Training

All training officers face the same basic challenge: they have to find a way to actively engage students in the learning process. And since firefighter training is ongoing, training officers constantly have to deal with this particular issue.Take a hard, brutally honest look back at your last year’s training program. Did it go as you expected? Was it successful? Did you get any feedback (good or bad)? Don’t ask yourself if you could you have done better, because we can always do better. But was there something you tried that worked particularly well, or something that you should never do again? The main question is: were your instructing methods and topics effective?Training officers have a great influence (good or bad) on their departments. Being an effective trainer takes real dedication. Even after 20-plus years of instructing, I still average two to three hours of prep time for each training hour I put in on any given practice night.Along with providing a safe and positive training environment, training officers have many training objectives to cover. It is easy to get burned out – even for superhero trainers. My advice is to get some help; find your Robin or Tonto.Get students involvedOver the years I have noticed that people learn more and retain more if they are more actively involved in the learning process. However, getting firefighters – especially veterans – to engage in the training process can be difficult to say the least. We all know of veteran firefighters who step to the back of the classroom (especially during demos) and disengage from the lesson. Worse yet is when two or three firefighters group together to chat it up or critique you as you train.The following are proven engagement techniques. Ask a veteran firefighter to help you prepare and present a training lesson. Be sure to give the veteran a copy of the training objectives or any other relevant material several weeks in advance. (Not everyone is comfortable flying by the seat of his or her pants.) Institute a big-brother system by pairing up a veteran with a younger firefighter, and then divide them into teams to deal with training scenarios. Learning is optimized when students are actively engaged in learning. There is an oft-quoted chart (found through web searches for learning styles) that is cited by learning experts as a solid guide for those who teach. The chart states that we remember: 10 per cent of what we read (taking turns reading training material) 20 per cent of what we hear (lecture) 30 per cent of what we see (video) 50 per cent of what we both see and hear (PowerPoint with a lecture) 70 per cent of what we have discussed with others (brainstorming) 80 per cent of what we have experienced personally (hands on) 95 per cent of what we teach someone else (helping instruct) Keep this in mind as your prepare for training night.Gender can play a part in the learning style. If you listen to parents interact with their children, you are more likely to hear a mom say, “Listen to me, and I will tell you how to do this.” Whereas a dad is more likely to say, “Watch me, and I will show you how to do this.” Find a balance between spoken instructions and demonstration. The three-Ds system (describe, demonstrate, do) seems to work well.PowerPoint can be an effective teaching tool to engage students in learning, if it is used properly. PowerPoint appeals to visual learners and can be a good way to organize a presentation. However, it is easy to misuse PowerPoint. Reading from the slides (especially if you turn your back to the students) is the easiest way to kill students’ attention. With PowerPoint, less is more. Resist the temptation to cram as much information as you can onto one slide. Instead, the words on a slide should be visible from the most distant point in the classroom. Most learning happens during a discussion of the topic, not from reading the words on a slide. Rely on the discussion to flesh out key points. (You can read more tips for classroom instructors in Chris Davison-Vanderburg’s article “Instructions for instructors” in Fire Fighting in Canada’s February issue.)   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&Itemid=64&lang=en&layout=latest&view=latest#sigProGalleriac49ae9d3b3 Attitude adjustmentOne area of instructing that is far too often over looked is the teacher’s attitude. As the training officer, you have a great influence over your trainees. They will, in a very short time, reflect your attitude regarding safety, respect, zeal for knowledge and professionalism in the fire service. When you meet the training officer, you meet the department; simple as that.Encourage discussion during training sessions by providing a positive environment for all students who participate. This can be difficult, but remember, nothing shuts down a group discussion like the words, “No that is wrong.” Give firefighters opportunities to correct or add to the information presented. Above all, do not make them look bad in front of their peers. Here are some positive examples: Thanks . . . does anyone want to add to that? Interesting point . . . what do the rest of you think? Good start. Let’s hear some more ideas. Consider using the rule of 10 and two: for every 10 minutes of lecture, students should have at least two minutes to talk to each other about what is being presented. It is important for students to interact with the material in order to retain the information and become engaged in learning.Use incentivesIt is paramount that training officers continually strive for excellence. Set the bar high and your students will reach for it and respect you for thinking highly of them.Look for ways to show you acknowledge students’ positive progress. One way we at Greenwood Fire Rescue do that is by giving in-house certifications. Each Greenwood firefighter receives a department training-program certificate. These are mounted in picture frames and hung on the training-room wall. As candidates successfully complete our training sessions they are awarded a coloured seal, which is affixed over that particular topic.Because this is an ongoing program, each firefighter sees his or her progress within a short time. For example, our first-quarter training session (January to March) covers safety and communications, PPE, SCBA and fire behaviour. Each topic has an exam and evaluation component. In this quarter, there are five basic topics, so in three months firefighters could earn five seals.The potential for a seal every three weeks is a great learning motivator; this simple acknowledgement has a very positive influence. The certification program is also a great asset for when you are making up future training schedules, and aids in your required record keeping.Encouragement goes a long wayEvery once in a while you will meet firefighters who are hungry for knowledge. They are unusually keen about one area of the fire service (fire behaviour, arson investigation, or suppression, for example). What a privilege to be able to nurture interests and mentor those firefighters to reach their full potential. I encourage you to help firefighters discover insight into their key topics. Give your students access to your books, videos and internet resources; sign them up for extra training sessions. Do whatever you can with your budget and resources to satisfy their hunger.Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote, “Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory.” Who knows, you may be training future leaders in the Canadian fire service; or at least your department’s future training officer. Every firefighter has the potential to become an instructor, and the best thing an old firefighter can teach a young firefighter is to become an old firefighter.As always, stay safe and keep training as if lives depend on it, because they do.Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue. He is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor/evaluator and an ordained disaster-response chaplain. Ed has written the Trainers Corner for 13 of his 26 years in the fire service. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Effective radio communication is the most important safety factor on the fire ground.
While developing our department’s standard operational guidelines (SOGs), I was shocked to see the scope of duties performed by the training officer.
Communication plays a vital role in how well a fire department responds, reacts and conducts itself in its daily operation.
Radio communications need practice
Lately I’ve been hearing the term “old school” said in a manner depicting out-dated ideas or relating to ideas of little value. I know some of us in the fire service resist change, having become accustomed to a certain way of doing things. And as much as we need to realize that a new way of doing things is not necessarily wrong, the young guns coming up the trail behind us need to see that just because a method of doing something is old, it may not need fixing.
It has been two years since I created the firefighter survival maze, called Firefighter’s Ghost. The maze was first introduced at the 2014 annual volunteer firefighter training seminar hosted by Oliver Fire & Rescue in British Columbia.
Needless to say, I love training and am always looking for ways to improve our training programs. For several years however, I have been concerned about the amount of drinking water my department uses during our many training sessions. You may be thinking; drinking water? I am not talking about bottled water. I am talking about water coming out of our hydrants. In my community, as in most urban communities, the water we get from our municipal hydrant system is our treated domestic drinking water supply. I will be watching a master stream operate and think to myself, “Wow, that is a lot of drinking water going down the drain.” It costs a lot of money to treat and deliver this water to our homes and businesses, and it seems wrong to let it go to waste.Not only does my department train aggressively by using a lot of water, but we also operate a fire training centre that uses a significant amount of water. I figured we should do our part to conserve our water; doing so would also save money. My team and I put our heads together to come up with a practical solution; recycle the domestic water we use for training. In addition, we decided to capture rain water for use in our training centre. It is expected that we will save more than one million litres of drinking water per year with these methods in place. The modest project was funded by the Town of Comox and the Comox Firefighters Association, and we also received some material donations. The system itself is very simple. We capture the run-off in our training centre and store the water in an underground 20,000 storage tank  (approximately 30-feet by 10-feet by 10-feet). When needed, we pump (using a small gas-powered pump) the screened water at up to 130 pounds per square inch, directly back into fire hoses used for firefighter training or directly into a fire engine (at lower pressure). The water is constantly reused, though we lose some to evaporation, and some gets sprayed outside the training area. However by capturing rainwater from the hard surfaces in our training centre, and from a couple of the roofs of training buildings, we have more than enough to keep our tank full. Any surplus water goes back into the traditional storm drain system. We also use this system to re-fill our fire engines when they return empty from incidents, again reducing our use of drinking water. We have not elimated the use of hydrants altogether in our training centre, as of course, using hydrants is a vital training component, but we have significantly minimized the water we use from them. Many times we will hit the hydrant and then convert to our recycled water system. One of many benefits to this system is that during water restriction periods (typically summer months) we do not have to dial down our training as we are simply reusing the water. We also use the stored water for washing down the training area after its use. Another benefit is that we no longer use a full-size engine to supply our fire hose during day-long live fire programs, reducing wear and tear on the engines and not tying up an engine for a full day. Furthermore, if for some reason our municipal water system is not working, we know we have a large water supply to re-fill our trucks. Today’s successful fire departments need to constantly think outside the box and look for ways to improve their services without increasing operating costs. Fire departments, like everyone else must do their parts to reduce, reuse and recycle. You can see more about our recycling efforts on our department website, http://www.comoxfirerescue.org/news/2016/9/15/new-water-recovery-system I truly believe that we, the fire service, have an obligation to do our part in reducing our environmental impact. In fact, I believe we should play a leadership role in our communities in this area by following good recycling practices in our stations when using water and other products. Today’s successful fire departments need to constantly think outside the box and look for ways to improve their services without increasing operating costs.Fire departments train to save lives, let’s also train firefighters to help save our environment.Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. 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
Look back on 2016 and ask yourself if your training program engaged your members.  One of your priorities is to get your department members to actively engage which is easy to say, and much harder to put into play, especially week after week. Let’s also be honest: some of the topics we address annually are as boring as dry toast.
I heard one of my neighbours, an old cowboy, say that experience is the best teacher, and I am inclined to believe him. Perhaps that is why I gravitate toward hands-on training rather than just lecturing.
Most mid-rise or high-rise buildings are equipped with standpipe systems that allow firefighters to access water. Fire crews need to consider many elements with respect to securing a standpipe system, such as the size of hoselines, types of nozzles, tools or equipment to bring, the number of firefighters needed, where to stage all of the equipment, and whether or not to use the elevator.
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.
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.
As I was doing the final preparations for my course at FDIC Atlantic in June, I realized there was some important information that I had not addressed in my column on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in February, in particular, the incident that occurred on Oct. 2, 1997
For almost two decades, the tragic story of four volunteer firefighters has haunted me. This column is in memory of René Desharnais, Martin Desrochers, Raynald Dion and Raymond Michaud.
If your department deals with hazardous material, a copy of the Emergency Response Guidebook, or ERG, is an invaluable resource.
The growing meth epidemic in Canada’s cities is usually the territory of police, health and social service agencies. In Surrey, B.C., however, members of the fire service have thrown their support – and dollars – into the fight against this scourge in their community.
If a large incident happened in your response area, would you and your officers know what to do? Train on incident management systems and discuss the recommendations from the Elliot Lake mall collapse with Brad Bigrigg, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs program manager – absolutely free! Obtain your IMS-100 certification through this four-hour program with a qualified instructor, plus spend an extra two hours on lessons learned from Elliot Lake. IMS 100 – Introduction to Incident Management Systems, is one of two courses still open for registration at our annual Firefighter Training Day at Toronto’s Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute – FESTI – on Sept. 26. Spots are also running out for our second open course – patient packaging and triage – so don’t wait to register! It’s free training, no strings attached!REGISTER NOW
When tens of thousands of country-music fans descend on Cavendish, P.E.I., every summer, the risk of potential disaster increases – crowds, weather, traffic and over-indulgence can all turn bad quickly.
Firefighters will often part company at the end of a shift by saying, “See you at the big one.” One of the oddities of our subculture is that such a phrase usually is received with a smile. Even as 9-11 begins to fade from our immediate consciousnesses we are willing, and even eager, to face that one career-defining incident that would bring out all hands.
The adage that two heads are better than one has been expanded on at Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear generating station.
The evolution of effective communication puts all responding agencies on same page at major incidents in Canada and U.S.
In Western Canada, the collaboration among industry stakeholders, first responders and government agencies during last summer’s wildfire season was remarkable. Information and resource sharing, situation updates, timely and effective communication, and a lot of plain old hard work provided the necessary tools to get us through a crazy summer. During that time, there were record-sized fires in British Columbia’s Tumbler Ridge and Moberly Lake to Mt. McAllister, and the entire community of Hudson’s Hope, B.C., was evacuated. However, there were also some valuable lessons learned about the hazards first responders typically encounter when responding to emergencies near industrial activities.Pipeline crossings, specifically in rural areas, are one of the most important topics to address for emergency response personnel. Under federal and/or provincial regulations, oil and gas companies that own and operate pipelines are required to monitor, and in many cases prevent, heavy equipment from crossing pipeline right of ways. There are many reasons for this. First, the depth of pipelines varies due to factors including farm activities stripping away layers of soil, hot ground/surface fires, flooding and erosion. And secondly, companies spend a lot of time and resources identifying and mapping pipeline crossings. Nothing is more frustrating to the owner/operator of a high-volume pipeline than seeing that heavy equipment impacted a section of pipe – especially when a designated crossing was close by. Always check with the pipeline company prior to mobilizing heavy equipment.Knowing what the pipelines contain is also critical. Information about the specific products will help determine safe distances for setting up temporary camps, staging areas and incident-command posts. Always verify with the pipeline company what distance should be maintained from the hazard area, which is generally referred to as the emergency planning zone (EPZ). The radius of an EPZ depends on the product being transported, the operating pressure and the liquid/gas volume. Pipeline companies will gladly share product information and emergency protocols with emergency-response personnel. Understanding this information ensures everyone is aware of the potential hazards as well as the do’s and don’ts.The oil and gas industry has numerous sites at which large volumes of hydrocarbons are stored in tank farms. And even though industry works hard to reduce the storage of flammable materials during the fire season, the potential fire/explosive hazard is always present. Tank sizes vary, but it is important that fire departments confirm with the local company the contents of the tanks and the volumes. This information is usually found in the wildfire-mitigation plan for the area.Having up-to-date emergency contact information for industry stakeholders in a given operating area is vital. Company personnel change frequently, which presents communication challenges for everyone. Creating a real-time and accurate list for single points of contact within organizations avoids unnecessary time delays in pushing the critical information to those who need it most. Industry stakeholders also need updated contact information for local emergency services, response agencies and government authorities. A great information-sharing mechanism was created and co-ordinated by Emergency Management BC in Prince George last summer. Interagency and industry conference calls were set up to provide wildfire-situation updates, weather forecasts, fire impacts and much more. Participants were able to get fast, accurate information. By opening up the phone lines, industry stakeholders could then use the most current information to prepare for wildfire threats.Mapping proved to be another challenge with respect to the wildfires. However, industry has many geographic-information-system (GIS) resources available to ensure pipelines, roads, bridges, water sources, work camp locations and other important landmarks are clearly identified on the maps used by response personnel. In fact, most emergency-response plans have updated maps. The maps help responders quickly prioritize their actions and tasks; for example, the structural protection of a large work camp would likely take priority over a pipeline. On the other hand, protecting a bridge may take precedent, depending on the access and egress.Any time we can learn lessons from our past experiences demonstrates a willingness to continually improve response systems, processes, methods and tools.Mike Burzek is the senior HSE co-ordinator for Progress Energy Canada Ltd. He has 26 years of experience in emergency response and public safety. He lives in Fort St. John, B.C., and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
In general terms, pipelines are (mostly) underground conduits used for transporting materials including water, waste products, oil and gas.
In the wake of some very serious industrial accidents around the world, many countries recognized the need for hazard-specific emergency preparedness and response.
Although tactical operations get most of the attention during emergencies, anyone who has been on the front line of emergency response appreciates the ones responsible for the less glamorous task of planning.
The concept of unified command within an incident-management system is often misunderstood during major emergencies or disasters
It is not often that emergency personnel are called to rural farm settings, nor do first responders have the necessary knowledge of agricultural operations
We have come to the fifth part of our series on standpipes. So far, we have looked at using standpipes within buildings, either wet or dry standpipes. But what happens when the provided standpipe will not or does not work when we need it?
My November column outlined the key decisions and components in the development of the BC Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook, particularly the decision to focus on competencies rather than certification. Now let’s focus on the standard itself and what makes it work.
August 2016 - On Jan. 4, at approximately 11 p.m., Puslinch Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to a barn fire at Classy Lane Stables boarding and training centre located on Concession 1 in Puslinch, Ont.
We have been exploring the topic of standpipe-equipped buildings and highrise operations. In November, we looked at the equipment needed to conduct standpipe operations, and I mentioned that firefighters can carry only so much, which leads to the next topic: how many firefighters are needed for this type of operation?
In my August and September columns we looked at options for securing the standpipe – on the fire floor or the floor below the fire.
At the 2016 British Columbia annual volunteer firefighter training seminar, hosted this year by Osoyoos Fire Department, I witnessed far too many firefighters struggle with their SCBA packs while trying to manoeuvre through tight and narrow openings. Some firefighters spent valuable airtime going low profile, while others took their BA packs right off. Both these methods of manoeuvring through wall breaches or narrow openings have been taught to firefighters for decades and for the most part they are safe and will work. However, there is a third method that our SOO HOT (Saving Our Own Hands-On Training) crew uses that is just too good to not share – we call it the cross-under technique.
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.
The summer’s wildfire season in British Columbia’s Southern Interior was unprecedented: multiple fires started in our drought-ravaged area and kept us busy well into September.
September 2015 - The wildland/urban interface is a tricky area as it encompasses forested areas and the urban sprawl.In Alberta, we are lucky to have a state-of-the-art wildland training centre in Hinton. We are also lucky to have many qualified schools, and fire departments that provide instruction to become NFPA 1001 structural firefighters.All agencies try to tackle the wildland/urban interface problem with some type of training – NFPA 1051 (wildland) or Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) S-215 sprinkler training – which is tough, because no agency focuses solely on structural protection during wildfires.I can say from the experience that we had in May 2011 when 40 per cent of our town was burned by wildfires and another 45 homes lost in the surrounding area, that we were unprepared.I have spoken across Canada about what happened that day, and in the years since. I like to think that our regional fire department has done phenomenal work to try to get ourselves to a new standard. I am not saying we are the best, or that we are the only ones who can do it. What I’m trying to say is that there is a need, and firefighters from both wildland and structural departments are trying hard to fill that need.The solution, as I see it, is simple: get firefighters from both sides, who are already the best at what they do, and bridge the training between wildland fire fighting and structural fire fighting. (Let’s call it cross training.)As I stared at 12 Avenue SE in Slave Lake while 35 houses, dozens of campers, and even more vehicles burned around me, I remember two distinct thoughts: 1. We were never taught to expect anything like this. 2. I will do my best to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. These thoughts were later joined by another: this happened in Kelowna in 2003, why didn’t we all learn from that?Since 2011 the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service has been involved in several projects to better train our firefighters and make our community safer.The government of Alberta spent $20 million in and around our community to FireSmart the area and make it safer for the future. I can tell you from the grey hair and stress that this has been no easy feat, but I will also say it had to be done, and the pressure to provide accountability was immense.The project hinged on the seven disciplines within the FireSmart Canada program: fuel management, education, legislation, development, planning, training and inter-agency co-operation. Within each discipline there were dozens of projects, committees, meetings and discussions. After four years I can also tell you that I could not be more proud of our government here in Alberta, our municipalities, and all of the people and agencies that came together. Is the FireSmart project done? No. But I will say that we are headed in the right direction, with the right people, equipment and knowledge. We have tried very hard to share what we have learned and to engage new agencies along the way.Which brings me to this 2015 wildland fire season. It doesn’t take long looking at news articles to recognize that this wildland season has been a bad one, and, as I write this on July 27, I understand that it is a long way from over. We have a young team of fire-service professionals here that was custom built after the 2011 fires, as part of the FireSmart program. This FireSmart crew is trained in all aspects of the fire world including wildland fire fighting, NFPA 1001 structural fire fighting, 1002 aerial ops, 472 dangerous goods, Emergency medical responder, S-215 structural protection, search and rescue, basic fire safety codes officer, technical rescue, ICS 200, emergency preparedness and chainsaw faller certification.At first glance I always get the comment, “These guys are over trained!” That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It has taken all these courses and more, combined with practical, hands-on experience to get our firefighters to a level that allows them complete access to all fires and emergency incidents. We use this crew to train our other full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters. We use this crew as a first-up team to deploy to all types of incidents in our area and throughout Alberta. This team is our connection to dozens of agencies that make up our regional protective-services team.Since 2011, this team has deployed to 11 separate large-scale incidents in Alberta. We have worked from High River in the south to High Level in the north, trying to pay forward all the help that people sent us in our time of need. We work very closely with Alberta Environment Sustainable Resources Development to supply this crew as a helicopter attack crew, and to do structure-protection deployments for ESRD.Working closely with ESRD has given us training, experience and insight that we could not have amassed on our own. This FireSmart crew has led all of our firefighters to new levels of success; this year we have done five deployments, with 40 different firefighters from our region, helping other communities protect their citizens. We have learned a ton at each deployment, and I hope that we have spread some of our knowledge.Everywhere we go our firefighters know that the message is simple: work together, help the people, put your ego in your pocket. This might sound simple but egos and personalities can jeopardize any well-meaning operation. We were very lucky to be called on to assist the Wabasca Fire Department and the Bigstone Fire Department in the Wabasca area north of Slave Lake to protect both of these areas from a wildfire that was just a few kilometres from homes. Thousands of people were evacuated and we were part of a privileged team of structure firefighters, wildland firefighters, RCMP, EMS, and emergency management/municipal/First Nations people who stayed behind to protect the homes. We worked hand in hand, all firefighters, forestry personnel, and emergency agencies. While all of this was going on we had a fire two kilometres from residences just outside of Slave Lake in Municipal District 124. This fire caused the evacuation of dozens of people and crews had to get in there and provide structure protection to nine homes. After just a few days off, ESRD asked us to head to the High Level district to assist with structure-protection duties. After a six-hour drive it was straight to a 50-home structure-protection job with the High Level firefighters.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&Itemid=64&lang=en&layout=latest&view=latest#sigProGalleriad8248fd809 Our FireSmart crew was excited to be able to help such hardworking, dedicated firefighters. The crews worked together and accomplished the job while bombers flew over, and helicopters bucketed, and wildland firefighters fought fire just 500 metres from their location. Fire Chief Rodney Schmidt asked us to send a few more firefighters and some trucks to help with the fight. Three days in, we sent more people and more equipment to join High Level, Peace River, Grande Prairie County, Greenview County and Fort Vermillion firefighters. We all trained together, we all learned from each other, and we all were given the opportunity to help protect the citizens in the area.This firefighting operation was headed by the dedicated professionals with ESRD, in this vast area – three complexes under the management of an area team (a first for me for sure). The daily work keeping hundreds of people, dozens of aircraft and dozens of pieces of heavy equipment all under control within the ICS model was amazing. ESRD’s team pushed through the chaotic days and nights in some of the worst forest-fire conditions on record.During this High Level deployment, a group of firefighters from many towns and First Nations was sent to the Tall Cree Reserve about 120 kilometres from High Level to do structure protection of 39 homes on the north reserve, while 144 people were evacuated. The First Nation firefighters were very gracious and allowed us the use of their fire hall and then their main office as a bunkhouse. There were scary times as the fire sped toward the mixed team of firefighters. Bombers, helicopters and wildland firefighters did the daily battle with the fire to keep it away from all the structures. No homes were lost and no one was injured. Another reserve, at Meandering River, was on standby; this community started its preparation and crews attended the reserve to make an attack plan and do a structure-protection plan. Luckily the wildland firefighters were able to keep this fire away from the community.On the long drive home we watched as fire columns spotted the skies around our area and wondered when the next fire would need us. It came as little surprise when a fire 30 kilometres north of Slave Lake threatened a wildland campus owned by our local college. Wildland firefighters were waging war against this fire that was burning in conditions and had fire behaviour unlike any other season.On the way to this fire we drove through the wildland fire to get to cabins while the ESRD wildland firefighters were doing structure protection on remote sites to the north. Eventually we also worked together to sprinkler a camp, and as per our unusual bad luck, a helicopter crashed close by while we were on site. (The pilot was saved by another pilot and engineer; he had a concussion and broken jaw but, fortunately, survived the experience.)This was the end of a very, very long spring and early summer: our first prescribed burn was March 29 and this fire finished up for us on July 21.I have seen firsthand how well all emergency service groups, governments and citizens can work together. I am proud to have been a part of this unforgettable year. I have also watched in horror as thousands of people were evacuated while emergency workers from all types of groups fought to save their homes in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and other areas of Alberta. We have been able to work with firefighters from Alberta, Ontario, Idaho, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa this fire season. We have the privilege of working in many areas with many groups, all of whom did an unbelievable job of protecting communities and extinguishing wildland fires.In our area, we are trying to do a better job moving forward. We have plans to train more people, expand our training centre and share our knowledge with all who will take it.  We strive to improve ourselves, and to absorb as much as we can while we continue the war on fires. Continued work with all emergency and government groups, and First Nations, will only add to our region’s abilities. As always, I hope people will read this, share their stories and get out of their comfort zones to become bigger participants in the emergency world. Don’t wait for them to come to you – go to them first.Jamie Coutts is the fire chief of Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Wildfires can, and have, happened at any time of the year, but there is something special about the middle of May in northern Alberta. For those involved, the Redwater, Newbrook, Opal or Grassland fires were big deals, but the Slave Lake fire in 2011 made everyone sit up and take notice. While we hope we never have to face a fire that destructive, those other fires tell us that while the impact to Slave Lake was unique, in Alberta we had better be prepared for May wildfires.
During our fight with the fire dragon this past summer, our Hot Shot crew frequently took a few moments to reflect on the 19 LODDs in Prescott, Ariz.
On April 15th, B.C.’s minister of forests issued a press release predicting that the province might be in for another scorching summer on the heels of 2009, the worst fire season on record.
Maybe having more than 800 kilometres of shoreline had something to do with Prince Edward County council’s decision to expand its fire department into ice-water rescue. Until February, the Prince Edward County Fire Department was limited to shore-based rescue, which is not uncommon in rural Ontario today.
Water/ice rescue tips for starting up a program for your coverage area

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