend to agree with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs [which recommended to the commissioner] that a support team for the smaller town fire chiefs is a good idea, and I see that’s a recommendation and it’s one I would like to see happen. It has been very challenging and very difficult on the department and the community as a whole and it can happen anywhere, there’s no two ways about it. Q The role of the Ministry of Labour (MOL) at a rescue was unclear to many on the scene, including MOL inspectors and engineers. The province made clear in its submission to the commissioner that the MOL can, indeed, shut down a rescue if workers are at risk – although that didn’t happen here. Is the role of the MOL now clear to the fire service and is there something more that fire should be doing to make that clear to its members?A I believe it is clear that they have the right to be there; it does cause concern, depending on the capacity in which they are there. If they are there to work in conjunction with the incident commander, then I don’t think I would have so much concern with it. But I do believe – and I think it was mentioned in the commissioner’s report, and I would have the same problem with it – that a MOL presence does tend to make you re-think your decisions, look over your shoulder; you don’t have time to second-guess your decisions and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Right across the province it could be an issue. Obviously they have the right, so maybe there can be some kind of accommodation between the fire service and the MOL. There are certain things that would be of great value – for example, having access to provincial engineers. When [the collapse] took place we were unable to secure the services of an engineer; those folks work for the province and if we call and ask, they can come, so that would be quite nice.Q You testified that you didn’t know about the OPP’s search and rescue team, UCRT. UCRT was praised by the commissioner in his report for its quick response, and the Toronto HUSAR team was, in fact, criticized for its slower response – it took them six hours to deploy and then, of course, they had to get to Elliot Lake from Toronto. The commissioner is recommending that the teams work together and he has called for the reinstatement of federal funding for HUSAR, which is unlikely to happen.Some Elliot Lake residents asked today for a team specifically for northern Ontario, which we know is not financially feasible. I don’t see a solution in the recommendations. Do you?A I don’t either and I’m not sure where they’re going to go with that. The idea would be that they work under one set of rules; that they work together. If UCRT remains on its own, as its own entity, the two teams still would need to work and train together. One thing I would like to see, if UCRT is that quick and capable, it would definitely have been a benefit to have their planning chief and their commander come up [to Elliot Lake] so that we could get ahead on things. They’ve got to work together; if it’s UCRT that’s the light team and if they’re coming up and making provisions, so you have a planning chief and you start formulating an incident-action plan, and all of the sudden the heavy team comes up and they don’t like that plan, well you’ve just wasted a whole bunch of time, so one way or the other they’ve got to get that together. Q What are you going to do now in your department? Are you going to look at the recommendations and discuss them? How do you bring that closure?A I think we’ll probably afford everyone an opportunity to review the recommendations, and it will give me an opportunity to thank everyone again for the job that they did. If there’s anything that we can learn from the report that we can implement immediately, we will. I think that, manpower permitting, if we can have a scribe for the incident commander – one thing we did learn that was somewhat unfair to someone like [Capt.] John Thomas was that when he replaced me [on scene as incident commander], the scribe came with me; that individual should have had a scribe as well. That would have helped when it was time to recall notes. One step we’ve taken and I’ve informed council and my boss – the CAO – about is that the fire chief in [nearby] Blind River – if we have another event – will come up as support. Say if there’s was a fire event and I can’t even break away and get to council or the EOC, he will be that person, and I’m a radio call away if there’s any further information that’s needed. We’ve implemented that and I’ll do the same for his community. We have made some changes.
Sept. 13 was a milestone day for emergency preparedness in the Central Okanagan region of British Columbia.
Saugeen Shores, Ont. – In 2009, the municipality of Saugeen Shores on Lake Huron was named a host municipality to the Bruce Power nuclear generating station.
For Canadian fire services to effectively transition to a fire-prevention culture from the longstanding suppression mentality, everyone from officers to recruits needs to buy in.
Hiring firefighters has changed from the days when a strong back and bravery were the most prized values of a new employee.
Feb. 29, 2016, Mississauga, Ont. – Fire chiefs who are hiring want recruits from diverse backgrounds who can be developed into strong leaders and will fit in with the department's culture.Post-secondary education is also a preference, more than 100 potential firefighters learned at a career expo Saturday."We are looking for people who want to do more than just show up for work," Mississauga Assistant Chief Shawn Matheson told the audience at Fire Fighting in Canada's spring Firefighter Career Expo at the Garry W. Morden Centre.Richard Boyes, executive director of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, told participants that with more and more municipalities adopting the standardized candidate testing service (CTS), how a potential recruit fits in with a department is more important than ever."If you've all had to pass the same standard, there is no banner over any candidate coming in," Boyes said. "Now, what else are you bringing? We need a wide range of skill sets, because you cannot have any organization [full] of one type of person."Seventeen municipalities have adopted CTS since it launched in April 2014, including Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga. About 1,900 candidates are in the CTS system, Boyes said. Almost half of the audience members in the room indicated that they had been through the CTS process.Mississauga Chief Tim Beckett said in an interview during the expo that CTS has streamlined his department's hiring process, and the standardized system gives him a broader, more diverse range of candidates."From a candidates' perspective," Beckett said, "it limits the amount of money that they continue to lay out time after time applying for all the departments."Beckett and Matheson told expo participants that post-secondary education and leadership skills stand out in candidates."For me, some of it has to do with succession planning," Beckett said.Expo participants received advice about every stage of the hiring process, from what to (and what not to) include in their resumes to how to prepare for interviews.Brampton Fire and Emergency Services Platoon Chief Ed Davis and firefighter Chris Peterson spoke about recruitment trends in career departments, explained where recruits often go wrong – from typos on resumes to first-impression faux pas – and what can help them get noticed.Chris Bedwell from Testreadypro gave firefighter test writing tips, and strategies for first-time, repeat, and second-career candidates. Bedwell stressed the importance of being prepared by researching each test.Dave Gillespie and Shawn Cooligan from Firefighterinterviews.com once again moderated the mock interview exercise, asking for three volunteers from the audience to answer three frequently asked questions. Five chief officers – Beckett, Boyes, Davis, Toronto Fire Services Deputy Chief Debbie Higgins, and Barrie Fire and Emergency Service Chief Bill Boyes – sat on the interview panel and gently (or bluntly, depending on the chief) pointed out how candidates could improve their answers.For Beckett, the expo, as a whole, allowed him to share a message with potential firefighters about diversity."There's a shifting culture [in the fire service] and that's where we are heading," Beckett said. "Diversity is going to play a huge role in this and it's not about quotas, it's really about quality and excellence."The 2016 fall Firefighter Career Expo is scheduled for Sept. 11 at Toronto's Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute.
Before Britney Holmberg was hired by Brampton Fire and Emergency Services in 2013, she had applied to more than 30 municipal departments, written 20 aptitude tests and sweated through eight candidate physical ability tests
Feb. 26, 2013, Toronto – Firefighter hopefuls should arrive early for interviews, dress properly, and be confident, according to fire officers who spoke at the 2013 Career Expo in Toronto on Saturday.
Fire fighting is a challenging and rewarding career. If you’re thinking about becoming a firefighter, here are some things to consider. 
Corrosion. Wait, don’t turn the page. This column is not about the rust and corrosion that I have written about in past columns: you know, the stuff that attaches to every square inch of fire trucks. This column is about the rust and corrosion that is so obvious it tends to get overlooked.
Ask seasoned salespeople what fire departments want in their new pumpers, tankers, aerials and rescues and you’ll get as many different responses as there are options for side compartments.
Cypress County Emergency Services in Alberta, under Fire Chief Dennis Mann, took delivery of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks-wildland pumper in July. The unit is built on an International 7400 4x4 chassis and powered by a 350-hp Maxxforce 10 engine and an Allison 3500 EVS transmission. The unit features a Foam Pro 2002 foam type and a Waterous CXVK (1000GPM) and CPK-3(high pressure) pump. It also boasts a left side pumphouse compartment with slide out tray and slide out toolboard for longer equipment. I also has a Zico overhead ladder rack, and all LED lighting.
Clarington Emergency and Fire Services in Ontario, under Deputy Fire Chief Bill Hesson, took delivery of a Fort Garry Fire Trucks Emergency Rescue pumper in August. The unit is built on a Spartan Gladiator chassis and powered by a 450-hp Cummins ISX12 engine and an Allison 4000 EVS transmission. It features a 1250 Hale DSD pump and a Foam Pro 1600 Class A. 
Biggar Rural District Fire Association in Saskatchewan, under Fire Chief Gerry Besse, took delivery of a Fort Garry Trucks pumper in October. The unit is built on a Freightliner M2 – 106 chassis and powered by a 350-hp Cummins ISL engine and an Allison EVS 3000 transmission. It features a 1250 Darley PSP pump, a 1000 I.G. Pro-Poly water tank, and a Waterous Advantus 3E class A/pick up tube for Class B Foam type. 
Luduc County in Alberta, under Fire Chief Darrell Fleming, took delivery in March of a Fort Garry Trucks pumper. The unit is built on a Spartan Metro Star chassis and powered by a 380-hp Cummins ISL and an Allison EVS 3000 transmission. It features a Darley PSP 1250 USG pump, an Elkhart Cobra EXM Monitor, a Federal Signal Emergency light package and side and rear control panels.
I was writing this column in late November when coverage of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination permeated newscasts.
I could hardly believe my eyes in July as I watched the breaking news on CNN . . . Airliner crash in San Francisco . . .
In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the role of the fire department in pre-hospital care.
It’s 6:50 a.m. An elderly man awakes with crushing chest pain and dials 911. As he fights to catch his breath and cope with the pain, nothing is more important to him than receiving aid; he needs help now and he needs it fast.
They call me the fireman
Anyone who has worked in fire/EMS can attest to the harmful effects this profession can have on our minds, bodies and spirits.
Dead children, severe mutilation, homicide, known victims, aircraft crashes, injured and dead firefighters: sadly, I don’t think my experiences of fire fighting are unusual. Who could deny this takes an emotional toll on us? Who would argue that as an organization, a profession, we don’t have an obligation to address the emotional cost?
Life is too short; we have all heard this cliché many times, but it seems that the older you get the more you hear and use it. So, if life is too short, what are you doing to make the most of it?
For many years, firefighters took pride in the soot that covered their bunker gear, helmets and gloves; it was a sign that they had been to a good job, and evidence that they had been on the front lines of fire attack. As fire prevention efforts paid off and the number of structure fires decreased, fewer firefighters engaged in fire attack; when they did, they were sure to leave all the evidence in place.
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.
Much has been written about cancer and its relationship to the fire service. The bottom line is that if you are a firefighter you have a higher chance of getting cancer than a non-firefighter. Rather than argue about how many times more likely we are to get cancer, I would rather discuss some ways chief officers and firefighters can help reduce these odds.
Hernia: the protrusion of an organ or the fascia of an organ through the wall of the cavity that normally contains it.
Geographically, the Corporation of Delta fills the southwest corner of Metro Vancouver, surrounded on three sides by water – the Fraser River to the north, Salish Sea (Straits of Georgia) on the west, and Boundary Bay on the south.
In the Peace Region of Northern Alberta, regional co-operation is a top priority for fire departments. This was very evident on May 4, when a fire in a pile of waste-wood material spread to a log yard and threatened the Norbord Inc. oriented strand board plant in High Level.
Mississauga Fire Chief Tim Beckett was on his way home on Tuesday, June 28 – after a day of incident management 300 training – when Deputy Chief Jamie Zimmerman phoned unexpectedly.
August 2016 - A massive fire at a 20-unit apartment building in Sooke, B.C., displaced 19 residents and was a wake-up call to emergency services about the need to plan for large-scale, long-term evacuations.
August 2016 - At 10:30 p.m. on Monday, April 11, just as Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service crew members were headed home from the fire hall after a long, tiring night of hazard-reduction burning and clean up, a call came through dispatch from OnStar (General Motors Canada/Chevrolet satellite tracking communications service) about a vehicle in the Lesser Slave River just north of Slave Lake on Highway 2.
March 2016 - Jan. 11 started much the same as any other Monday morning. The crew members on duty at the Swift Current Fire Department in Saskatchewan completed their morning checks and had prepared for some fire inspections.
May 2016 - Anyone who works in a unionized fire department has, at some time, been confronted with the one word that sets up a roadblock to any succession program: seniority.
The fire service is a business like no other; its main purpose is to serve and protect its citizens and keep its firefighters safe. Services do not need to compete with each other, but rather work together and share with each other. Together we are stronger. That means working closely together both internally (within our fire stations) and externally (within the broader fire and emergency-service community).Internally: When all members (including leaders) of a fire department are pulling in the same direction, both the department and firefighters thrive. The result of this unison is a better place to work and better service for citizens. Firefighters who share with each other are typically better prepared for their next incident. Sharing knowledge and gently pushing each other to be better makes firefighters safer and more effective. Great firefighters are here for the team, not for themselves, and the team is here for our citizens. Together firefighters are stronger, whether that means helping each other with training, fitness, job searches or life challenges. When we play as a team everyone wins!I visit many fire stations each year and I can tell quite a bit about a fire department after meeting some of its firefighters. I am happy to say that most fire departments get it – fire fighting is a team sport, not a place for people who put themselves before others.Externally: When fire departments reach out and work with other fire departments (and other emergency-service agencies) the same benefits can be found. Fire departments that share and train with other fire departments increase the safety and effectiveness of their firefighters and organizations. Helping each other helps departments to enhance the services they provide to their citizens.My department constantly trains with others departments. We are also always looking to improve and find new and better ways of doing things. I know first-hand that interaction with other departments has helped our department to improve its services, increased safety and made us better. We are always willing to share our training centre, training props, lesson plans, PowerPoints and guidelines with others as we know that most will do likewise. When I share something with another department I simply ask that if members of that department improve it, to let us know about the improvements so we can consider them. I was recently asked what I thought was the most significant change in the fire service over the past several years; my answer was the Internet. The Internet allows us to share information quickly and also to see what others are doing (right or wrong). I have good friends who are leaders in the fire service whom I have never met in person, yet we are constantly sharing and trading ideas.I love having other firefighters and departments visit us to train because it broadens our own training as we learn from each other. Fire departments that work closely together to deliver their important services thrive, and their citizens receive better value for their taxes. Mutual-aid agreements assist departments in ensuring adequate resources are available. Automatic-aid agreements assist departments in providing timely responses. Both types of agreements work with little increased costs but provide huge benefits both for the community and the fire departments. Large or small, modern fire departments must realize that they can’t go it alone. Developing strategic partnerships is a win-win situation for us all.Training together prepares us to work together during a mutual- or automatic-aid incident. Sharing resources with each other is common sense and fiscally responsible.My department has also benefited from me travelling all over Canada delivering my Safe and Effective Scene Management (#stopbad) program. I visit dozens of fire departments each year and I learn from all of them. In fact, I have learned so much from visiting other departments that I often come home with some great ideas as to how to improve our services and/or training at my department. Some of the best ideas I have seen come from some of the smaller fire departments that need to be more creative due to smaller budgets (doing more with less). I freely share all that I have learned.Those few departments that, for whatever reason, choose to go it alone, are only hurting themselves and their communities. Working closely with neighbouring fire departments is a win-win for all involved and is also expected by our citizens and politicians. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – just borrow a wheel and maybe make it spin better, then pass it on to others.Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire
June 1, 2015 - Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue (SSIFR) in British Columbia has been operating a field incident technician program since 2002. Today the department’s six field incident technicians – who are referred to as FITs – are a vital part of the organization.
Fraser Lake Fire Rescue in British Columbia recently attended a chest-pains call. Dispatch identified the complainant over the radio and a number of us recognized the name as that of a local resident. Instead of listening and responding to the civic address given by dispatch, we headed right over to where we knew the local man lived – only to find no one home. After checking back with a very accommodating dispatcher we headed for the correct address, somewhat red faced. Thankfully the patient suffered no ill effects from our folly, and there was a valuable lesson for all of us who attended.
I think everyone has seen the humorous pictures with anecdotes on social media platforms or email inboxes. Usually I glance at them and move on, but recently one stood out: a leader speaking to a group of followers asks “Who wants change?” and everyone raises their hands. In the next frame, the leader asks “Who wants to change?” Not surprisingly, there isn’t a hand in the air.Change tends to be interpreted negatively, however, the only way to move forward is to change. In fact, failing to change often yields negative results for those who try to remain static while everything changes around them.For the fire service, simple co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments or agencies that serve the same group of customers can be an effective way to incorporate positive change.When fire-service managers fail to co-operate with other municipal departments, managers of those departments, and our customers – the public – tend to think we are protecting our turf. No longer is it unique for municipal managers to co-operate with other city departments or even outside agencies. To collaborate and search for effective cost saving and service-enhancement opportunities means the fire department must compromise, but not necessarily concede. Chiefs need to be prepared to communicate solutions to fire department challenges and include some ideas that may have been presented by other municipal departments. This approach also gives fire-service leaders the opportunity to present successful fire department ideas, strategies and successes to municipal colleagues and can result in respect and support from municipal leaders.Dynamic, sustainable organizations must remain active and engaged in their realms. Organizations that resist change will become extinct. There is a choice; guide it or ride it. Our industry leaders have the opportunity to lay the foundation today for the fire service they believe is appropriate for tomorrow. A commitment to think openly and have a vision can lead to a positive future for the fire service; remaining passive will lead to extinction. Although municipal fire services are generally cherished community organizations, they will not live on forever if fire-service leaders choose to maintain the status quo because other service providers – public and private – offer more economical options.Progress is not a continual slope upward, rather it is a series of peaks and valleys with each peak giving way to a plateau, and each valley more gentle than the one before it. Times of rest help us to adjust to the new normal and provide the opportunity to prepare the organization and its members for the next climb. Use the valleys to reflect on where your organization and you have been. Cherish accomplishments, even those that may have been short-lived; they may have shown the way to the new normal. Use these situations to analyze how or why an initiative wasn’t as successful as anticipated; look for opportunities to take further actions that may result in a more successful implementation of a new or revised program or idea. Keep an open mind about what opportunities exist.Most departments are now long past the do-more-with-less attitude that has plagued the fire service for years; in fact, most are at the point of doing less with less. Perhaps the best-case scenario now is to find things that can be done differently so that fire departments can more efficiently maintain or improve service and safety in our communities and for firefighters. If that were the case, there would be hands in the air when the question “Who wants to change?” is asked, because change necessitates doing something differently, not just waiting on others while the fire service maintains the status quo.Opportunities and examples of change are vast; many are spoken about at fire-service conferences, workshops and seminars. Some of the simplest and most easily implemented ideas are often right there in front of us, created and implemented by people we deal with every day, including our peers in other municipal departments. Don’t be afraid to embrace some of their ideas. Although an idea may come from outside the fire service, it may be adapted with great success.Fire service leaders are not always required to be the change champions but there are times when it is appropriate to be the coach, cheerleader or even, perhaps, the naysayer. In each of those roles, you could inspire someone else to present a new idea. Co-operation and co-ordination with other municipal departments will improve efficiency and effectiveness of the fire service with the goal of ensuring a strong and sustainable fire-protection system in the community.* Carousel photo from Flickr by Kenny LouieKevin Foster is the fire chief and emergency management co-ordinator in Midland, Ont. 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 @KFoster_FSEM
Talk of succession planning in the fire service often elicits a lot of blank stares. There is considerable confusion about succession planning – what is it, how to do it, and even where to get information about it. Succession planning is often misunderstood by senior managers and entry-level employees. Fire-service tradition dictated that if you hung around long enough you would eventually be the chief. Not only does this no longer apply, but it was a bad practice and is almost entirely responsible for fire being perceived as the outsider in municipal senior-management circles.In most municipal departments, the senior-management team is made up of people with degrees in administration, engineering, finance, recreation, municipal planning or some other discipline, and many of these are at the master’s level or higher. In the fire service, the senior leaders are often the most experienced firefighters; although this is changing, more needs to be done to prepare our future leaders.So what is succession planning and how is it done? Let’s first address what succession planning is not: it is not supplementing the pension of senior employees during their final years because they have put in years of good service; it is not a reward for long service or good service; it is not about hand-picking your successor. Some of this confusion can be attri-buted to the term succession planning, which often leaves chiefs thinking they should plan who will succeed them when they leave. I prefer the term succession program as it is more holistic and applies to all members of the organization, not just a select few.I remember conducting an interview with a new hire a number of years ago and when asked what his goal in the fire service was he replied, “To sit in your chair.” I hired him. I am often asked why I would hire someone who wants my job. My answer is that I know I won’t be here forever, and someone needs to take over when I leave. A succession program needs to start at the initial interview with entry-level candidates. The sooner you identify those who aspire to higher positions, the sooner you can start to support them.Succession programs are about creating opportunities for members of the organization to advance to senior positions. These opportunities must be applied fairly and consistently throughout the organization. This is sometimes very hard to do as we all bring certain biases to the table and we like or dislike certain members of the department based on past or current events; this cannot be allowed to cloud the program or it will not work. Everyone must be given the opportunity to progress; the selection process will allow the cream to rise to the top.Most fire departments have good succession programs in place for the lower ranks. There are courses and standards set for promotion to the next position, everyone is given the opportunity to complete the training, and the selection process allows the higher-quality candidates to move into the next positions. This works great up to the rank of captain, and even to the battalion-chief (or platoon-chief) level, but the system seems to break down beyond that.What’s the solution? First, it’s important to identify what the job of fire chief really includes and determine the qualifications needed to do the job properly. Then, identify the programs that will meet the needs of the position and offer these programs to the senior members of the department – this may range from Fire Officer IV to a master’s degree, depending on the size of the department. The courses required to attain the necessary level of management or leadership skills must be made available during individuals’ careers so that when the time comes to replace the chief, there are a number of trained and qualified candidates available to compete for the position. A succession program won’t have a formal list of steps you must take to reach the top, but more of a direction pointing to the top. Regularly read the ads for chief-officer positions to see what requirements municipalities seek in their new chiefs. Get a handle on the disciplines in which municipalities want their chief officers to have degrees. Start offering courses that lead to these degrees – start at the certificate level and move to diplomas, then degrees. Make these courses available to everyone – those who don’t make chief will have more to offer the department and will be a major asset over time.Education, though important, is not enough. Your people need time to practice their skills in real-life situations under supervision. This is the mentoring phase, which many chief officers find difficult. Too many senior managers use the excuse that “it is quicker to just do it myself.” That may be true once, but the next time and the time after that it puts a great drain on your time if you haven’t taught someone else how to do the required tasks. Chief officers need to assign the jobs, and then get out of the way. Be available to assist if needed, but don’t step in to do it. The chief’s job is to observe, guide, correct and assist as needed. It is quite possible that your expectations won’t be met the first time, but with guidance, they will be met in the future and you will have a new resource at your fingertips. It is also possible that your expectations will be exceeded.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&Itemid=10&lang=en&layout=latest&view=latest#sigProGalleria03bca43eb5 The requirement to pay a competitive salary to management employees is probably the most challenging aspect to developing a succession program; unfortunately, in many cases, it is also out of your hands. Management salaries have become a major issue for fire departments in areas that have removed indexing of out-of-scope salaries – salaries of those not included in the bargaining unit. This has closed the gap between the salaries of the highest-level unionized employees and the low-end salaries of the non-unionized employees to the point at which it makes little economic sense for a member to leave the floor to take a management position that may be less than secure in terms of one’s career. The situation can only be solved by the fire chief negotiating a salary agreement with the municipality that will survive his or her retirement.Part of a good successful succession program is mandatory vacation time for you – the chief. I have known numerous senior managers who have retired with five to six months of vacation saved up. I know of many situations in which municipalities have had to force their senior managers to take their vacations or have paid them out. Paying out vacation does no good for anybody. Vacation has two benefits in a succession plan; first, it provides you with the opportunity to get away from the pressures of the job – to relax and unwind. This time away is very important for any manager. The other benefit of vacations is just as important; your senior employees are forced to take control of the whole operation and make the decisions you would normally make, without your input or oversight. Your staff must take responsibility for these decisions, and you will likely be surprised by how consistent their decisions are with yours.To ensure that your staff members make these decisions, turn off your phone, leave it in your hotel room, and, if you want to follow your emails so you know what is happening, read them, but do not reply to them; you are on vacation. Give your staff the opportunity to lead, choose, decide and take control of the department. Let it be theirs while you are away.Finally, get your proteges involved in the associations that represent the fire service provincially, nationally and internationally. At association events, these potential successors will make contacts with whom they can share and gain knowledge, learn how issues are solved in other departments and find a shoulder to cry on when things go bad. Remember, you are not alone; numerous people have gone through the same situations in other municipalities and they are more than willing to help you. Over the years I have learned more from peers than from any book or classroom.It is a wonderful feeling when you set people free and watch what they can accomplish. That is the true purpose of a succession program – letting people learn and improve on what you have done in the past. One of the greatest pleasures in life is watching young people grow into the leaders of the future. The purpose of a succession program is to support that growth.Denis Pilon is the chief of the Swift Current Fire Department in Saskatchewan and is the chair of the CAFC’s resolutions, bylaws and constitution committee. 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 @DMPilon
For years, municipalities have complained about the high cost of firefighter salaries and benefits and the arbitration process that awards them.
Labour relations in Canada’s fire departments are iffy at best.
It’s not exactly Freedom 55, but it’s close. Proposed mandatory retirement for suppression firefighters in Ontario is also vexing and frustrating for fire-service leaders who are struggling to understand its implications.
Editor’s note: Lawyer Timothy Wilkin of Cunningham Swan Carty Little & Bonham in Kingston, Ont., prepared a review for the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs of reported Canadian court cases in the last 15 years that dealt with negligence by municipalities and their fire departments. We looked at several cases in the February and March issues of Fire Fighting in Canada. The final instalment is below.
In March, Alex Forrest was acclaimed to his seventh term as president of the United Firefighters of Winnipeg. The union represents the city’s 1,500 firefighters, firefighter paramedics, fire prevention officers, training academy instructors and senior operations officers.
Like similar-sized communities across Canada, the picturesque town of Caledon, Ont., has a composite fire department and many of its 65,000 residents know each other and the fire chief.
Batman had Robin. Maxwell Smart had Agent 99. Bautista had 24 fellow Blue Jays.
Until recently, most posts on Redwood Meadows Emergency Services’ (RMES) social media pages informed our fans and followers that we were responding to a call, or showed off photos of training, incidents or fun stuff, such as when one of the probationary firefighters got his helmet caught in the air-horn lanyard on the new engine.
Lots of workplaces discourage employees from using Facebook when they’re on the job. Many Canadian fire departments, on the other hand, have embraced social media as an effective and efficient tool to communicate with residents, raise money, launch recruitment drives and spread information about local emergencies.
We write a lot, in these pages, about leadership. This month, Bill Boyes returns, offering a new perspective – as the fire chief in Barrie, Ont., – in the Leadership Forum column he shares with acting Toronto Chief Matt Pegg.
Walking the floor at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) trade show in May I came upon a Pierce Ascendant 107-foot, single-axle aerial destined for my home town, Oakville, Ont.
The news on Jan. 5 that 43 racehorses had died in a barn fire in Puslinch Township, south of Guelph, Ont., was hard on the property owners, the animal owners, and the tight harness-racing community.
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.
I was skeptical, as is my nature. But having experienced a five-day train-the-trainer course and taught the eight-hour Road to Mental Readiness leadership program, my cynicism has dissipated.
Back in 2008, I was flabbergasted to learn that the Sunrise Propane depot that blew up in Toronto was in a residential area, across the street from ordinary homes.
The year is 2025. An elevated heat signature is picked up in a Collingwood, Ont., home and an emergency alert for a structure fire is sent to the communications centre in nearby Barrie. Dispatch notifies the local fire department members through their cell phones, transferring the co-ordinates and fastest route to the scene to their GPSs.
September 2015 - As wood becomes an increasingly popular building material in Canada, there is a corresponding need for fire-safety resources for both the construction industry and emergency responders.To meet this need, the Canadian Wood Council, working with the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, has produced an in-depth guide and research papers with the goal of reducing the risk and losses from construction-site fires. The project was funded through a grant from Natural Resources Canada.“We know from research that once fire-safety systems are in place, wood-based buildings are as safe as any other type of building,” said Michael Giroux, president of the Canadian Wood Council. “However, like all buildings, they are vulnerable to fire during the construction stage, before those systems are installed. As representatives of Canada’s wood industry, we want to help ensure that construction sites across Canada that use wood are as safe as possible.”The guide and research papers can be downloaded for free at cjr.ufv.ca or www.cwc.ca and include: Construction Site Fire Safety: A Guide for Construction of Large Buildings – practical tools and information for the construction industry (also available in French). Construction Site Fire Response: Preventing and Suppressing Fires During Construction of Large Buildings – analysis and response information for the fire service (also available in French). Firefighter Wood Project and Systems Awareness: A Resource Guide – sources of information on fire-safety topics related to wood-based construction. Information for the project was gleaned from best practice, legislation, regulation and standards from Canada, the United States and Europe.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&Itemid=10&lang=en&layout=latest&view=latest#sigProGalleriaa3d79b7058 While the materials focus on the design, planning and construction phases of new buildings, the content is also relevant to projects involving existing buildings, such as demolition, alteration or repairs.It is estimated that more than 100,000 building projects in Canada each year involve wood-based construction (e.g. light wood-frame, heavy/massive timber post-and-beam, cross-laminated timber). These numbers may mushroom in the future following changes to the 2015 National Building Code and National Fire Code that allow the construction of wood buildings of up to six storeys.With this widespread and growing use of wood comes the need for a greater focus on construction fire safety, both from the perspective of builders and emergency responders.  Regardless of the building materials used, construction sites present fire departments with a different set of challenges than those associated with completed buildings. The construction stage is the most dangerous point in the lifespan of any building, due to a number of risks, including proximity of combustible materials as ignitions sources (e.g. electric equipment and hot work such as welding and roofing); lack of completion of any built-in fire-safety systems such as sprinklers; absence of doors, finished walls and other separations that may slow fire spread; and potential site security issues.The widespread use of combustible products such as wood on a construction site, along with the introduction of taller wood buildings, can add a further level of risk and complexity to both fire prevention and response. There have been numerous examples of large-scale construction fires in Canada, including those in Calgary in March 2015, Kingston, Ont., in December 2013, and Richmond, B.C., in 2011. Typical hazards at construction sites include: Temporary heating equipment Smoking Waste disposal Open burning Spontaneous ignition Cutting and welding Electrical malfunction Flammable and combustible liquids Flammable gases Explosives The leading causes of fires in buildings under construction or demolition are incendiary or suspicious events, open flames and embers and heating equipment.Fire safety is the responsibility of everyone involved in construction projects, including the construction industry, employers, workers, site visitors, and provincial and local authorities. Some of these responsibilities are laid out in standards, codes or legislation, such as provincial occupational health and safety regulations.Construction companies also have a vested interest in promoting fire safety at their sites from a business standpoint. Financial losses can be significant because fire departments in general take defensive approaches to construction-site fires as there is typically no need for occupant rescue. As a result, the focus at construction fires is firefighter safety and to prevent the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings.Despite extensive property damages and financial losses typical of construction fires, many Canadian fire departments have limited experience preventing and suppressing fires at large construction sites. And construction-company managers may not fully understand the risks of inadequate on-site fire-prevention procedures and equipment, or know how to implement the appropriate measures.   These factors are a recipe for catastrophic losses, and is the focus of the new Canadian Wood Council publications that specifically tailor information to people who play roles in preventing and responding to construction-site fires.The 52-page Construction Site Fire Safety: A Guide for Construction of Large Buildings targets construction professionals and assumes readers have varying levels of awareness of either the regulatory requirements or best practices regarding fire prevention. Topics covered include: An introduction to construction fire safety Legislation, regulation and other guidelines Fire basics, including theory and extinguisher types and use Construction site dangers and risk management Development of fire-safety plans Site security Fire prevention and protection best practices on more than 20 topics Advice for working with the fire department Working close to occupied buildings Knowledge, skills and abilities checklists for construction fires and hot work The 24-page Construction Site Fire Response: Preventing and Suppressing Fires During Construction of Large Buildings is aimed at fire-service professionals and provides analysis and practical information on fire response for construction sites involving wood. Topics covered include: Construction site hazards and trends Fire department role Risk management Standards, codes and regulation The construction process and typical milestones Fire-prevention planning Pre-incident planning Suppression approaches and tactics The 34-page Firefighter Wood Project and Systems Awareness: A Resource Guide provides links and information about a wide variety of sources of fire-safety information related to wood-based construction. The contents may interest both the construction industry and fire service. Topics covered include: Building construction and construction sites Fire protection and statistics Building and fire codes Structural design Fire safety elements in wood construction Fire protection products and systems Developments and studies in wood construction Additional resources such as videos, media releases, news articles and presentations Training resources and programs Websites for wood industry, building and fire codes, and fire organizations Download the Canadian Wood Council publications for free at cjr.ufv.ca or www.cwc.caLen Garis is the fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C., and an adjunct professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Paul Maxim is a professor in the Department of Economics and the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. Karin Mark, based in Metro Vancouver, is a former award-winning newspaper reporter who writes for publications and corporate clients.
June 1, 2015 - We all value our time and get frustrated when it is wasted. How often have you left a class or conference room and thought, “That is three hours of my life that I will never get back”?
You love amplifiers. Even if you don’t rock out, you love amplifiers. Now before the jazz, classical music and easy-listening aficionados move on to the next article, allow me a moment to explain. As you know, a sound amplifier essentially takes noise and increases its strength to make it louder. As a firefighter, you love amplification because increasing strength with equipment is something that we do daily: fire pumps increase the discharge pressure of our water, hydraulics move extrication tools or monstrous ladders, and compressors jam a bunch of breathable air into a tiny cylinder. See . . . you love amplifiers!
As a professional in the fire service, you make crucial decisions every day that balance need with available resources. How should you approach these decisions, and how can you justify the decisions you make?
As budgets grow leaner and public expectations continue to rise, decision makers in the public service are increasingly seeking hard data to make sound and justifiable decisions. This trend toward evidence-based decision making is turning administrators into researchers. Those delving into public-safety topics can now access an extensive database of information about fire, police, drugs, and public safety through a new search portal created by the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in British Columbia.Available on the UFV’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research new website, http://cjr.ufv.ca, the portal provides access to thousands of reports, articles, books, legislation, and other data from Canada and around the world collected by the centre’s public-safety search database. The concept for the project was born at a meeting of Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (CSS) about two years ago. At that time, the Canadian public-safety experts and administrators involved in the CSS identified a lack of public access to the public-safety data needed to support evidence-based decision making. This gap had also been noted by British Columbia’s Fire Services Liaison Group, which represents all British Columbia fire-service agencies, in its 2009 report to the provincial government entitled Public Safety in British Columbia: Transforming the Fire/Rescue Service. The report had called on the provincial government to establish a mechanism for the collection of data, trends and best practices in order to support effective decision making and improved service delivery by fire departments.  The UFV’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research took on the challenge of developing the database and portal, which went live Aug. 1. The project dovetails with the centre’s commitment to increase the knowledge of those working in public safety and to sharing best practices and research. The centre regularly provides its research and consulting expertise to criminal-justice agencies, governments, public-safety agencies, and community organizations on issues related to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public-safety operations and proposed initiatives.According to the authors of a recent manual on the subject, it is worth expending the effort to collect the evidence needed for sound decisions – particularly difficult ones that may need to be justified with taxpayers or superiors. “Evidence-based decision making is one of the more effective tools you can use to rationalize why a particular approach or program option was chosen,” says The Right Decision: Evidence-based Decision Making for Fire Service Professionals, published in 2013 by Paul Maxim, Len Garis and Darryl Plecas and available on the centre website.The authors say that policies and strategies based on evidence often produce better results, which can increase decision makers’ creditability and support for their departments. On the other hand, policies and programs not guided by sound evidence frequently cost too much, waste resources or simply yield poor or unknown results. Additionally, a lack of compelling evidence may result in a funding request being turned down. Good decision making, the authors say, needs to be informed as much as possible by evidence, research, and sound information.“We make and justify evidence-based decisions by referencing independently supported and verifiable facts,” the authors say. “This approach helps ensure the decisions we make are sound and defensible. Used effectively, evidence-based approaches can help you produce the results for which you are searching.”With this in mind, the new search portal is an essential tool for decision makers seeking independent, verifiable evidence on which to base decisions related to public safety.Searches of the Public Safety Search Database can be initiated through the link in the top navigation bar on the website.The portal’s user-friendly search functions offer a variety of filters to allow users to quickly hone in on the information they require.Basic searches can be conducted by keyword, title, or author, or by using advanced options, such as Boolean searches – e.g. using “and” between words to combine all terms (house and fire), using “or” between words to view results with at least one of the terms (college or university), and using “not” in front of a word you wish to exclude from the search (fires not house). All entries include author and publisher details, and some can be read online for free. Users of the portal can filter their search results by publication date, source type (electronic resources, academic journals, books, reports and ebooks), subject, publisher, publication, language, location, and content provider.As an example, a basic keyword search for “house fire” on the portal brings up 271 entries, including 210 electronic resources, four academic journals, two books, two reports and one ebook. Digging deeper into one of the entries – Experimental Results of a Residential House Tire Test on Tenability: Temperature, Smoke and Gas Analyses – leads to a summary page including publisher and author information, the document type, index terms, a link to the web address to obtain the study, and other details.In another example, a basic keyword search for “marijuana” finds 932 entries. From there, an advanced search can be conducted using various search terms or phrases, or by limiting the results by publication date, author, language, availability and peer review.  Clicking the peer-reviewed option reduces the results to 208, for example, while adding the search term “Alberta” narrows the results to three entries. Alternatively, limiting the source types to academic journals brings up 236 results.The database will continue to grow over time as new research becomes available. In addition to using the portal, visitors to http://cjr.ufv.ca can peruse dozens of research reports that have been produced by the centre on a wide range of fire, police, drugs, and public safety topics. Recent reports address topics as varied as the safety of smart-meter installations, a risk-based framework for scheduling fire-safety inspections, intermodal shipping-container safety, police-based crime reduction, and the nature and extent of marijuana possession in British Columbia.Plans are in the works to add reports from other agencies, institutions, and organizations to the website, and to allow other researchers to submit their reports to be published by the centre and available to the public on the website.Len Garis is the Fire Chief for the City of Surrey, B.C., past president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC, an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, research professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice / The Regenhard Centre for Emergency Response Studies New York and a member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies, Simon Fraser University. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Dr. Irwin M. Cohen is an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, the holder of the University Senior Research Chair, RCMP for Crime Reduction, and the director of the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or follow him on Twitter @irwinMcohen.
Not all fire departments have communications divisions but every fire department relies on communicators. With 34 years of fire communications experience, there are numerous lessons I have learned, some of them the hard way. I will share some of these through a series of columns.
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.
May 2016 - In the 1990s, rural farm-oriented communities began to see construction of large-scale pig barns. Today, these barns often house thousands of animals, and, when full, are all worth millions of dollars.
A review of response-time data in Brampton, Ont., shows that little things – the location of the printer and maps, the distance to the truck bay from firefighters’ living quarters, and whether crews start moving before hearing the entire page – can save valuable time and push departments closer to the NFPA response-time standard.
You and your crew are dispatched to a motor vehicle incident (MVI). The first order of business is, of course, to secure scene safety
The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) is closely advising Ottawa in its efforts to better protect first responders from the risks of moving dangerous goods by rail.

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