Volunteer Vision: May 2018

Volunteer Vision: May 2018

You may be familiar with the phrase “sharing is caring”.

Uniforms and Uniformity

Uniforms and Uniformity

As a fire department develops, the natural evolution is to include a uniform component of dress regulations

Trainer's Corner: May 2018

Trainer's Corner: May 2018

Wildland urban interface fires can be one of the most dangerous calls we go on

Stop Bad: Call Signs for Life!

Stop Bad: Call Signs for Life!

As dozens of departments are switching to the Call Signs for Life program Fire Chief Gord Schreiner revisits one of his most popular columns about how the system works.

Dozer Boss: How firefighters are using bulldozers to combat wildfires

Dozer Boss: How firefighters are using bulldozers to combat wildfires

Bulldozers may not fit on the truck as part of a firefighter’s regular toolkit, but David Moseley explains how firefighters are using bulldozers to combat wildfires.

Videos
As first responders, the fire service has its lion’s share of stories. Emergencies are unique life events, and some of the stories I’ve heard thus far are quite humourous post-fact and in absence of significant injury — such as ones involving people found in compromising positions after a car crash.
May 23, 2017, Oakville, Ont. - My average day involves sitting in front of a computer, editing stories, and lots of coffee. What it doesn't involve is crawling through smoke, cutting up cars or running hoses. But the day I spent at the Oakville Fire Department was not an average day.Before I suited up in editor Laura King's gear, I was given a truck tour and shown around the training facility. The alarm went off and the firefighters had to race off to a nearby school. It seemed as if it took no more than 30 seconds for the guys to suit up and drive off.It probably took me 15 minutes to put on my turnout gear. Just as I was feeling comfortable in the gear, and feeling the weight of the SCBA on my back, Training Officer Darren Van Zandbergen slipped a smoke-simulation screen into my helmet and I was once again uncomfortable . . . and essentially blind.I never realized how little is visible through smoke. I assumed some light would peek through; crawling on the floor feeling my way around walls and fallen beams I realized how wrong I was. It was nerve-wracking to blindly feel my way through the training building, but ironically it was an eye-opening experience.I have edited Extrication Tips columns for Canadian Firefighter, but I finally got to experience what it's all about. The tools were much heavier than I expected, my previous extrication experience having been limited to on paper. It was tough, but I managed cut through the windshield and the sedan door.By the time I attended the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference that weekend, I felt I had a better understanding of the job. I was enrolled in the municipal officials seminar and attended a training day at the Fire & Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) in Mississauga.That day I spent in Oakville made me seem like a total pro at FESTI, so many thanks to everyone in Oakville!With "KING" on my back and looking like a pro, a few people at FESTI asked if I was from the King City Fire Department. Funnily enough, I was born, raised and still live in King City. What a way to represent my hometown!There's only so much you can learn in front of a computer. Getting out from behind my desk was one of the most valuable experiences to help me edit the work of fire chiefs and firefighters to the best of my abilities. I have so much more to learn about fire, but hopefully with your help, Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter readers, I will get there. I'll never be able to understand the ins and outs like you do, but it's worth trying.I feel really lucky to be able to report on the fire industry. Even more so, I feel lucky that I can edit knowing that I am safe because my local fire department has that under control. After each training session, I was reminded not to take emergency services for granted.So, the least I can do is bring relevant and informative stories to the fire service industry! Let me know what matters to you as a fire service professional? What do you want to read about? I am looking forward to learning more about the industry as an assistant editor, and maybe I will get to attend a few more training sessions in the process.Lauren Scott is the assistant editor of Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter magazines. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
May 18, 2017, Toronto - A firefighter with experience in water-ice rescue testified Wednesday at an inquest examining training deaths that he avoids exercises in icy, swift water because it is too dangerous.
Jan. 19, 2017, Toronto -  It’s complicated, this two-hatter issue. But the gist of it is this: an American-based trade union is denying its members the freedom that other Canadians have to work and do what they want in their spare time – build decks, plow snow, fix plumbing, be volunteer/part-time firefighters in their home communities.
Jan. 13, 2017, Redwood Meadows, Alta. -  Across this great country there have been many firefighters who have made significant contributions to their fire departments over many, many years. In recent days, I have been thinking about those who made a difference in our own department here in Redwood Meadows.
Jan. 4, 2017, Slave Lake, Alta. -  Run of the mill calls, or are they?
Nov. 24, 2016, Niagara Falls, Ont. – Sometimes, as an objective and trained observer, it’s fascinating to be the proverbial fly on the wall, to gather information, filter the rhetoric, and over time, give readers a clear and contextual picture of fire-service issues. That’s what I’m doing (or trying to do, despite some obstacles) this week, at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) mid-term conference in Niagara Falls. While the OAFC unveiled the basics of its new strategic plan Wednesday morning – enhanced communication, revenue generation, government relations, and members services are at the crux of the document – it is, of course, what’s going on in the background that has people talking. While the OAFC is getting its ducks in a row for its four-year plan– more detail was provided and approval sought from members in Thursday’s closed businesses session – the much larger, better organized Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) is ensconced in its legislative conference at Queen’s Park, and it has the ear of the governing Liberals. Although the chiefs association has made considerable strides in government relations recently, the better-financed OPFFA, with a strong presence at the legislature and 13,000 boots on the ground, is, as OAFC executive vice-president Rick Arnel noted Wednesday morning, simply, better resourced. Again this week, the union has caused a bit of a kerfuffle with its fire-medic-turned-fire-paramedic-turned-patients-first proposal, about which the government is asking municipalities for input, and about which the chiefs have not been consulted by government. The two associations met earlier this week; OPFFA president Rob Hyndman and others, with the OAFC board, to pitch the IAFF’s new fire-ground survival protocol; the two groups have also discussed other issues, including the ever-frustrating two-hatter controversy, of which Brampton and Caledon firefighters are the most recent targets. Several people have said this week that Tuesday’s chiefs-union get together was productive and that the two associations can, indeed, work well together on issues. Save, perhaps, the fire-paramedic situation. Bizarrely, the government issued a discussion paper on Monday titled Patients First: Expanding Medical Responses, which, ostensibly, addresses challenges with land-ambulance service and promotes the OPFFA’s proposal to give expanded duties to firefighters who are also employed as paramedics, in a tiered-response situation (it’s not clear how many firefighters also work as paramedics). According to the discussion paper, this approach would be voluntary for municipalities. Any changes, of course, to firefighters’ roles, require amendments to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. Essentially, the government wants input about the fire-paramedic proposal “to determine service viability and opportunities.” Ontario, of course, post-amalgamation in 1998, has three tiers of government: municipal, regional and provincial. Fire is municipally funded; EMS is regional. And according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), that complicates things. The government document includes no financials, organizational or operations details. Simply, this: “There are three levels of paramedic scope of practice in Ontario. The ministry is exploring the potential option to allow eligible municipalities to choose to allow full-time firefighter to provide care up to the first level (primary care paramedic level).” A companion document – a lengthy survey being sent to stakeholders, including municipalities – however, makes it clear that any new costs would be municipal responsibilities. “Funding responsibility of the optional service will remain at 100% municipal cost,” the survey documents says. “The proposal would be an optional approach that municipalities can choose to implement at councils’ discretion based upon local decision and needs.” AMO has consistently opposed the fire medic proposal since it was first introduced in March 2015. “Municipal governments are deeply concerned about the direct and significant impact of the proposal on municipal emergency services, both financially and operationally,” AMO says on its website. “We will read the [government] discussion paper carefully, but to date, there has been no evidence or cost-benefit analysis seen that shows such an approach would improve patient outcomes.” More bluntly, AMO says that given the lack of evidence, it’s flummoxed that the proposal is a provincial priority given that municipalities would bear all the costs., labour challenges, and risks. “Fire services are 100 [per cent] funded by municipalities and only an elected municipal council has the authority to determine the level and type of fire protection services needed by its community,” AMO says. “We are also concerned that if any municipal council agrees to this proposal it would be replicated throughout Ontario by the current interest arbitration system.” Instead, AMO says, it wants the government to redevelop land-ambulance dispatch to improve patient outcomes. To a fly on the wall and an objective and trained observer, it’s interesting to hear the chatter about issues of the day: frustration that on the one hand, some union members refuse to allow their brethren work as part-time firefighters in their home municipalities, but on the other, could be seen to be impinging on another trade union to guarantee themselves employment longevity.  
Nov. 23, 2016, Niagara Falls, Ont. - Not once, in Fire Marshal Ross Nichols’ hour-long address to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs on Wednesday, did he claim to be “working on” the myriad initiatives that fire services across the province are anxious to see come to fruition.
Oct. 26, 2016 – An email landed in my in box last week from the always affable Brent Ross, spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety; Ross was replying to my request for details about the Ontario government’s response to the recommendations from the Elliot Lake inquiry.The gist is this: an RFS – request for service – has been issued for a review of emergency management in Ontario. The successful vendor will be engaged in November (more than two years after the inquiry recommendations were released); the review will begin in December and be completed in the spring (five years after the collapse of the Algo Centre mall); the process includes consultation but it’s not clear with whom.  “As part of the emergency management review,” Ross said in the email, “the incident management system will be reviewed and a way forward developed.” Ontario’s incident management system is a weighty document developed years ago with good intentions but it fails to suit the province’s myriad fire-department configurations and staffing models – career, composite, volunteer, urban, suburban, rural – and needs an overhaul.With emergency management becoming more relevant given weather events and security issues, it will be interesting to see how the review deals with a key recommendation of Elliot Lake Commissioner Paul Belanger, specifically, to steer clear of unified command.“There should be only one person in overall charge of a response; a ‘unified command’ structure should be avoided,” Belanger wrote in his final report from the inquiry. Yet emergency services across the province are training on responses to major incidents using unified command. Last week in Mississauga, police, fire and EMS personnel used unified command in an exercise that simulated an attack on a pipeline; and a few weeks ago in East Gwillimbury, unified command was embraced in a tri-services an exercise involving a threat.Belanger’s logic is as follows: “One final decision maker is essential to avoid conflicts or impasses caused by failure to reach a consensus. The concept of a unified command structure intrinsically contradicts the unity of command doctrine because it fails to ensure that decisions are made by someone who is ultimately responsible and accountable.”Indeed, to make his point, Belanger quotes the testimony of Dan Hefkey, the former Commissioner of Community Safety, who helped to write the provincial IMS doctrine.“So, under unified command, it is operating on the assumption that . . . I don’t know everything you know and you don’t know everything I know, so we are dependent, co-dependent, as a result that’s why you have a unified command,” Hefkey said. “And it then, when you enter into that agreement . . . there is no supreme arbiter to things; you and I are committing to commanding this incident jointly so that we can come to a mutually acceptable conclusion, so that your interests and my priorities are all met . . .  But. . . it’s not clean and it’s not to say that you’re going to have harmony one hundred per cent of the time. There are times when there are disagreement but when you decide that you are entering into a unified command arrangement that’s what you are doing.” Question: “A course of action between the two leaders of a unified command, assuming it is two, to disagree is not acceptable, correct?Hefkey: “No, they can disagree.” Question: “Sorry, if the disagreement results in no decision being made?”Hefkey: “That’s unacceptable.”Question: “That’s unacceptable?”Hefkey: “Absolutely correct.” Question: “You, in that particular case you would have dysfunctional unified command?”Hefkey. “That’s correct.” “As I have indicated,” Belanger said in the report, “the unified command structure is not well understood by the men and women who have to work with it on a regular basis. This difficulty is, in my view, because they understand that a system which allows for the possibility of clashing or inconsistent decisions, is unworkable.”Essentially, the commissioner said, the province’s incident-management system should be amended to eliminate the unified command model and require one incident commander “at all times.”According to Brent Ross, once the emergency management and IMS consultation/review is completed in the spring, the ministry will develop proposals to government in response to the review findings. I expect Commissioner Belanger will be watching, with interest.
Oct. 18, 2016, Toronto – I waited and watched and, sure enough, Friday afternoon, the Ontario government posted an update about the recommendations from the inquiry into the Elliot Lake mall collapse and the emergency response to it. It’s a brief – and rather vague – document. There were, you’ll recall, 71 recommendations in the Oct. 14, 2014, inquiry report – many dealing with building inspections and inspectors (the government has, indeed, done some work in those areas), and 31 specific to emergency management. There are, in the emergency-response section of the press release, nine updates, the first, of course, being a review of emergency management and the provincial incident management system. The mall collapsed June 23, 2012; the inquiry convened in August 2013; and the recommendations were released two years ago. Lest I sound like a broken record, some context: In that time, the province of British Columbia – buoyed by a handful of dogged chief fire officers – released a comprehensive report by its fire-services liaison group, created new minimum training standards, developed the Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook, and passed the new Fire Safety Act. There are lots of action words in the Ontario government’s press release – reviewing, developing, increasing, strengthening, ensuring, exploring, engaging – all in the present tense, all ongoing, all yet to be completed. For example, “Reviewing Ontario’s emergency management and incident management systems to further enhance and improve the province’s ability to respond to emergencies.”No details are provided and, as far as I’m aware, little has changed. (I’m waiting for an email reply from the Office of the Fire Marshal, specifically about the status of the emergency-management and IMS reviews.) Certainly there had been talk about committees and sub committees and both review processes, but nothing has come to fruition.Indeed, the government web page about Ontario’s incident-management system still links to the 2008 provincial IMS doctrine, as it’s known, and which inquiry witnesses called unwieldy and impractical.Why the slower-than-the-speed-of-government response? Let’s review. In August 2013, the Office of the Fire Marshal merged with Emergency Management Ontario. The mandate of the combined agency was (note the past tense) to work with municipal partners to deliver fire-safety and emergency-management programs and services, share expert advice with local decision makers, and support municipal response efforts in emergencies.In August 2015, fire marshal Ted Wieclawek left the office. OPP inspector Ross Nichols was named interim fire marshal in October 2015; his contract has now twice been extended while the government seeks the (apparently elusive) most-qualified candidate.I have witnessed myriad presentations about the reorganization of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management; like everyone else, I waited and watched for change and progress but was told by various OFMEM officials that the reorganization was extensive and time consuming and that, in the words of the fire marshal, “we’re working on it.”In September in Thunder Bay, Al Suleman, who was director of emergency management with the OFMEM (but is now director of standards, training and public ed), explained that the agency is reorganizing the reorganization (my words, not his) and that the two entities are separating, having found the merger not to their liking – more of an annulment than a divorce given that the marriage was never consummated.   Meantime, updates on other inquiry issues noted in Friday’s press release – urban search and rescue, OPP incident-command training, and helping municipalities handle media during emergencies – are equally vague. It’s interesting, though, that there appears to be more focus on managing the message than managing the emergency.
Sweat runs down my back and my face is clammy with condensation inside my mask. My jeans stick to my legs, and I’m pretty sure the curls I had put in my hair (only an hour before) have melted into slick strands from the heat. No, I’m nowhere near a fire. Rather, I’m literally lying motionless on a floor in full PPE simulating a dummy while the real pros run through extrication techniques. As I watch them, I also fixate on something making a short-winded Darth Vader sound – and I soon realize that the familiar villain’s trademark is actually coming out of my own air mask. I then become increasingly aware of just how much gear is strapped to me, restricting my movements, and I turn my attention to how I’m going to stand up. My typical Saturday morning does not usually begin this way, but this isn’t just any Saturday. It’s Training Day at FESTI, and even with rain in the forecast nearly a hundred participants have arrived before the sun is even up. I was placed in the firefighter survival course for a full day of training, and I am still blown away at the disposition of both volunteer and career firefighters. Though these training drills are likely routine, they are not easy, especially for a rookie like myself. I followed one firefighter into a two level follow-the-hose simulation. Both of us on oxygen and his face covered with a balaclava to replicate black-out conditions. I declined this added effect, but still crawled on hands and knees behind him as he swept around the low-ceilinged room, manoeuvred down a ladder (gracefully I might add) and still continued to ask me, the one who could see, if I was alright. Later, I crawled through a wooden box with hundreds of wires and cords draped through it designed to snag participants. Trying not to look in any direction but the box’s exit, I distracted myself by thinking that this box of cords might make a great game – something along the lines of an amped up Twister that you could play with friends (I host great parties…). Then I got a little tangled, and it hit me; this type of seriously sticky situation can actually happen, but with fire and smoke looming around the corner. Throw in the possibility that the firefighter may also be low on oxygen, injured or unable to get free and it’s enough to send anyone into a panic. Ditching my interactive game making goals, I pulled myself out of the box and emerged with a heightened awareness of what these people may endure on any given day. I watched as my group blindly crawled through a maze blockaded with furniture, a trap door and low hanging wires. I observed teams of two calmly working together to find their oxygen packs inside a series of metal cages. Drenched in sweat, these guys did not run to the exit to breath fresh air when the task was complete, and instead were eager to review what they could improve upon in the future. I’ve found that completing detailed work in heavy gear by coupling patience with brute force is a far from glamorous job, and not something that everyone is able to do. I quickly learned that a willing personality will only get you so far in this business, especially if you’re a lanky writer, with minor claustrophobia, who’s idea of exercise is a walk around the block. Appreciation is an understatement, but also a word I didn’t realize could mean so much. 
Sept. 13, 2016, Thunder Bay, Ont. – What always strikes me at firefighter training weekends is the desire of the participants to learn – for the most part, they are volunteers who take vacation days, cover their own registration and drive for hours, no expenses paid.But while the focus at FireCon Friday and Saturday was hands-on-training for firefighters, talk in meeting rooms and hallways was equally enlightening.Mentions of training to the "gold standard," a now ubiquitous phrase used by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association in a battle over staffing in Sault Ste. Marie; the absence of the fire marshal at the premier training event in the northwest; the lack of action by the OFM on recommendations from a fire-fatalities inquest; the OPFFA's firefighter-paramedic proposal, and an upcoming "minister's table" consultation process; adequacy standards; the separation (after only a brief union) of the offices of the fire marshal and emergency management – all fodder for discussion and debate.While Fire Marshal Ross Nichols' absence due to the Canadian Fallen Firefighter Foundation memorial in Ottawa was excused by some (the OFMEM hosted the weekend), the span between Thursday's FireCon opening and weekend events in Ottawa was noted by others.That the OFMEM sent Al Suleman, director/deputy of prevention and risk management, was nice – Suleman is personable and extremely knowledgeable – but the decision was perceived by some of the 250 FireCon participants to mean that the needs and concerns of the northwest's fire services are secondary.Suleman's presentation Friday morning to delegates in the FireCon leadership track was thorough. Among other things, Suleman outlined inquest recommendations from May that have yet to be considered (there will be more information in a month or so, he said); and he explained the rationale for the short-lived marriage of the offices of the fire marshal and emergency management that occurred with considerable bureaucratic fanfare in 2013."It ended up diluting both the fire side and the EMO side," Suleman said. "Emergency management and fire are distinct."Hence the ongoing reorganization – the reorganization of the reorganization – at the OFMEM that has seemingly been the focus of the office rather than the provision of "leadership and expertise in the reduction and elimination" of hazards to public safety, as is its mandate."We've made some adjustments to the org[anizational] chart," Suleman said, "with dedicated business lines for emergency management and for fire."Suleman noted that Fire Marshal Nichols, who has been seconded from the Ontario Provincial Police and who declared in May that he would happily continue for another year as interim fire marshal, has had his contract extended for six months while the province looks for a full-time replacement – which makes one wonder what the powers that be have been doing about that for last year.While the politics of fire-service delivery in Ontario was the topic of much after-hours discussion in Thunder Bay, there's no doubt many FireCon delegates were oblivious to the banter, focused instead on training in public ed, auto and big-rig extrication, firefighter survival, search and rescue, propane fires, training-officer development and SCBA/PPE proficiency.Their frustration is more likely to be founded in the lack of available and accessible funding, training and testing – mind you there are ongoing efforts by several agencies and others to improve all of those.Still, it's rather a bitter pill to swallow for volunteers who take vacation days, cover their own registration and drive for hours, no expenses paid.
For close to twenty years,  NFPA 1620 has been the de facto standard for pre-incident planning in North America. NFPA 1620 specifies the minimum information that needs to be part of a pre-incident fire plan, which includes a building’s occupancy and use, architecture and design, safety features and equipment, surrounding buildings, entrances and exits, and contact information of managing staff.
On July 5, 2010 a wood pellet silo in Norway exploded when firefighters released inert carbon dioxide into the headspace to lower the oxygen content and suppress a smouldering fire. The lesson from this incident is that the use of carbon dioxide to suppress silo fires is unsafe.
Most fire deaths occur in homes.
A new Canadian study is calling for the creation of a national firefighter wellness surveillance system to help address soaring cancer rates and other key firefighter health risks.
Editor’s Note: This feature is the third installment in a five-part series exploring Oak Bay Fire Department’s holistic health and wellness program.
April 2, 2018 - This short, animated graphic by Environment Canada shows the 48-hour path of smoke over Aug. 1-2, 2017. | READ MORE
From April 2-6, Fire Fighting in Canada will be hosting Wildfire Week sponsored by Waterax. During Wildfire Week, Fire Fighting in Canada will publish specialized wildfire content written by fire service professionals and wildfire experts to address innovative suppression strategies, training, and more. Fire Fighting in Canada will be sharing brand new content and bringing renewed attention to previously published wildfire articles that have stood the test of time. Stay tuned to the Wildfire Week page on our website by visiting the link under "Hot Topics" and join the discussion with colleagues across the country using the hashtag #WildfireWeek2018 on social media. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for #WildfireWeek2018 updates:Twitter: @FireinCanadaFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/firefightingincanada/
We were recently tasked within our fire department to put our health and wellness program to the test. Our department was involved in what firefighters refer to as a ‘once in a career’ traumatic event that profoundly impacted our first responders, families, and our community.
Stress. Take a minute to write down what you think it is. Words such as anxiety, pressure, tension and overwhelming may spill onto your page. You’re not wrong. Indeed, these things are the very reason stress leads folks to talking to clinicians like me. Current research indicates that vigorous exercise is a top way to mitigate the cumulative effects of stress. Let’s review the stress response, and why getting your heart pumping is fundamental to stress management.
Of all things infinite from birth to death, stress must be one of the most discussed. As you well know, it is of particular consequence to the fire service. If Statistics Canada found in 2014 that almost 40 per cent of those surveyed experience workplace stress due mainly to inflexibility of schedule, long hours, constant connectivity, tight deadlines, and lack of vacation time, then consider the magnitude leap that first responders make with bridging the gap between life and death, encountering human remains, and receiving the palpable anguish of those in the worst times of their lives.
A casual question from a colleague could eventually lead to changes to the no-stopping zones around fire hydrants in British Columbia, underscoring the importance of taking a second look at long-held practices.The no-stopping zones around hydrants are a significant issue in urban areas, where space for parking is at a premium. In most jurisdictions, it is illegal to park a vehicle within a certain distance of a hydrant, to ensure it is visible and accessible during emergencies. Across North America, this distance is typically three to five metres (or about 10 to 16 feet).British Columbia is at the top end of the range. Chapter 318, Section 189 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act (RSBC 1996) prohibits vehicles from stopping within five metres (about 16 feet) of a hydrant. Municipalities mirror this distance in their bylaws to prevent conflict with provincial regulations. The result is 10 metres – more than 32 feet – of unused road space around every hydrant.But is that much space required? This was what Fraser Smith, the City of Surrey’s general manager of engineering asked of Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis in 2016. This question resulted in a study on the issue by the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), written by Garis (an adjunct professor at UFV) along with Surrey Fire Service Deputy Fire Chief John Lehmann and strategic planning analyst Alex Tyakoff.“Providing on-street parking is critical to the success of neighbourhood densification in communities. As we accommodate residential growth through townhouse and apartment developments providing one or two additional parking spaces next to each fire hydrant will be greatly appreciated by our residents. In a growing neighbourhood the total increase in parking spaces could be very meaningful,” said Smith.To prepare for the study, titled The Reduction of Parking Restrictions around Fire Hydrants: An Examination of Parking Distances and Setback Regulations, Surrey Fire Service conducted a series of evaluations to determine the impact of reducing how far away vehicles could park from hydrants. Of specific concern was the potential to impede the flow through the four-inch supply lines running off the hydrant side ports. The study also looked at potential damage to vehicles parked next to hydrants.The testing included simulations of crews arriving on the scene in an engine, stopping at a hydrant and removing the equipment and hose before sending the truck further down the road. This simulated a “forward lay” tactic, where water uses existing head pressure to make its way to the engine at the fire scene. A baseline flow of 250 gallons per minute was used to measure any reduction of flow through kinking of hose lines at corners.In the end, the testing showed vehicles could park as close as two metres from hydrants – less than half of the current requirements – without affecting visibility and access.This conclusion is supported by the National Fire Protection Association hydrant clearance standard, which recommends 60 inches (five feet) of clearance on either side of a hydrant with a connection diameter greater than 2.5 inches. This standard was updated in 2015 and provides for three times less parking clearance than is permitted in B.C.Given the results of the testing and the widely recognized NFPA standard, the study concludes that a no-stopping zone of 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) on either side of a hydrant would not affect fire fighting operations or public safety while allowing for additional street parking.Why does the province require so much parking clearance? If the reason was to ensure emergency responders could easily spot hydrants, that is no longer valid, given today’s widespread use of GPS, CAD maps in fire trucks and other technology, not to mention the drivers’ awareness of hydrant locations.If the reason was to ensure firefighters have adequate access to hydrants, that rationale is also not sound. Fire apparatus rarely, if ever, pull up right next to the curb at fire hydrants; the practice instead is to block travelling lanes as necessary.Whatever the original justification, the matter is being brought to the attention of B.C.’s provincial government. Smith took the study to Metro Vancouver’s Regional Engineers Advisory Committee (REAC), which crafted a resolution requesting that Section 189 of B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act be amended to permit municipalities to limit the no-stopping zones near hydrants to 2.5 metres on either side, measured from the point in the curb or road edge closest to the hydrant.The resolution was supported unanimously at the 2017 annual general meeting of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia, and has been provided to city managers to strengthen the position with the provincial government.The amendment would enable B.C.’s local governments to update their bylaws and free up additional parking spaces — a boon for urban and growing communities — while having no negative impact on fire operations.Ultimately, it is important to remember that the recommended change was the result of a simple query about why we do things a certain way. These types of questions are often dismissed. However, in this case, making the effort to thoroughly explore that question could result in a significant improvement for B.C. cities while also demonstrating how the fire service continues to be responsive to the changing needs of the communities they serve.The Reduction of Parking Restrictions around Fire Hydrants: An Examination of Parking Distances and Setback Regulations can be downloaded for free by searching “hydrant” at http://cjr.ufv.ca.Len Garis is the fire chief for the City of Surrey, B,C., an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and an associate to the Centre for Social Research at the University of the Fraser Valley, a member of the Affiliated Research Faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and a faculty member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it John Lehmann is a deputy fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C. He has 25 years’ experience, is certified as a fire officer IV and is the chief training officer with the Surrey Fire Service. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Alex Tyakoff is the strategic planning analyst for the City of Surrey Fire Service, B.C., with 25 years’ of experience in public safety research. He possesses a master of science (MSc) degree in urban and regional planning from the University of British Columbia. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
The other day I was sitting with a firefighter patient who had come to see me for a number of health concerns. I was putting together the best possible vitamin regime for this patient when it occurred to me that I tell every firefighter to ensure they have a steady source of magnesium.
As a fire department develops, the natural evolution is to include a uniform component of dress regulations to further enhance firefighter professionalism, improve public perception and possibly aid in recruitment.
Perhaps the title of this column should be “A Time for Change.” I say this because after more than 10 years of writing for Fire Fighting in Canada, I feel it’s time for me to put my pen away. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I feel I don’t have more leadership lessons to share, it’s just time to focus on other challenges and more travel in the RV.
I wanted to start off by saying how honoured I am to have the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on leadership in the fire service. For my first stab at a leadership column, I thought I might jump right into the blue shirt versus white shirt for fire chiefs debate.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is when I have the chance to speak with people just starting out in a fire service career. There is an amazing and infectious energy that fills a room when new fire service professionals are present. The excitement is palpable.
If you are reading this article and are interested in fire-service leadership, regardless of your rank, age, or department’s size, you know our profession has changed significantly in a short time period. The common fire service mantra of “200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress” does not apply to fire-service leadership.I often contemplate what might have concerned my grandfather as a fire chief many decades ago. Surely there were operational and financial challenges. To say it was easier would be both ignorant and unfair, but undoubtedly today’s concerns are different and more complex. I have no doubt that every chief officer in today’s fire service would probably trade an email-free day for the pressures from yesteryear.Expectations placed on the senior leadership are continuously evolving, and chief officers are forced to adapt to rapid and unrelenting change. Expectations, job demands and time pressures come from numerous internal and external stakeholders. Meeting the needs of our stakeholders is a major and growing responsibility.Many aspiring chief officers may not consider an easily over looked responsibility that is a critical expectation that fire chiefs must meet. Can you guess what that expectation is? Hint: the name at the top of your pay stub, your employer . . . that being your municipality. Chief officers are called on to contribute to the strategic and operational success of the municipality.Incumbent fire chiefs will quickly tell you that the senior leadership of a corporation has to deliver a wide range of high quality public services within many financial constraints. This can be a significant and time-consuming part of a fire chief’s job. These responsibilities can come in the form of committee contributions, senior leadership meetings, project leadership, or any other administrative task focused on municipal service delivery. Shifting societal and employee expectations of workplace leadership, financial pressures, public-sector accountability, an expanding scope of services provided and increasing non-emergency responsibilities have contributed to the new challenges we face. From a legislative perspective, in Ontario under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, a fire chief is the person who is ultimately responsible to a municipal council that appointed him or her to deliver fire protection services. Given this ultimate responsibility, most fire chiefs will report to the chief administrative officer (CAO), deputy CAO or commissioner/ general manager. Regardless of the reporting relationship, the role of the fire chief has a significant public and corporate profile, which comes with high expectations.Many municipal managers are required to strategically lead large public-sector departments with multi-million dollar budgets, which comes with its own legal responsibilities and human-resource challenges, all conducted in politically sensitive environments. For the chief officers of a fire department, effectively contributing within the municipal management team can be an arduous task. Many of our peers at the management level of a corporation possess a solid combination of education and increasing administrative responsibilities. In addition, our corporate leadership peers typically have greater exposure to the corporate world than many of our fire service members would have. The reasons for this can range from a close geographic proximity to city hall or administrative experience, including writing reports, attending meetings, and liaising with other city departments.Typically, many of our chief officers only get the opportunity to practice these skills after a career of operating in a frontline emergency response line or staff capacity. This reinforces the need for increasing administrative exposure throughout career progression. Aspiring officers should receive a tailored formal education and have an understanding of what the role of fire chief entails.Perhaps these factors contribute to the perception of fire chief as a terminal position, limited by an invisible glass ceiling that inhibits many from assuming chief or deputy chief officer roles. Perhaps the role of CAO is not of interest to many of our fire service colleagues. Perhaps there are other contributing factors that are dependent on the individuals and municipality involved. Whatever the case may be, it is important that fire service leadership development focuses on external departmental issues, relationships and challenges. Essentially, it requires you to wear two hats: the fire helmet and corporate hat. With this increased understanding of fire service administration, we can ultimately serve the community and our department better.Bill Boyes is the fire chief for Brampton Fire & Emergency Services in Ontario. He is working on a PhD at the University of Toronto, which supplements his master’s degree in public policy and administration and bachelor’s degree in public management. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Great firefighters spend very little time lying around doing nothing. Great firefighters are constantly trying to improve themselves. They keep up with the latest trends. They are constantly maintaining and enhancing their training. The one thing good firefighters all have in common is their desire to continue to improve themselves.
Volunteer and composite fire services respond to a very high percentage of fire alarms that are unwarranted or false. Responding to these incidents can negatively impact a department by creating increased call volume, higher enforcement costs, increased cost of paid on-call wages, inconvenience to volunteer firefighters, among other issues.
I was recently asked by some of my firefighters why I chose to ride in the rear seat of our rescue truck during a motor vehicle incident (MVI) response in early September rather than taking my usual command vehicle. Sure, I could have jumped in the front seat, but I left that role open to an up-and-coming member. Once on-scene, the incident was straightforward and command clearly had the situation under control, so why wouldn’t I make myself available on the tools?
Whether we like it or not, one of the main responsibilities of every leader, especially for chief officers, is to deal with problems. In fact, I spend the majority of each day dealing with problems, issues and challenges as they arise.
Fire-service professionals must often make difficult decisions on the job. But how many of these decisions can stand up to scrutiny?
In past columns, the discussion has focused the importance of career development and the changing role of a chief officer. When considering such a broad topic, it is important to recognize the diversity of Canada’s fire services in the context of developing continuing education and leadership programs that are affordable and accessible.
Are some of us of doing a disservice to one of our greatest resources – young firefighters? I’m fortunate to connect with many leaders at conferences, while presenting or attending training. Despite the uniqueness of every department, common themes often arise.
When I was CEO of the country's two largest homebuilding industry associations — first in Toronto, then Vancouver — part of my job was to meet regularly with mayors, councillors and senior building officials. | READ MORE
Everyone in the fire service is well acquainted with the ever-present argument around response times.  The overwhelming opinion for decades has been that rapid response is best. We have ingrained it in our firefighters, demanded it of our politicians and assimilated the public to a large extent.
The ever-emerging trend for municipalities across the country is to establish or expand corporate communications, a.k.a. “Corp Com.” For larger municipalities, it may be an entire department led by a director and consisting of several communications staff. For medium and small municipalities, it’s more likely one or two people dedicated to internal and external messaging, social media and other communications tasks.
Editor’s Note: In 2014, the city of Regina encountered alarming incidences of arson involving children. The December 2017 edition of Fire Fighting in Canada explored part 1 of the story, where fire investigators working with the schools began to determine who might be responsible for the escalating fires. Part 2 examines how the various players worked together to put a stop to it, eventually laying more than 20 charges of arson.
In September 2014, children in a Regina neighbourhood started hearing stories about kids setting garbage containers and garages on fire and that some of these fires were set using gasoline. While kids setting garbage fires is common in the neighbourhood – an average of 100 garbage fires are set by kids every year – this was different. Kids using gasoline was different and indicated fire setting behaviour was at a new, dangerous level.
Previous columns have discussed why all firefighters are responsible for public education, and the use of storytelling as a tool to get our messages across. It is time to add another layer: how to best teach and reach adults.
Unless your fire department still houses teams of horses, chances are, your suppression equipment and training have advanced over the years. Can you say the same about your public education? I have an easy three-question test, which, with a great degree of accuracy, can determine whether your public education is outdated.
Smoke alarms. CO alarms. Attended cooking. Clear dryer vents. How many of these topics has your fire department covered the past few years? The answer is likely all of them, yet there goes your crew again – another fire, started in the kitchen, unattended cooking, no smoke alarm.
"An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” author Stephen King said. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
How well do your public-education efforts protect your citizens in public-assembly buildings?
There are differences among public education, public information and public relations.  But the differences are often blurred, so before we can understand public education, we need to look at the definitions of all three.
Baby boomers, generation J, generation X, boomers II – these are the generations into which most of you reading this probably fit. While you all have unique habits and tendencies, sociologists have uncovered some generalized experiences of members of these generations that have helped to shape who you are today.
There are three fundamental questions that affect all people: Is my home safe? Is my community safe? Am I safe?
Winter can be fun: sliding, skiing, skating, hockey, or just going for a walk in the crisp fresh snow are all great cold weather activities that can put a smile on our faces. These are the happy thoughts of winter most of us would like to envision.
Wildland urban interface fires can be one of the most dangerous calls we go on, but perhaps not for the reasons you may suspect.   
Continuing our look back over the last 10 years of Back to Basics in Fire Fighting in Canada, I’d like to highlight this article, which focuses on the backup person position on the handline. This position used to be simply ignored outside of basic training. Instructors like Aaron Fields, Dave McGrail and many others from across America started to bring the focus back to this important role.
The use of sprinklers for structural protection from wildfires was heavily employed in British Columbia during the summer of 2017. Crews from Lac La Biche County in northern Alberta spent six weeks there doing structural protection, which involved largely setting up sprinklers.
Of all the articles I have written, the one on Call Signs for Life I wrote five years ago continues to garner a lot of inquiries. Dozens of departments have switched to this simple system and most have said that changing their radio call signs has been one of the best decisions they have made.
Increasingly, municipal firefighters are being called to fight wildland fires and fires in the wildland urban interface. Departments should cultivate a good understanding of wildland fire behaviour, suppression techniques, and above all, safety. One less familiar tactic municipal firefighters sometimes face is the use of bulldozers (dozers) in fireline construction. This article will provide an overview of why and how dozers are used to control wildfires.
We are continuing with a look back over the last 10 years with articles that have been a highlight based on the topic or feedback. This article was published in August 2009 and was a highlight because of the topic: not much is discussed about overhaul.  
Like many of my generation, I type using the hunt and peck method (hunt for the letter and peck at it). Since I type with one finger, there are often mistakes, especially if my brain goes faster than my one educated finger.  So, I really appreciate the Fire Fighting in Canada editorial staff – they make me sound and look good. You should never do your own proofreading anyway. I could easily type “Teh” thinking it to read “The.”
This year, Back to Basics has reached a milestone. We are entering our 10th year of publication. When I look back on the past 10 years, I am amazed at how much we have covered. I must admit that I never thought this column would last five years, let alone 10. For our 10-year anniversary, I am going to recap some of my favourite articles from over the years that garnered attention within the Canadian fire service.
As I’m writing this column, the news reported that three more deaths have been confirmed in the wildfires burning in northern California’s wine country, which were already the deadliest series of such fires in state history. The death toll had reached 42 by the afternoon of Oct. 20. An estimated 8,400 homes and businesses were destroyed. The photos of the fires, which caused more than US $1 billion in damages, are mind numbing.
I have been focusing a lot on fire ground operations lately after witnessing many firefighters completing tasks in a manner that is inconsistent with their training over the last few months. One area where I have noticed inconsistencies is the use of ground ladders. This area is neglected greatly in the fire service because we often consider ground ladders to be bulky, heavy and awkward to handle.
You may be familiar with the phrase “sharing is caring”.  In this case, if you share this column in one way, shape or form, it may go a long way toward caring for those volunteers in your fire hall. This just may be the opportunity to tell the community their story.
Reflection. Wow, there is another one of those power words like Resilience, Change or Inspiration. Words that good leaders have emblazoned on their foreheads, or that we’d like to believe is the case.  
Feb. 1 marks a fire fighting milestone for me. It will be my 35th anniversary of the day I joined my hometown fire department and became a volunteer firefighter. I remember entering the fire hall that first training night, all excited and proud of the journey I was about to embark on. Now I look back and am even more proud of what the fire service means to me.
Firefighters are the kind of people that will help anyone, anywhere. For the most part, the communities they serve are willing to pitch in whenever needed too. That is, until it actually happens.
Firefighters do hazardous work, and that work can be very unpleasant at times. Emergency services form the safety network of our communities, and in the vast majority of communities volunteers are doing this work.
Fire-service conferences and educational sessions often deal with the importance of leadership. Good leadership is necessary – at an emergency scene, around the fire hall and even at home. But leadership is not always seen, or in the forefront, as often the best leadership happens behind the scenes.
On July 11, Richard Wells, a volunteer firefighter with the Hope Fire Department in British Columbia, was sent to aid in structural-protection efforts in Williams Lake along with a colleague. Wildfires in the surrounding mountain area had the town on evacuation alert for two weeks prior to Wells’ arrival.
I believe there is no such thing as a fully trained firefighter. Firefighters are constantly training; it doesn’t matter whether you are a rookie or have had several decades on the job. Career or volunteer, this job requires a life-long learning commitment.
Editor’s note: Bob Krause, a battalion chief in Toledo, Ohio, has become a bit of a Bluenoser, having taught workshops at FDIC Atlantic and instructing on weekends in various parts of the Maritimes. A longtime career firefighter and officer, Krause learned a little bit about himself in Clare, N.S., recently, about the Canadian volunteer fire service, its dedicated men and women and the professionalism they exhibit on the job and in their communities.
We all know that the volunteer fire service can be filled with all kinds of pressure and expectations. We have long established ourselves as the go-to service when it comes to emergency and community response. There used to be a time when our fire department responded to a fire, and that was all.
Our job is tough. Responding to emergencies takes a toll on our bodies, minds and souls. But it is only recently that we have begun to consider how the stressful, life-saving work of first responders can impact our mental well-being.
If you’re new to this column, you won’t know about my theory of moss and grass. Allow me a refresher: the same way a small section of moss can ruin an otherwise pristine lawn, your fire hall can be damaged by a couple of people who don’t fit in, who don’t like the direction in which you’re heading, and who threaten to overtake the rest of the members if left unchecked.

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