Volunteer Vision: PTSD awareness could create new recruitment challenges

Volunteer Vision: PTSD awareness could create new recruitment challenges

The fire service has made tremendous progress in raising mental health awareness but could this deter young people from joining? Vince MacKenzie explores the possibility that increased PTSD awareness may lower the number of potential recruits in Canadian departments.

Public Ed: Use storytelling to promote your safety message

Public Ed: Use storytelling to promote your safety message

Just like the beginning of a story, your first line needs to pull the audience in and make them want to know more. Columnist Samantha Hoffman explores the benefits good storytelling can have on fire prevention.

Ontario labour minister outlines PTSD strategy

Ontario labour minister outlines PTSD strategy

In April, editor Laura King spoke to Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn about the provincial government's PTSD strategy and how it will protect first responders.

Safe Harbour: Build resilience with yoga

Safe Harbour: Build resilience with yoga

Personal resilience is more than physical fitness; firefighters must also be mentally fit to do their jobs. Smithers, B.C. Fire Chief Keith Stecko looks at the physical and mental benefits of regular yoga practice.

NFPA Impact: Food truck fire hazards

NFPA Impact: Food truck fire hazards

As we move into spring and summer, many of us venture outside after a cold Canadian winter. But as we become mobile, so do restaurants. Food trucks are everywhere, but as columnist Shayne Mintz writes, these mobile cooking facilities do not always comply to NFPA standards.

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I first heard about tracking exposure to traumatic incidents during a Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) course in Lakeshore, Ont., a small community near Windsor.
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
Aug. 30 2016, Toronto – Talk about a hornet’s nest. If you haven’t been following, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) is upset about a plan in Sault Ste. Marie to reduce the number of front-line, municipal firefighters by 20 over three years (that’s 25 per cent), through attrition, and increase the number of paramedics, given the volume of medical calls.
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.
Making a conscious effort to build your personal resilience is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a firefighter. Being a firefighter is physically and emotionally demanding. Having a tailored personal resilience program can produce positive results and help to maintain work-life balance.
Simon & Schuster Canada has announced the publication of Inside the Inferno: A Firefighter’s Story of the Brotherhood that Saved Fort McMurray, a memoir by Fort McMurray firefighter, Damian Asher. The book is available on May 2, 2017, the first anniversary of the wildfire.For more information or to pre-order: https://www.firehallbookstore.com/product/inside-inferno-firefighters-story-brotherhood-saved-fort-mcmurray/
After last year’s preview, Globe will officially launch its ATHLETIX turnout gear at FDIC in Indianapolis in April. The gear uses stretch fabrics that allow a wider range of motion with less bulk. Click here  for more information.
Rosenbauer has added a multi-functional Compact Line vehicle to its emergency response line up. The unit was created to provide a multi-functional interior to keep up with individual fire service demands. The unit has an aluminum profile and sandwich design, which offers a customizable layout. Width, height and length can all be varied without any dividing walls, opening up any amount of space for the payload. For more information see http://www.rosenbauer.com/en/ca/rosenbauer-group
Scott Safety has launched a mobile application that allows firefighters edit, save and share configurations for the in-mask display. Users can customize the brightness, icon layouts, temperature display and display colours. With the app, firefighters can personalize their in-mask displays. The app is available for Apple and Android. For more information visit https://www.scottsafety.com and click on products/thermal imaging.
Avenza is a new mobile application that enables users to access PDF maps on smartphones or tablets. Without using data or wi-fi, Avenza utilizes devices’ built-in GPS receivers to mark positions, routes and points of interest. Avenza has a vast catalogue of maps and users can import their own PDF maps. Avenza allows crews to mark hazards, plot waypoints and routes, and track positions. For more information go to https://www.avenzamaps.com/maps/how-it-works.html
The Scott Safety EPIC 3 Radio Direct Interface (RDI) voice amplifier enhances SCBA facepiece voice intelligibility and delivers clear, two-way radio communication when operated with compatible handheld field radios and remote speaker microphones. The amp is compatible with all Scott AV, Vision and Promask series facepieces and breathing apparatus systems. The amp operates directly with all compatible Bluetooth-enabled handheld field radios and matching remote speaker microphones. Details can be found at http://www.scottsafety.com under products/communication.
Aero Tec Laboratories (ATL) has launched a line of potable water bladder tanks. The ATL Aqui-fer is designed to save space, while the Aqua-Flex has a more conventional pillow-like shape. The bladder tanks are constructed of a lightweight, durable nylon-reinforced rubber. ATL’s water bladders are fully collapsible for compact storage and simple transport.For details visit http://www.atlinc.com/potable-drinking-water-bladder-tanks.html
Coltraco Ultrasonics recently introduced its Portasonic Portable Ultrasonic Flow Meter. The handheld, clamp-on flow meter provides accurate flow measurement from the outside of a pipe – especially for fire protection water sprinkler and fire hydrant systems. The meter can take measurements anywhere on full pipes from 12 millimetres to 4.5 metres in width with its non-invasive external clamp. Regardless of pipe material, the Portasonic gives accurate readings.For details go to http://www.coltraco.com/portasonic-page/ 
Scott Safety has released the RIT-Pak Fast Attack, which offers a lightweight and com- pact solution for rapid entry and air replen- ishment for injured firefighters. The RIT- Pak Fast Attack enables rapid intervention teams to focus on locating and assessing the downed firefighter. The product comes in two bag sizes – small and medium – and can be configured in both 4500 psi and 5500 psi. Visit www.scottsafety.com and click on products/respiratory protection.
Swissphone’s new generation of fire pagers – the s.QUAD series – is available in both tone/voice and digital formats, and can be converted from one format to the other. S.QUAD pagers feature 16 minutes of stored voice memory, multi-colored alarm LED, and a large LCD display. For more information visit http://www.swissphone.ca/products/s-quad-voice-pager/
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?
You know that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the sweaty palms and the voice in the back of your head asking you if you are sure that you know what you are doing?  The not-so-quiet desire to run away and head straight back to where you came from?  Me too. These are but a few of the symptoms that occur when we are outside our comfort zones.
A year has passed since my last column and I want to discuss some interesting lessons learned as a senior officer. In January 2016, I was promoted to director of emergency services – fire chief – from deputy chief in Barrie, Ont.
A topic that comes up quite a bit during the fire-officer courses I facilitate is the challenge of getting people to embrace programs that need to be implemented, therefore ensuring that the department meets the needs and expectations of the community.
An emergency responder called in to assist at a major fire arrives to find a sea of dark shirts. Who is in charge? This scenario is a common occurrence across North America, where many fire and police chiefs have swapped their white shirts for dark blue or black.
During my career in the fire service I have heard many hours of debate and discussion about what it takes to be prepared for promotion. In my inaugural column in November I discussed the fact that luck happens when relentless preparation meets opportunity. Now I will delve into the concept of preparation.
I am thrilled to write for Fire Fighting in Canada. The aim of my column will be to share some of the more interesting questions that I have been asked by those working hard to advance their fire-services careers, along with my perspective on the issue.
Today’s fire departments face increasing expectations in terms of service delivery, fiscal constraint and improved training standards: the result is greater demands on our members. Firefighters, supervisors, administrators and entire departments have a limited capacity to continually give.
Most of us who wear stripes understand that mentoring is a critical component in the development of firefighters and newly promoted officers.
As a chief officer, I expect my firefighters to maintain a level of fitness and competence to enable them to safely and effectively perform their duties. In return, I must keep myself fit in order to be at my best for the people I guide, inspire and serve. Are you a fit leader?
May 2016 - Anyone who works in a unionized fire department has, at some time, been confronted with the one word that sets up a roadblock to any succession program: seniority.
"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.
February 2016 - A shift is happening in the required skill sets of fire-service personnel: firefighters need to be more high-tech than ever, and non-suppression personnel are moving up the ranks. The fire-breathing dragon of the past is long gone, replaced by new challenges such as lightweight construction and alternative energy sources.
It’s that time of year again, when fire departments should start thinking about wildland fire awareness and Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.I know it seems odd that a discussion about wildland fire should begin in the dead of the Canadian winter, but very quickly winter turns to spring, and spring to summer, and – if the proper conditions develop – in many places across Canada that means wildland fire season.According to Natural Resources Canada, wildland fire consumes an average of 2.3 million hectares per year and causes millions of dollars in damage, not just to the forestry industry but also to residential and municipal properties. Wildfire responds quickly to fuels found in the forest, grasslands or backyards, and without proper mitigation and landscape management it will burn homes and any other vulnerable structures in its path.Kelly Johnston, the executive director of Partners in Protection, said unless Canadian communities take action, the threat of wildfires will only become worse.“Wildfires have always been a natural process in Canada’s forests,” Johnston said. “However, as we experienced in 2015, a changing climate, increasing large fire activity and increasing development trends create a serious threat throughout Canada – putting neighbourhoods, communities and firefighter safety at risk every year.”Wildfire is a part of natural ecosystems, however, interface situations can occur in all but the most heavy urban environments. It is important that fire services and their communities recognize that wildfire isn’t just limited to municipalities with towns built within or nearby heavy or dense forests. Wildland interface exists in many more settings such as urban forests, municipal green spaces, farms and recreational areas such as cottage or camp communities. Any place where trees, tall grasses, crops or natural vegetation grow and shed annually should be considered as fuel load that when coupled with an ignition source from human or natural activity all contribute to a wildfire risk.Wildfire management has traditionally been the purview of provincial ministries that work with Natural Resources Canada and co-ordinate with the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. However, there is a growing expectation that municipal structural firefighters will be trained and prepared to respond to and extinguish wildland fires that may or may not impact homes and structures that belong to local taxpayers. There is a great opportunity here for local fire services to take the lead by participating in the second annual national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 7. The national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day program centres around the promotion of wildfire community protection awareness activities. This day is an excellent public-education opportunity for fire services to help community members recognize the hazards of wildfire; suggest ways they can mitigate or prevent wildfire from impacting their community; and teach them ways to minimize any damage done. Partners in Protection Association (the non-profit organization behind FireSmart Canada), in partnership and support from the NFPA, the Co-operators Insurance Group, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction and several provincial natural resources ministries have pooled together $23,000 to award communities that organize Wildfire Community Preparedness Day activities.Beginning Jan. 25 through to March 12, anyone 19 years or older can apply for an award to conduct wildfire-preparedness activities or events. There will be a total of 20 nationally awarded and 14 provincially awarded $500 prizes available. Acceptable projects should focus on reducing the risk of wildfire in a community through education, hazard reduction or advanced-preparedness activities. Projects may include working with neighbours to clear leaves and other combustible debris from gutters of homes and buildings, raking leaves and combustible debris from under decks, moving woodpiles away from buildings, using a chipper service to dispose of slash or winterkill, or distributing wildfire-safety information. Groups of all sorts and individuals of all ages are encouraged to participate.For those communities that may still have snow on the ground on May 7, it is the perfect chance to engage community members in pre-planning and public-education sessions for activities to take place when the snow is gone.To learn more about Wildlife Community Preparedness Day in Canada and how to apply for funding, please visit www.firesmartcanada.ca, or feel free to contact me.Shayne Mintz is the Canadian Regional Director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Contact him at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on Twitter at @ShayneMintz
As public educators we teach, but we are always learning from our audiences. To get our messages across, we need to understand our audiences and determine the best ways to reach them.
When assistant deputy fire chief Ray Bryant heard about construction of the tallest wood building in the world in Vancouver, his reaction was predictable.
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Horticultural Technologies fire in Kitchener, Ont. (March 1987). It is in memory of the emergency responders who lost their health and later their lives in this horrific industrial fire incident I present this month’s column. First, a word of thanks to a young Kitchener firefighter, Timothy Ritchie, who reminded me of the anniversary.
Acting Capt. Amanda Smyth sits in the front passenger seat, listening to the dispatcher confirm an alarm activation. Quickly and authoritatively, Smyth responds, ticking off boxes in her head.
Lately I’ve been hearing the term “old school” said in a manner depicting out-dated ideas or relating to ideas of little value. I know some of us in the fire service resist change, having become accustomed to a certain way of doing things. And as much as we need to realize that a new way of doing things is not necessarily wrong, the young guns coming up the trail behind us need to see that just because a method of doing something is old, it may not need fixing.
We have come to the fifth part of our series on standpipes. So far, we have looked at using standpipes within buildings, either wet or dry standpipes. But what happens when the provided standpipe will not or does not work when we need it?
My November column outlined the key decisions and components in the development of the BC Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook, particularly the decision to focus on competencies rather than certification. Now let’s focus on the standard itself and what makes it work.
August 2016 - On Jan. 4, at approximately 11 p.m., Puslinch Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to a barn fire at Classy Lane Stables boarding and training centre located on Concession 1 in Puslinch, Ont.
It has been two years since I created the firefighter survival maze, called Firefighter’s Ghost. The maze was first introduced at the 2014 annual volunteer firefighter training seminar hosted by Oliver Fire & Rescue in British Columbia.
We have been exploring the topic of standpipe-equipped buildings and highrise operations. In November, we looked at the equipment needed to conduct standpipe operations, and I mentioned that firefighters can carry only so much, which leads to the next topic: how many firefighters are needed for this type of operation?
Needless to say, I love training and am always looking for ways to improve our training programs. For several years however, I have been concerned about the amount of drinking water my department uses during our many training sessions. You may be thinking; drinking water? I am not talking about bottled water. I am talking about water coming out of our hydrants. In my community, as in most urban communities, the water we get from our municipal hydrant system is our treated domestic drinking water supply. I will be watching a master stream operate and think to myself, “Wow, that is a lot of drinking water going down the drain.” It costs a lot of money to treat and deliver this water to our homes and businesses, and it seems wrong to let it go to waste.Not only does my department train aggressively by using a lot of water, but we also operate a fire training centre that uses a significant amount of water. I figured we should do our part to conserve our water; doing so would also save money. My team and I put our heads together to come up with a practical solution; recycle the domestic water we use for training. In addition, we decided to capture rain water for use in our training centre. It is expected that we will save more than one million litres of drinking water per year with these methods in place. The modest project was funded by the Town of Comox and the Comox Firefighters Association, and we also received some material donations. The system itself is very simple. We capture the run-off in our training centre and store the water in an underground 20,000 storage tank  (approximately 30-feet by 10-feet by 10-feet). When needed, we pump (using a small gas-powered pump) the screened water at up to 130 pounds per square inch, directly back into fire hoses used for firefighter training or directly into a fire engine (at lower pressure). The water is constantly reused, though we lose some to evaporation, and some gets sprayed outside the training area. However by capturing rainwater from the hard surfaces in our training centre, and from a couple of the roofs of training buildings, we have more than enough to keep our tank full. Any surplus water goes back into the traditional storm drain system. We also use this system to re-fill our fire engines when they return empty from incidents, again reducing our use of drinking water. We have not elimated the use of hydrants altogether in our training centre, as of course, using hydrants is a vital training component, but we have significantly minimized the water we use from them. Many times we will hit the hydrant and then convert to our recycled water system. One of many benefits to this system is that during water restriction periods (typically summer months) we do not have to dial down our training as we are simply reusing the water. We also use the stored water for washing down the training area after its use. Another benefit is that we no longer use a full-size engine to supply our fire hose during day-long live fire programs, reducing wear and tear on the engines and not tying up an engine for a full day. Furthermore, if for some reason our municipal water system is not working, we know we have a large water supply to re-fill our trucks. Today’s successful fire departments need to constantly think outside the box and look for ways to improve their services without increasing operating costs. Fire departments, like everyone else must do their parts to reduce, reuse and recycle. You can see more about our recycling efforts on our department website, http://www.comoxfirerescue.org/news/2016/9/15/new-water-recovery-system I truly believe that we, the fire service, have an obligation to do our part in reducing our environmental impact. In fact, I believe we should play a leadership role in our communities in this area by following good recycling practices in our stations when using water and other products. Today’s successful fire departments need to constantly think outside the box and look for ways to improve their services without increasing operating costs.Fire departments train to save lives, let’s also train firefighters to help save our environment.Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire
Look back on 2016 and ask yourself if your training program engaged your members.  One of your priorities is to get your department members to actively engage which is easy to say, and much harder to put into play, especially week after week. Let’s also be honest: some of the topics we address annually are as boring as dry toast.
I heard one of my neighbours, an old cowboy, say that experience is the best teacher, and I am inclined to believe him. Perhaps that is why I gravitate toward hands-on training rather than just lecturing.
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.
Look around at the faces during your next station training night. That guy – how long has he been here? And him – is he close to retirement? Are there any new faces? How many are women, or represent visible minorities?
Social interaction is vitally important to the professional atmosphere in fire stations. Morale, being a result of good social interactions, is crucial to a successful and happy workplace. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at your own department. How well would your department operate if people did not get along?
Change has taken over in our fire services, and I suspect we experience more of it today than we did in years past. While it’s not uncommon to learn new ways to fight fire with new techniques and equipment, the greater change is happening to personnel.
In my November column, I discussed firefighter recruitment and the effects of the image projected to potential candidates by you and members of your department.
By now all firefighters are aware of the benefits of social media and many of us are proficient on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. I think it’s time to discuss the risks and hazards associated with social media and what I consider a somewhat disturbing trend in its use.
We all volunteered to become firefighters for a multitude of reasons, and we all have stories about why we chose to help our fire departments. We accept the fact that the role of a volunteer firefighter has changed and includes fighting fires and answering emergency calls for everything from medical calls to hazmat incidents.

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