First Line: An adult approach to fire prevention

First Line: An adult approach to fire prevention

Firefighters often visit schools to talk about fire safety, but what about the adults in the community? Fire Fighting in Canada columnist Samantha Hoffmann says fire-service members should avoid condescension and apply the principles of adult learning to their public education programs.

Back in service: A training officer returns to the trucks to learn from recruits

Back in service: A training officer returns to the trucks to learn from recruits

Former Brampton, Ont., Training Officer Christopher Vanderburg returns to the task level in the September issue of Fire Fighting in Canada.

Firelines: Embracing a new generation of firefighters

Firelines: Embracing a new generation of firefighters

Younger generations of firefighters are joining departments across the country, while the nature of the service continues to change. Fire Fighting in Canada columnist Dave Balding says departments should embrace new firefighters as an asset to fire service.

Brotherhood and best practices: Learning the value of teamwork in Williams Lake

Brotherhood and best practices: Learning the value of teamwork in Williams Lake

Firefighter Richard Wells tells assistant editor Lauren Scott how volunteer and career firefighters worked together to protect Williams Lake, B.C.

Co-ordinated effort: Crews in British Columbia manage wildfires with mutual-aid system

Co-ordinated effort: Crews in British Columbia manage wildfires with mutual-aid system

Editor Laura King finds that the fire fight in British Columbia is a deliberate military-like operation born of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park blaze.

Videos
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.
Sept. 12, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Where were you when...? We have all heard that question or asked it of people. In the past week we have had to think about it once again, but I am sure that the answer will be etched in each other's brains for an eternity.For me, I was laying in my bed wondering why I was awake. I should have been sleeping in, preparing for my upcoming night shift at Calgary's fire dispatch. I turned on the TV with about five minutes to try to take in what was happening before the second tower was hit. I cursed at the screen, and I recall feelings of initial disbelief, and then sadness and hate when that 767 slammed into World Trade Center 1, the south tower.In September 2001, I had only been at fire dispatch for two and a half years after working at a major daily newspaper for the previous seven years. The remote control was glued into my hand for the next few hours as I switched back and forth from station to station getting as much information as I could, just like we would in the newsroom. The first gulf war, the Olympics, any election, these were always fun to be in the newsroom for. Now, I was just a copy runner (gopher) for the most part although I did edit some of the TV Guide and provide some freelance photography and help in the darkroom once in a while, but it was still fun to be part of the team.Reflecting yesterday on the events of 15 years ago I realized that was the first time that I wanted to be somewhere as part of two teams. The urge to use my training and experience to help the brotherhood of the FDNY at ground zero was still greater, but the desire to be there and record such a historical event through my lenses was strong as well. This year it has been reported that it is the first time that high school freshmen will be learning about the events of 9/11 in their history classes. History, which many of us watched, and knew at the time, we were viewing world-changing events unfold.Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof
I recently attended a conference at which someone asked me what I thought was the most important part of my job. I quickly responsed that the most critical function of a fire chief is to keep firefighters safe. Everything I do is related to firefighter safety, whether it is attending a budget meeting, developing operational guidelines, scheduling training, mentoring, pre-planning, or responding.
For many, September is the start of the new year – everyone’s enthusiastic about learning, and all the distractions of our oh-so-short summers are gone.
In the heat of summer, many people are out enjoying time on the water and around marinas. This brings to mind the fact that I was asked to speak at a recent conference about NFPA 303 – Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards.
I am about to embark on a sensitive topic: obesity and weight loss. Quite often firefighters ask about their weight concerns, and express a desire to lose weight. However, there are firefighters who are in complete denial about their weight. In my opinion, they are walking the fine line between life and death.
In early May, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced an agreement in principle for the formation of an Indigenous federal fire marshal’s office, based on a report submitted by the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC).
After several months of planning and preparation, the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition has bridged the border. In March, the United States-based non-profit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition announced a new Canadian website, with important educational information for a broad range of stakeholders.
Firefighter David Gillis never knows when a response to a call will trigger the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But through a program called Strategic Resilience for First Responders, Gillis is able to manage the mental and physical reactions that used to stop him in his tracks.
In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Fire Fighting in Canada, we asked our Facebook friends what they think has been the most significant development in fire fighting.
I remember being surprised – appalled, really – when I started learning about firefighting gear and SOGs, hydrogen cyanide, and cancer rates, that firefighters had been foolish enough to doff protective gear during overhaul or at car or dumpster fire, and inhale toxins.
The neigbouring fire department calls you about a multi-casualty collision to which it responded. Among the dead are well-known community members, some related to responders.
Editor Laura King interviewed Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn in April, a year after the Supporting First Responders Act made PTSD a presumptive illness, and in the lead up to PTSD Awareness Month in June.
My February column described the new Playbook standard and its application to both service-level determination and corresponding training-level application for an individual authority having jurisdiction.
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.
I am a firm believer that leadership is a combination of skills, competencies and abilities that can be learned, shared, developed and honed. Over the course of my career, I have witnessed many outstanding examples of exceptional leadership. I am blessed to have a few amazing mentors who are forever helping me become a better leader.
In recent years, there has been a renewed focus toward strengthening the relationship between local government and the fire service in British Columbia. In order to do this, a program was created called “Working together: effective fire service administration for fire chiefs and local government chief administrative officers.”
When I became a fire chief, now-retired Fire Chief Bob Claus from Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island (a friend and colleague of mine), advised me to become engaged with chiefs associations and other organizations in the fire service.
As chief officers retire, a void in fire leadership is expected to materialize within the next few years. However, this is entirely avoidable if we prepare the next generation to take over our positions.
"I would like to retire, but there is no one to take my place.” Have you heard this comment? It is likely you have said something similar or have overheard it in your department. Whether you work in a volunteer or a career department, statements like this are common.
I have written columns about topics ranging from strategic planning to change management, and embracing uncertainty in our personal lives. I have written on such a variety of subjects because I believe leadership requires a wide range of knowledge.
Like many kids who grew up in Canada, hockey was a big part of my life (and still is). I started playing when I was five years old and played for almost 50 years. When I joined the fire service, I noticed similarities between a hockey team and a fire-service team, from pride to hard work, fun, and the desire to become a better team. Hockey night in Canada is part of our culture. In many mid-size to small towns, so is fire practice night.
Are you tired of firefighter leadership discussions, blogs, social-media posts and conference sessions? Tired of being told you need to manage better, lead better, lead more and build your teams more effectively? How about all of those top-five lists? The seven best tactics?
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.
While the heat and humidity of summer seem distant during the dreary days of November, now is a great time to plan for seasonal activities that showcase your department’s staff and fire-safety initiatives.
Paul Voegtle – Location Analytics Specialist, Esri CanadaSeveral years ago Fire Chief John Kobarda of the London Fire Department in Ontario reasoned that a fire department is really no different than a private company. After all, fire departments offer a service (public safety) to customers (the public), and regularly engage in marketing (fire-safety communications). Could firefighters, then, borrow strategies and tools from private-sector marketers?
May 2016 - Fire departments across the country rely on provincial or territorial statistics and provincial or territorial, national or international solutions. The more people a community has, the more incidents will occur. If the No. 1 problem in your province is cooking fires, it is likely more reflective of what goes on in major cities than in remote or rural communities.
May 2016 - Does your fire department’s public-education program work? If you think it does, can you prove it?
March 2016 - Public educator Tanya Bettridge has been to several seminars for her job over the years, but the latest one was different.
Oct. 11, 2017 – One single ounce of oxygen. That’s all it would have taken for an explosion to have occurred at Pacific BioEnergy’s Prince George, B.C. facility in August 2017. It was Thursday, Aug. 24 when chairman and chief executive officer Don Steele found out that one of the wood pellet fuel company’s silos began smoldering overnight.Steele was hosting a group of seven guests who had flown from Nagoya, Japan for a tour of the facility. “I advised them," he explained. "I said we could go up and have a look. We might even go on the property and they wouldn’t see much. But, at that point in time we were evacuating,” Steele said.Although reported as a fire in mainstream media, the incident was a smoldering situation. Wood pellet consultancy company FutureMetrics’ John Swaan founded Pacific BioEnergy Corporation in 1994. His direction on-site is one of the main reasons why an explosion didn’t take place.What was the winning solution? Nitrogen injection. In an industry where the potential for explosions is all too common, this was the first time that a North American pellet operation successfully put out a smouldering issue. “We have a number of incidents that have happened in our industry, mostly in Europe, that have not gone successfully,” Swaan said.“There were some references that I shared with Don and his key people on-site,” Swaan recalled from the day. “And then his VP of operations gathered his key people around and took a look at what the options might be and looked at the references,” he explained. “I shared the report about how best to handle these [situations], that was done in a research centre in Sweden.” “So we did some calculations, and based on those calculations, a decision was made with Don and his people to say ‘OK, let’s bring in the nitrogen.’”“A simple reaction would be to try and open [the silo] up to put out the fire, which would have been catastrophic,” Steele said. “Any oxygen entering would have been disastrous. It was a tremendously risky proposition.”The silo holds 3,500 tonnes of pellets. Steele said that’s the energy equivalent of about 10,000 barrels of oil. The incident had the potential to have the entire surrounding city evacuated.The nitrogen injection equipment was brought to the facility from neighbouring Alberta within eight to 10 hours. Alberta’s oil fields have prompted the province’s first responders to be prepared for fire suppression missions to prevent explosions. The smouldering material in the silo was injected with nitrogen for a few days until it was safe enough to remove in small amounts. The nitrogen arrives as a liquid and needs to be turned into a vapour.“I think the first principle of it is, liquid nitrogen is an inert gas,” Steele said. “In other words, it can’t explode or burn. So you use it to push the oxygen out of the container and then try and seal it off. We tried with foam and various things, but once you’ve got the oxygen content below a certain level, [about] 10 per cent, you’ve minimized the risk of an explosion. So then you can start pulling the material out.”“We basically wetted it down, and over a course of seven days eliminated the risk, moved the material out, quenched the fire risk and then stockpiled it over in another part of our property,” Steele said.“I think the key thing is nobody overreacted… I don’t even think there was a Band-Aid.”Swaan and Steele said the cooperation between industry and first responders was what ensured a safe outcome.“This kind of incident has the potential of major, major injury. Our people knew how to safely handle the material and the first responders and fire department knew how to look after our people to keep them out of harm’s way,” Steele said. “They had the respiration equipment, they had the fire hoses, they had the ability and the technique for putting out a fire. Our people knew how to move the material through and safely evacuate the silo.”Half a million dollars-worth of material and product was destroyed and a lot of equipment was damaged, but Steele says everybody’s safety makes the situation a success. “It’s a happy beginning actually, because we’re beginning now to refit and add to our knowledge of our product and how to handle it,” he said. “And I think the whole industry is going to learn something from it too.” “I say anything that can be fixed with money is not a problem. You can’t fix people with money, particularly if they’re severely injured or killed.” “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ [a silo fire could happen] it’s ‘when,’” Swaan said. “But the good news is that we now as an industry have a lot of new learnings. We have experience that we can now share with the industry so that we can make it a safer industry for these types of situations.”Steele said, “The key thing is, think before you act, use other information, use your judgement, move deliberately, keep everybody safe.”This story was originally published in Canadian Biomass.
Many fire-ground tasks can be accomplished by one firefighter during an emergency and in non-emergency situations. One single-firefighter task that is beneficial for small teams to understand is bundling of the standpipe or highrise kit.  
Before anyone becomes an emergency-service call taker or dispatcher and fields live emergency calls, you would think there would be a standard level of education, training and certification required. In Ontario, there is not. We are not alone in this situation. There is a movement developing in the United States toward standardized training and certification.
In my thirteenth year in the fire service, I left my role as a training officer and returned to the fire ground as a first-class firefighter. I am now back in service and responding to calls.
The fire fight in British Columbia in the summer of 2017 was a deliberate, military-like series of operations born of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park blaze.
This column will hopefully give some clarity to issues facing volunteer recruits, a.k.a rookies, newbies or probies. Across Canada, volunteer/paid on-call fire departments are required to ensure that all their members are given the highest level of training possible, and to provide each member with the needed knowledge and skills according to NFPA 1001.
In the last few issues, we have focused on tasks that can be completed efficiently and effectively in situations with limited crews. At times, firefighters may be forced to work by themselves. The idea of single firefighter assignments or tasks may go against traditional teaching – to always work in pairs, at a minimum – but it’s wise to prepare for situations in which few members are available to respond.
Training in the fire services is not for the faint of heart. The time, energy and plain old hard work can be overwhelming at times. However, every now and then, a young firefighter looks at you and says, “I get it.”  
Since I began this column several years ago, I have received an incredible amount of positive feedback from hundreds of readers. I must say I am humbled and honoured.
Learning the basics isn’t always by the book. It takes practice to get things right and a page is no match for practical application.
I recently taught a recruit class about foam. Given the few opportunities that today’s firefighters have to do actual fire fighting, it is always good idea to revisit the topic.
Today’s training officer needs to be a bit of a miracle worker to get the required fire services training objectives squeezed into a tight, 42-week schedule. As I was writing this column, our department was in its second full weekend of first responder training. In addition to the 38-hour first-responder course, we had a four-hour CPR course, which in itself was double our regularly scheduled practice time.
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.
Like many areas, our community of 4,000 residents is incredibly well served by a fire department that comprises committed volunteers; I am the only career member. Although our members are paid-on call, they truly are volunteers in terms of the time and talent they donate to Golden Fire Rescue.
Being a volunteer fire chief in a small community certainly comes with an unconventional lifestyle. Whether the chief is volunteer or a career chief of a volunteer/composite department, to say the job is challenging most days is an understatement.
Being the chief officer in a fire department comes with its own set of challenges and rewards, which are not exactly equal in proportion. Yet when the rewards come, they often outweigh the challenges tenfold.
As volunteer firefighters, we rarely stop to think and analyze the culture in our fire departments. While every department has a culture, these cultures can vary from virtuous and healthy to dysfunctional and vicious.
In spite of 33 years in fire, I’ve started to experience some revelations in just the last several months. I think it all started when I wasn’t paged for a structure fire. I awoke that morning to learn about the call and find out that the crew handled it without me.

Subscription Centre

 
New Subscription
 
Already a Subscriber
 
Customer Service
 
View Digital Magazine Renew

Most Popular

Latest Events