Try building instead of buying

Try building instead of buying

Fire chief Jeff Grant explains how his B.C. department was able to build two trucks.

New study shows  sprinklers save lives

New study shows sprinklers save lives

Having a sprinkler system in your home can reduce your chance of dying in a fire by 79 per cent.

Volunteers must be prepared

Volunteers must be prepared

Kirk Hughes explains how volunteers can be ready for the call and speed up their response times.

Back to Basics: September 2018

Back to Basics: September 2018

Good communication is important and plays a vital role in how well firefighters in a department respond.

MFCA conference

MFCA conference

The Maritime Fire Chiefs Association annual conference in Moncton, N.B., was a success.

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Smoke had filled the building. Inside, it was dark, I recall, and oppressively hot. The bulky firefighting equipment I wore was heavy, very heavy, especially the helmet.
Time passes, but where does it go? This element is a much pondered but muddily understood concept. And yet, everything is about time; the time it takes to arrive on scene, to suppress the fire, to save a life. The time you work, the time you play.
Finding candidates that are a good fit for the department is a universal challenge. As psychologist Dr. Lori Gray, said during her seminar at May’s OAFC 2018 show: “The wrong hire can have profound implications for you as a service.” Personal experience is probably bringing a few of these implications to mind now. In addition, she continued, you are not doing justice to candidates by hiring them for a job they are not suited for.
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.
Now that we know that curcumin is the hottest thing since the latest firefighter calendar, it’s time to educate firefighters as to how to use it as a natural supplement to help with health.
How does a yoga pose and a #NationalDayCalendar help you educate your community on the importance of testing and maintaining smoke alarms? Pretty easily if you know which yoga pose faces towards the ceiling and involves raising your hands above your head.
Firefighters on the front lines battling wildfires are often away from their families for long periods of time. But now, they’ll be able to connect and read bedtime stories to their children via a new free app. Veteran U.S. firefighter Brendan McDonough has teamed up with digital storytelling app, Caribu, to create the Caribu Firefighter Family Initiative. The app connects firefighters and their families via an expansive digital library with hundreds of children’s books in six languages. Caribu is an interactive video-call app that provides a way to read books together on a shared screen to keep the tradition of bedtime stories alive no matter the distance Caribu is donating free month-long subscriptions of its digital education platform to firefighters, their families and those affected or displaced by ongoing wildfires. The subscriptions are available to firefighters across the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. McDonough used to bring a book to read to his daughter over the phone while he was traveling fighting fires. In a recent television interview, McDonough, sole survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy of 2013 and inspiration behind the 2017 film “Only The Brave,” relayed how reading bedtime stories to his young daughter on the road gave his morale a boost. “While fighting wildfires, we would be gone from home constantly,” said McDonough. “Being able to read to my daughter at night kept me motivated. I support the Caribu Firefighter Family Initiative because I want to help bring that small, but really important experience, to firefighters and their families.” Upon hearing McDonough’s story, Caribu CEO Maxeme Tuchman was moved to act. She quickly realized that her innovative technology could solve a real and urgent need for firefighters on the frontlines and immediately wanted to do something to help. “We’re so proud to be able to show our support for the firefighters that are dedicated to our safety and keeping the wildfires at bay,” said Tuchman. “We offer free access to all active members of the military; it just made sense to do the same for wildland firefighters who are also away from home for long stretches of time. If Caribu can make just one part of keeping our heroes close to their families easier, we’ve done our job.” Caribu makes virtual story time easily accessible to parents. With only a smartphone and data plan or Wi-Fi, firefighters are instantly connected with their family back home through a shared screen interactive video-call. Anyone fighting in, or directly affected by wildfires, is eligible to participate in the Caribu Firefighter Family Initiative. Simply download Caribu from the Apple App Store and use promo code: BRAVE.Click here to register for the app. Click here for more information.
Call it what you want–pot, dope, weed, hash, joint or marijuana–the Canadian federal government has decided to legalize cannabis in 2018. In recent media releases and interviews, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said legalization is still on track.
A 911 call comes in and soon police, fire and ambulance services are independently speeding to the scene of a major car crash. Is this the best use of these expensive and limited emergency resources? This is the very question raised by a new study published by Oxford University Press that analyzed more than 100,000 calls for service over a three-year period for emergency service providers in British Columbia.
You have established a health and wellness program in your department. Now what? How do you ensure its viability over the long term? How do you continue to support your firefighters in maintaining their overall health and wellbeing? These important questions shift focus towards the long-term vision, goals, and sustainability of the program, including budget considerations.
Unless it’s on fire or in need of rescue, individuals in the fire service may not always be thinking about the nearest research department. However, here may be increasing reasons to believe that the fire service would benefit from a robust research ecosystem.
Imagine a remote, medium-sized city in a forested region in Canada. It’s only late April and you’re well into a dry, hot fire season. Coupled with a mild winter that saw little precipitation, and you’re already dealing with a number of small fires within your vast fire service area.
This past June 14 marked the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, England, that blaze was one of the most tragic fires in the history of the modern United Kingdom. Seventy-two people died and more than 70 were injured.
Editor’s Note: This feature is the fourth installment in a five-part series exploring Oak Bay Fire Department’s holistic health and wellness program. 
What sits on the border of two provinces and matters to every fire department in Canada? If you guessed Ottawa, you are correct. In the last five years, the importance of federal policy has become more pronounced as each province has faced tragedies of national proportion, such as the wildfires in the West, the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster and Humboldt.
Ontario is home to the largest First Nations fire department in Canada. Fire Chief Matthew Miller, along with the rest of his department, have worked hard to bring the service up to snuff – and keep it there.
I’m often asked what I look for when filling a senior leadership position that reports directly to, and works directly with me, on a daily basis.
Fire chiefs in Ontario and B.C. gathered in May and June for annual association trade show and conferences — and of course much networking and socializing to boot. Fire Fighting in Canada touched down in Toronto and Victoria to round-up some of the key highlights and product buzz.
I was sitting at my desk on a Friday morning in January eight years ago, just turning on my computer and getting ready for the day’s work, when the fire chief walked into his office, in civilian clothes, threw his keys on his desk and said “I’m retired”.
We have all felt the overwhelming crush of email abundance that comes each and every day. We have all felt the sense of defeat when trying to organize and answer all of the correspondence coming through your inbox. Emails have become a daily grind for many leaders, but at present time, a necessity of the workday.
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?
Having a sprinkler system in your home can reduce your chance of dying in a fire by 79 per cent, according to a new study based on 10 years of Canadian fire data.Released in April by the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C., the study appears to bolster the call for mandatory sprinklers in all new homes in the leadup to the 2020 version of the National Building Code.Sprinkler Systems and Residential Structure Fires – Revisited: Exploring the Impact of Sprinklers for Life Safety and Fire Spread was written by Len Garis, Arpreet Singh, Joseph Clare, Sarah Hughan and Alex Tyakoff, who analyzed more than 439,000 fire incidents reported in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick between 2005 and 2015.“We wanted to take a fresh look at the data in light of modern-day fire response, demographics and building fire risk,” said co-author Clare, a senior criminology lecturer at the University of Western Australia and an international member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University. “The results underscore the life-saving potential of automated sprinklers in all residential settings, particularly when paired with working smoke alarms.”The study focused on casualty behaviour, fire spread and fire department resources in residential fires, which numbered 140,162 in the 10-year timeframe. Based on the findings, the death rate per 1,000 in non-sprinklered homes is more than triple that of sprinklered homes, and people are more than twice as likely to be seriously injured in a fire in a non-sprinklered home as in a sprinklered one.The data also revealed that fires in single-family homes caused more deaths than those in apartments, that senior citizens were more likely to die in a residential fire than younger people, and that fires in sprinklered homes required significantly less fire department intervention.The findings support the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs’ (CAFC) multi-year campaign pushing for mandatory sprinkler systems in all new homes – including single-family dwellings – in the National Building Code.“We can conclude that increasing the use of residential sprinkler systems would have a rising impact in the years to come, both because Canada’s population is aging and because modern-day furnishings, building materials and open-plan designs carry a higher fire load, as research has shown,” Clare noted.The study builds on an extensive body of existing research on residential sprinkler systems, including a 2013 study by Garis and Clare and a pivotal 1984 study A Benefit-Cost Model of Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems by S. Ruegg and S. Fuller that demonstrated a 63-to-69-per-cent reduction in the death rate per 1,000 fires, and prompted the U.S. Fire Administration official position that all homes should be equipped with both smoke alarms and automatic fire sprinklers, and all families should have and practice an emergency escape plan.Data for the new study was provided by the CAFC and the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners through Statistics Canada. Fire incident information available in the National Fire Information Database was also used to examine casualty behaviour, fire spread and fire department response.Overall, 97 per cent of the fires studied occurred in residential buildings without sprinklers. These fires resulted in 97 per cent of the injuries and 99.2 per cent of the deaths. Less than one per cent (0.6 per cent) of fires in single-family homes occurred in the presence of sprinkler protection. Of note: The death rate per 1,000 for fires in sprinklered homes was 0.9, compared to 3.3 in non-sprinklered ones. Only 10 per cent of injuries in fires in sprinklered homes were serious, compared to 23 per cent in non-sprinklered ones. Risk of death was not equal among ages and genders. People age 65 and up made up 30 per cent of the fire deaths in single-family dwellings and more than 33 per cent in apartment buildings. Males represented about two-thirds of all those injured or killed in a residential fire. Sprinklers were also shown to be successful in controlling fire spread. When sprinklers activated, fires were confined to the room of origin 88.4 per cent of the time, which was 1.35 times more frequently than for non-sprinklered buildings. When the type of housing was considered, the disparity was greatest for single-family homes, where fires with sprinkler activations were confined to the room of origin 1.5 times more frequently. In apartments, fires with sprinkler activations were confined to the room of origin 1.1 times more frequently.In total, only 1.6 per cent of fires in sprinklered properties spread beyond the building, compared to 5.7 per cent in non-sprinklered properties.Firefighters were also safer when working in sprinklered buildings. They were injured 1.6 times more frequently in non-sprinklered buildings. No serious firefighter injuries were reported in sprinklered building fires, as opposed to 15 per cent for non-sprinklered building fires.It should be noted that due to variations of fire spread and size or other fire-control mechanisms, sprinkler systems did not always activate when fires occurred. Sprinklers were only required to control 18 per cent of the fires in apartments or 28 per cent of the fires in houses.Overall, the study makes a strong case for the increased use of sprinkler systems in all types of residential buildings to reduce fire-related injuries, deaths and resource use.The protection is even greater when combined with early detection. Based on the new findings in combination with earlier research, it can be concluded that fire-related death rates per 1,000 fires are reduced by 43.7 per cent with working smoke alarms and 79 per cent with sprinkler systems.What can Canada’s fire community take away from this?“This is further evidence that mandatory sprinkler systems in all new homes would be a large, positive step towards furthering residential fire safety in Canada,” Clare said. “At the same time, we need to acknowledge that most of the population will continue to live in existing non-sprinklered homes. The approach going forward must include working smoke alarms, along with targeted strategies to protect older Canadians and others at higher risk.”The study can be downloaded for free from the University of the Fraser Valley’s public safety and criminal justice research database at cjr.ufv.ca/sprinkler-systems-and-residential-structure-fires-revisited-exploring-the-impact-of-sprinklers-for-life-safety-and-fire-spread/.Len Garis is the fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C. He is also an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and associate to the Centre for Social Research at the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C. Contact Len at
Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have been lovingly embraced by a large number of Canadians, nearly 23 million to be exact, young, old and every age in-between.
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 is much to consider when it comes to taking calls and dispatching in the fire service.
Our department, like many, has a firefighter association attached to it which supports the department, its members and is a presence in the community. I join their meetings in an ex officio capacity and am fortunate to provide updates, occasionally with views, perspectives and encouragements in the “Chief’s Chat.” My recent offering was around how the overall operation of a fire department is much like our individual emergency responses.
This column was first printed in September 2012, but is worth repeating. While communications may not be an exciting topic for hands-on training, it is necessary. It seems communications is always the one constant denominator in every aspect of our job and it is always being improved upon so that it will work without fail.Good communication is important and plays a vital role in how well firefighters in a department respond, react and conduct themselves in day-to-day operations. A breakdown in communications leads to a dysfunctional fire department or fire ground.Different types of communications are used in the fire service that we should all be familiar with and well-versed in. They are written communications, face-to-face communications, electronic communications and radio communications.In the station, we will be exposed to written, face-to-face and electronic communications.Written communications include memos, communiques, emails, bulletins and so on. These are usually posted somewhere for all to see or may be directed to one person.Electronic communications will be in the form of an email sent via mobile phone, text message, Facebook posting, or Twitter. These types of communications will be directed to a single person, for the most part, or to a group of people that have access to the media being used.On the fire ground, we are limited to certain types of communications that can be used, such as radio, electronic and face-to-face.Communication by a portable radio is the most common method for most firefighters. A portable radio allows a team of firefighters to remain in contact with the incident commander (IC) and each other. It is a lifeline for a firefighter working on the fire ground. Without it, a firefighter would be left to more primitive ways to communicate such as face-to-face. The portable radio gives distance to the working crew by allowing firefighters to be far away from the IC yet still be able to report back or receive messages. Knowing how to use the portable radio correctly is the key to effective fire ground communications.Of all the ways to communicate with a person or persons, face-to-face is the best. It allows the receiver and the sender to have instant acknowledgement from each other when passing on information, asking a question or giving an order. Facial expressions, as well as body language, are also used in this method as a way to convey or receive a message. There is an opportunity to clarify a message so that a full understanding is obtained. The downside to face-to-face communications is that it reduces the distance a crew can be from the IC or sector officer. Close proximity must be maintained to remain in contact with each other. Same goes for interior crews working with a limited number of portable radios and/or failure of portable radios. Defaulting back to traditional face-to-face or verbal communications will be the only way to communicate with each other. For some firefighters, this is a lost art.  Dependence upon a portable radio is all they know. Training on how to communicate on the fire ground when the portable radio fails or is lost during an interior operation is a good idea. This will reinforce the traditional skills that are needed when such a situation occurs, and it will happen as a portable radio is an electronic device powered by a battery.When firefighters are using portable radios on the fire ground, communications can become confusing and/or very hard to follow. This can be due to a number of reasons. One reason is the usage of 10 codes. Using 10 codes in the fire service was removed when the National Incident Management System (NIMS) came into existence. NIMS was created and implemented as a result of the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. The communications breakdown that day and in the days that followed led to a common plain text language being adopted and used. Plain text language is everyday language that we use and permits people to be able to communicate with each other.Within NIMS there are also provisions for common terminology to be used on the fire ground. Terms such as sectors, divisions, geographical designations of buildings, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, roger, over and acknowledge are terms that are used in an effort to reduce the amount of confusion over the airwaves when trying to communicate via a portable radio or by other means.Another reason for communication confusion on the fire ground is firefighters yelling into the radio when trying to speak. When a message is being transmitted by the sender and the individual is yelling into the radio, it will be received as a distorted message with the receiver wondering what was said. This can be due to improper positioning of the radio to the mouth when transmitting. Avoid holding the radio/microphone directly in front of your mouth when speaking. Avoid pushing or swallowing the radio/microphone when speaking. Instead hold the radio/microphone on a 45-degree angle about two inches away from your mouth and you will send a clearer message. If wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, make sure the radio/microphone is positioned at the communication portals on the facepiece, which will allow you to speak clearly and not sound muffled. Holding your breath while relaying the message may also help. Removal of breathing sounds help to amplify the message transmission.Another method is to hold the radio/microphone directly to the lens of the facepiece when speaking. This requires putting the radio almost at eye level on the outside of the lens. With the radio/microphone in direct contact with the lens, the message comes across a lot clearer for the receiver. Avoid feedback between other radios on the fire ground when transmitting. This can happen when all crew members have a portable radio and one is trying to transmit. The feedback distorts the message. Turn away from other radios when transmitting a message.Using these simple but basic techniques when communicating on the fire ground will enhance the quality of the transmissions and remove the confusion factor for all.Mark van der Feyst has been a member of the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. Mark teaches in Canada, United States and India, and is a FDIC instructor. He is the lead author of the Residential Fire Rescue book. Email Mark at
Registration is now open for the 2018 Firefighter Training Day being held Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at the GTAA Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) at 2025 Courtneypark Drive East in Toronto. The day-long program gives volunteer, part-time and full-time firefighters the opportunity to expand their training and enhance their skills. Active members of volunteer/career fire departments are welcome to participate (with their chief’s approval). Training is free. The event is sponsored by FESTI, Fort Garry Fire Trucks, FLIR, Canadian Firefighter and Fire Fighting in Canada. Click here for the website.Click here for the registration page.
Firefighters can now easily get specialized training to maximize their firefighting skills in buildings equipped with sprinkler systems through a self-paced online training program from FM Global, one of the world’s largest commercial and industrial property insurers.  Available at no cost to firefighters, the interactive Fighting Fire in Sprinklered Buildings program trains participants how to create pre-incident plans with owners of sprinklered buildings.  In the program, firefighters learn about the design, function and limits of sprinkler systems, why  sprinklered buildings burn and how to combat fires most effectively with sprinklers in operation. “In some situations, firefighters can unintentionally make a fire worse at the scene by closing sprinkler valves and turning off electrical power prematurely,” said Michael Spaziani, assistant vice president, senior staff engineering specialist, at FM Global. “Even the most experienced firefighter can benefit from this specialized training.” Firefighters receive a certificate upon completing the program and passing a skills assessment. The training can be accessed at www.fmglobalfireserviceresources.com. FM Global is a U.S.-based mutual insurance company whose capital, scientific research capability and engineering expertise are solely dedicated to property risk management and the resilience of its client-owners.  For more information, visit FM Global.
Not too many departments get the chance to work with air ambulance very often, so when they do it is often a new thing for them. This article was written right after an incident occurred which required air ambulance to attend.
My wife and I own and operate a horse ranch in Southern B.C..  We raise Foundation Quarter Horses as well as managing an equine retirement, rescue and rehoming program. I mention that part of our life as a bit of background to this column.
Comox Fire Rescue has recently hosted our 10th, bi-annual Firefighter Youth Camp. The camps started as a way to teach teenagers some fire prevention and life safety skills. The camps are the biggest (and most successful) public project our department manages.
In our look back at the last 10 years, there has been a lot of attention devoted to moving the handline. There has been a paradigm shift in the fire service due to firefighters like Aaron Fields, Andy Fredericks, Dave McGrail and others. This article was written back in 2008 when the paradigm started to take flight.
The BC Wildfire Service uses a ranking scale from one to six to quickly describe fire behaviour based on a set of visual indicators.
Have you thought about live fire training in your department? Today’s fires occur with less frequency, but when they occur the fires are far more dangerous than they were 20 years ago.
There are three fundamental questions that affect all people: Is my home safe? Is my community safe? Am I safe?
Every one of us knows the customer experience firsthand. We’re all consumers, and at some point each and every day we receive some form of service. Hopefully, we are treated properly as a customer.
It’s evening, that period just after supper and before you go to bed. The kids are asleep and, despite the television being on, you’re on your phone checking social media and looking at funny cat pictures.Then it happens. The tones drop. Dispatch comes on and gives you information about a possible structure fire just outside your community. Multiple calls have been received. You get up from the couch and hurry to your room to put on some more appropriate clothing before heading outside to start your vehicle. Getting to the firehall takes about six minutes and if you want to make a truck and get to the fire in time to have any impact you need to get moving.Sound familiar?Response time to any emergency is of critical importance to fire departments all across Canada.Preparation begins with the individual firefighter. The first step is to prep your individual kit. Having pants, socks, t-shirt (weather depending of course) and boots placed in a dedicated area negates time lost searching for clothing in the dark or in a panic. Ensuring the vehicle used to respond to the hall is clear of snow, full of gas and angled out and not blocked in is also a strategy, aiding in faster reaction times. Another trick is to put the keys to that vehicle in a place that is consistent. Looking for keys or eyeglasses is a time-killer.Responding from your house to the hall has to be done in a professional and safe manner. Planning ahead will ease that strain. Drive the route under normal conditions. Know the back streets and alleys that you could use in the event of obstruction. Identify hazards you want to avoid such as school zones, playgrounds and seniors’ complexes when travelling to the station. Understand road conditions, watch the weather forecast for precipitation and account for those factors when you respond.Another innovative way to reduce the timeframe from house to hall is to use a green light. This is unique in Canada and used by many rural departments in many provinces. Some, like Alberta and Ontario, have it written into their legislation. By mounting a green light inside a personal motor vehicle, a statement is being made that you are a firefighter, likely a volunteer, and, when activated, that there is an emergency that requires attending. This may seem like an easy venture to partake in, but it isn’t successful unless an educational component is attached to it.The first stage is ensuring firefighters using the lights understand their obligations and responsibilities under respective provincial traffic safety acts. Firefighters must know that the use of a green light provides no special privileges and all normal traffic control devices and regulations have to be followed.   View the embedded image gallery online at: https://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria4a3899ff4e Once firefighters understand those requirements, the second and more difficult phase begins – creating awareness amongst the public. Not every driver knows what a flashing green light signifies. Posting signs in your municipality that explain what a green light means is a great way to focus that message on anyone that enters your communities via a roadway. Social media posts, school talks and community events are also perfect ways to distribute the message. Green lights do not require another motorist to pull over, but it is a courtesy to yield the right-of-way to the responder, thus clearing the path to the hall.Once at the hall, there are still numerous little ways to speed things up. First, adequate parking is a must. In the Northwest Territories, this includes space for snow machines and snowmobiles. Safe parking spaces that are away from responding bay doors and exit routes is a consideration. Once parked, having the main door open for firefighters to enter through is a big help. Some departments open one of the bay doors, usually the door without the responding apparatus coming out of it, which allows firefighters moving from the parking lot to gain access to the hall without having to use keys to open locks or punch in access codes to pull the door open and gain entry. Arriving at the lockers, a firefighter should have stored his or her turnout gear in such a manner as to assist with rapid donning. Pre-rolled pants over the boots with gloves and balaclava attached to the coat save time.Technologically speaking, the use of firefighter responder apps on cellular devices are beneficial for telling departments who is on the way, sometimes how long it is expected to take them and provides the crucial data of how many firefighters are responding. Knowing who is coming and their specific skill sets and capabilities not only speeds up truck response, but it also arms an officer with advanced knowledge of the differing levels of experience available when a truck arrives on-scene.Responding to a call from the station often requires advanced training from the officer and driver. The officer must know where the call is, the quickest way to get there, and be aware of any barriers to the response. The driver must have knowledge of emergency vehicle operations, provincial traffic act rules regarding lights and siren usage, and be skilled enough to maneuver a vehicle under stressful conditions.Post-call review is also an important component to enhancing response times. Determining a department’s level of service is the first step. NFPA 1720 is the standard to strive for. Ignoring that standard is poor planning. Acknowledging the existence of that standard and working on complying accordingly is the right avenue to take. Gaining input from firefighters on how to further expedite responses is also worth a debrief after the call.Kirk Hughes is deputy fire chief of the M.D. of Taber Regional Fire Department in Alberta. A veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Kirk served with the Burlington, Ont., Portage la Prairie, Man., Deline, N.W.T., Fort Providence, N.W.T., and Behchoko, N.W.T., fire departments before taking a position with the Municipal District of Taber as the director of community safety.
Recruitment. It seems to be a topic of discussion a lot lately. Fire chiefs and officers are telling me that not only is it getting harder to recruit volunteer fire fighters these days, but when we do, some of the successful hires leave in a few short years for fulltime fire fighting jobs.
Many have heard me quote this saying about the fire service: it’s “150 years of tradition, unimpeded by change.” But that’s not entirely true. There really is change in the fire service – it just doesn’t happen overnight. Believe me, in the last 35 years I’ve seen my fair share of change; it has and does occur on a regular basis, not only in the way we conduct ourselves and the job we do, but the change in the people that do the work itself.  
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.

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