Health and wellness: Signs of  Trauma

Health and wellness: Signs of Trauma

Discussing mental health in the fire service is not easy, but it is vital. Firefighters have a higher incidence rate of mental illness and suicide than the general population. By Dave Wiklanski

Well Being: February 2019

Well Being: February 2019

Dr. Elias Markou discusses pros and cons of the ketogenic diet—the latest favourite diet trend of his firefighter patients. By Dr. Elias Markou.

Volunteer Vision: February 2019

Volunteer Vision: February 2019

Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie is not a big fan of the word “hero” for a couple of reasons. One is that he thinks it is used all too frequently, and the second is that he believes everyone is a hero to someone, most of the time. By Vince MacKenzie.

Anti-idling Technology

Anti-idling Technology

Anti-idling technology and policies could save Canadian fire departments thousands of dollars per year, according to a recent study. By Len Garis.

Leadership: Tornado Touchdowns

Leadership: Tornado Touchdowns

Ottawa Fire Services Chief Kim Ayotte recalls the response of the fire service and other first responders to six tornadoes that touched down in the Ottawa/Gatineau area last September. By Grant Cameron.

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Finally, it seems, the push to get a national Indigenous Fire Marshal’s Office (IFMO) up and running in Canada appears to be in the home stretch.
The Oak Bay Fire Department is sharing this article written by the late Ken Gill, who was a retired firefighter and served as volunteer chaplain with Oak Bay and Esquimalt Fire Departments on Vancouver Island.
The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault is gaining traction around the world – and rightfully so.
Smoke had filled the building. Inside, it was dark, I recall, and oppressively hot. The bulky firefighting equipment I wore was heavy, very heavy, especially the helmet.
Time passes, but where does it go? This element is a much pondered but muddily understood concept. And yet, everything is about time; the time it takes to arrive on scene, to suppress the fire, to save a life. The time you work, the time you play.
Finding candidates that are a good fit for the department is a universal challenge. As psychologist Dr. Lori Gray, said during her seminar at May’s OAFC 2018 show: “The wrong hire can have profound implications for you as a service.” Personal experience is probably bringing a few of these implications to mind now. In addition, she continued, you are not doing justice to candidates by hiring them for a job they are not suited for.
As first responders, the fire service has its lion’s share of stories. Emergencies are unique life events, and some of the stories I’ve heard thus far are quite humourous post-fact and in absence of significant injury — such as ones involving people found in compromising positions after a car crash.
May 23, 2017, Oakville, Ont. - My average day involves sitting in front of a computer, editing stories, and lots of coffee. What it doesn't involve is crawling through smoke, cutting up cars or running hoses. But the day I spent at the Oakville Fire Department was not an average day.Before I suited up in editor Laura King's gear, I was given a truck tour and shown around the training facility. The alarm went off and the firefighters had to race off to a nearby school. It seemed as if it took no more than 30 seconds for the guys to suit up and drive off.It probably took me 15 minutes to put on my turnout gear. Just as I was feeling comfortable in the gear, and feeling the weight of the SCBA on my back, Training Officer Darren Van Zandbergen slipped a smoke-simulation screen into my helmet and I was once again uncomfortable . . . and essentially blind.I never realized how little is visible through smoke. I assumed some light would peek through; crawling on the floor feeling my way around walls and fallen beams I realized how wrong I was. It was nerve-wracking to blindly feel my way through the training building, but ironically it was an eye-opening experience.I have edited Extrication Tips columns for Canadian Firefighter, but I finally got to experience what it's all about. The tools were much heavier than I expected, my previous extrication experience having been limited to on paper. It was tough, but I managed cut through the windshield and the sedan door.By the time I attended the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference that weekend, I felt I had a better understanding of the job. I was enrolled in the municipal officials seminar and attended a training day at the Fire & Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) in Mississauga.That day I spent in Oakville made me seem like a total pro at FESTI, so many thanks to everyone in Oakville!With "KING" on my back and looking like a pro, a few people at FESTI asked if I was from the King City Fire Department. Funnily enough, I was born, raised and still live in King City. What a way to represent my hometown!There's only so much you can learn in front of a computer. Getting out from behind my desk was one of the most valuable experiences to help me edit the work of fire chiefs and firefighters to the best of my abilities. I have so much more to learn about fire, but hopefully with your help, Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter readers, I will get there. I'll never be able to understand the ins and outs like you do, but it's worth trying.I feel really lucky to be able to report on the fire industry. Even more so, I feel lucky that I can edit knowing that I am safe because my local fire department has that under control. After each training session, I was reminded not to take emergency services for granted.So, the least I can do is bring relevant and informative stories to the fire service industry! Let me know what matters to you as a fire service professional? What do you want to read about? I am looking forward to learning more about the industry as an assistant editor, and maybe I will get to attend a few more training sessions in the process.Lauren Scott is the assistant editor of Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter magazines. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
May 18, 2017, Toronto - A firefighter with experience in water-ice rescue testified Wednesday at an inquest examining training deaths that he avoids exercises in icy, swift water because it is too dangerous.
Jan. 19, 2017, Toronto -  It’s complicated, this two-hatter issue. But the gist of it is this: an American-based trade union is denying its members the freedom that other Canadians have to work and do what they want in their spare time – build decks, plow snow, fix plumbing, be volunteer/part-time firefighters in their home communities.
Jan. 13, 2017, Redwood Meadows, Alta. -  Across this great country there have been many firefighters who have made significant contributions to their fire departments over many, many years. In recent days, I have been thinking about those who made a difference in our own department here in Redwood Meadows.
Jan. 4, 2017, Slave Lake, Alta. -  Run of the mill calls, or are they?
Discussing mental health in the fire service is not easy, but it is vital. Firefighters have a higher incidence rate of mental illness and suicide than the general population.
In Google’s 2018 year in review, the company declared the ketogenic diet, or keto diet, was the most popular diet search on the Internet. In 2019, I am sure the ketogenic diet will continue to remain on top of many diet searches.
With new legislation that came into force Oct. 17, 2018, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, it appears evident a whole new world is being unveiled to the fire service.
Anti-idling technology and policies could save Canadian fire departments thousands of dollars per year, according to a recent study.
The greatest threat to the health and well-being of those in the fire service is stress. Stress is at the root of most, if not all, chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and others.
So, it’s official. Recreational use of cannabis is now legal in Canada. Let the games begin.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect firefighters. Studies have found that 17 to 22 per cent of first responders are struggling with the problem.
On-the-job experience, smoke alarms and sprinklers have more impact on firefighter safety than a structure’s height or construction material, according to a study of newly available, Canada-wide fire statistics.
Many of us assume Canada is a peaceful, law-abiding nation free from violence and hostile events that seem to plague many others around the globe.
Far too often, we hear stories of vehicle accidents involving firefighters responding to emergencies in fire apparatus or in their own vehicles. This is an area where we, as an industry, can do much better.
It was Nov. 17, 1990, a night that Tyler Pelke, deputy chief at Red Deer Emergency Service, will never forget.
Eight years ago, Christopher Howe hit rock bottom.
I am very privileged to have had the opportunity to fly as a commercial pilot for a number of years. As I began my flight training, and later flew corporate aircraft across North America, I was always amazed at the synergies between professional aviation, incident command and leadership.
It was a Friday afternoon in September – the 21st to be exact. Kim Ayotte, fire chief of Ottawa Fire Services, was relaxing at his cottage in the Otter Lake area, just over an hour’s drive from the capital.
There is the famous phrase every firefighter in the world has heard or used, “But we have always done it that way.”
What does it take to be an exceptional leader, or even simply a good one? Fire chiefs and other government leaders are missing out on a crucial ingredient if they only look to the private sector for the answer.
What makes us firefighters? Well, it is not our cool hats and t-shirts. Nor is it our uniforms, personal protective clothing, fancy rigs or bumper stickers, expensive equipment, or our fire stations and badges. It’s our training.
Fire chiefs and those aspiring to move up the ladder to become leaders of departments must be fully dedicated to the profession, embrace change and demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning, says Lyle Quan, an emergency services and risk management principal at LPQ Solutions in Guelph.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation in Dearborn, Mich. I must admit that I didn’t really know what to expect, but suffice to say that I assumed that we would be looking at a collection of antique cars and trucks.  
The Canadian demographic landscape is extremely diverse, with many languages, cultures, beliefs and values. Yet overwhelmingly, both career and volunteer firefighters are generally white males. As fire service leaders, we need to work much harder to alter this prototype.   
I’m often asked what I look for when filling a senior leadership position that reports directly to, and works directly with me, on a daily basis.
Fire chiefs in Ontario and B.C. gathered in May and June for annual association trade show and conferences — and of course much networking and socializing to boot. Fire Fighting in Canada touched down in Toronto and Victoria to round-up some of the key highlights and product buzz.
I was sitting at my desk on a Friday morning in January eight years ago, just turning on my computer and getting ready for the day’s work, when the fire chief walked into his office, in civilian clothes, threw his keys on his desk and said “I’m retired”.
We have all felt the overwhelming crush of email abundance that comes each and every day. We have all felt the sense of defeat when trying to organize and answer all of the correspondence coming through your inbox. Emails have become a daily grind for many leaders, but at present time, a necessity of the workday.
Having a sprinkler system in your home can reduce your chance of dying in a fire by 79 per cent, according to a new study based on 10 years of Canadian fire data.Released in April by the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C., the study appears to bolster the call for mandatory sprinklers in all new homes in the leadup to the 2020 version of the National Building Code.Sprinkler Systems and Residential Structure Fires – Revisited: Exploring the Impact of Sprinklers for Life Safety and Fire Spread was written by Len Garis, Arpreet Singh, Joseph Clare, Sarah Hughan and Alex Tyakoff, who analyzed more than 439,000 fire incidents reported in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick between 2005 and 2015.“We wanted to take a fresh look at the data in light of modern-day fire response, demographics and building fire risk,” said co-author Clare, a senior criminology lecturer at the University of Western Australia and an international member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University. “The results underscore the life-saving potential of automated sprinklers in all residential settings, particularly when paired with working smoke alarms.”The study focused on casualty behaviour, fire spread and fire department resources in residential fires, which numbered 140,162 in the 10-year timeframe. Based on the findings, the death rate per 1,000 in non-sprinklered homes is more than triple that of sprinklered homes, and people are more than twice as likely to be seriously injured in a fire in a non-sprinklered home as in a sprinklered one.The data also revealed that fires in single-family homes caused more deaths than those in apartments, that senior citizens were more likely to die in a residential fire than younger people, and that fires in sprinklered homes required significantly less fire department intervention.The findings support the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs’ (CAFC) multi-year campaign pushing for mandatory sprinkler systems in all new homes – including single-family dwellings – in the National Building Code.“We can conclude that increasing the use of residential sprinkler systems would have a rising impact in the years to come, both because Canada’s population is aging and because modern-day furnishings, building materials and open-plan designs carry a higher fire load, as research has shown,” Clare noted.The study builds on an extensive body of existing research on residential sprinkler systems, including a 2013 study by Garis and Clare and a pivotal 1984 study A Benefit-Cost Model of Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems by S. Ruegg and S. Fuller that demonstrated a 63-to-69-per-cent reduction in the death rate per 1,000 fires, and prompted the U.S. Fire Administration official position that all homes should be equipped with both smoke alarms and automatic fire sprinklers, and all families should have and practice an emergency escape plan.Data for the new study was provided by the CAFC and the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners through Statistics Canada. Fire incident information available in the National Fire Information Database was also used to examine casualty behaviour, fire spread and fire department response.Overall, 97 per cent of the fires studied occurred in residential buildings without sprinklers. These fires resulted in 97 per cent of the injuries and 99.2 per cent of the deaths. Less than one per cent (0.6 per cent) of fires in single-family homes occurred in the presence of sprinkler protection. Of note: The death rate per 1,000 for fires in sprinklered homes was 0.9, compared to 3.3 in non-sprinklered ones. Only 10 per cent of injuries in fires in sprinklered homes were serious, compared to 23 per cent in non-sprinklered ones. Risk of death was not equal among ages and genders. People age 65 and up made up 30 per cent of the fire deaths in single-family dwellings and more than 33 per cent in apartment buildings. Males represented about two-thirds of all those injured or killed in a residential fire. Sprinklers were also shown to be successful in controlling fire spread. When sprinklers activated, fires were confined to the room of origin 88.4 per cent of the time, which was 1.35 times more frequently than for non-sprinklered buildings. When the type of housing was considered, the disparity was greatest for single-family homes, where fires with sprinkler activations were confined to the room of origin 1.5 times more frequently. In apartments, fires with sprinkler activations were confined to the room of origin 1.1 times more frequently.In total, only 1.6 per cent of fires in sprinklered properties spread beyond the building, compared to 5.7 per cent in non-sprinklered properties.Firefighters were also safer when working in sprinklered buildings. They were injured 1.6 times more frequently in non-sprinklered buildings. No serious firefighter injuries were reported in sprinklered building fires, as opposed to 15 per cent for non-sprinklered building fires.It should be noted that due to variations of fire spread and size or other fire-control mechanisms, sprinkler systems did not always activate when fires occurred. Sprinklers were only required to control 18 per cent of the fires in apartments or 28 per cent of the fires in houses.Overall, the study makes a strong case for the increased use of sprinkler systems in all types of residential buildings to reduce fire-related injuries, deaths and resource use.The protection is even greater when combined with early detection. Based on the new findings in combination with earlier research, it can be concluded that fire-related death rates per 1,000 fires are reduced by 43.7 per cent with working smoke alarms and 79 per cent with sprinkler systems.What can Canada’s fire community take away from this?“This is further evidence that mandatory sprinkler systems in all new homes would be a large, positive step towards furthering residential fire safety in Canada,” Clare said. “At the same time, we need to acknowledge that most of the population will continue to live in existing non-sprinklered homes. The approach going forward must include working smoke alarms, along with targeted strategies to protect older Canadians and others at higher risk.”The study can be downloaded for free from the University of the Fraser Valley’s public safety and criminal justice research database at cjr.ufv.ca/sprinkler-systems-and-residential-structure-fires-revisited-exploring-the-impact-of-sprinklers-for-life-safety-and-fire-spread/.Len Garis is the fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C. He is also an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and associate to the Centre for Social Research at the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C. Contact Len at
Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have been lovingly embraced by a large number of Canadians, nearly 23 million to be exact, young, old and every age in-between.
When I was CEO of the country's two largest homebuilding industry associations — first in Toronto, then Vancouver — part of my job was to meet regularly with mayors, councillors and senior building officials. | READ MORE
Everyone in the fire service is well acquainted with the ever-present argument around response times.  The overwhelming opinion for decades has been that rapid response is best. We have ingrained it in our firefighters, demanded it of our politicians and assimilated the public to a large extent.
The ever-emerging trend for municipalities across the country is to establish or expand corporate communications, a.k.a. “Corp Com.” For larger municipalities, it may be an entire department led by a director and consisting of several communications staff. For medium and small municipalities, it’s more likely one or two people dedicated to internal and external messaging, social media and other communications tasks.
Editor’s Note: In 2014, the city of Regina encountered alarming incidences of arson involving children. The December 2017 edition of Fire Fighting in Canada explored part 1 of the story, where fire investigators working with the schools began to determine who might be responsible for the escalating fires. Part 2 examines how the various players worked together to put a stop to it, eventually laying more than 20 charges of arson.
In September 2014, children in a Regina neighbourhood started hearing stories about kids setting garbage containers and garages on fire and that some of these fires were set using gasoline. While kids setting garbage fires is common in the neighbourhood – an average of 100 garbage fires are set by kids every year – this was different. Kids using gasoline was different and indicated fire setting behaviour was at a new, dangerous level.
Previous columns have discussed why all firefighters are responsible for public education, and the use of storytelling as a tool to get our messages across. It is time to add another layer: how to best teach and reach adults.
Unless your fire department still houses teams of horses, chances are, your suppression equipment and training have advanced over the years. Can you say the same about your public education? I have an easy three-question test, which, with a great degree of accuracy, can determine whether your public education is outdated.
Smoke alarms. CO alarms. Attended cooking. Clear dryer vents. How many of these topics has your fire department covered the past few years? The answer is likely all of them, yet there goes your crew again – another fire, started in the kitchen, unattended cooking, no smoke alarm.
"An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” author Stephen King said. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
How well do your public-education efforts protect your citizens in public-assembly buildings?
At 9 p.m. on Nov. 20, the tones went off for a tank truck fire in our district. In Slave Lake District, 50 super B oil tankers haul oil products through the region daily.
This is article number four. In past articles, I looked at lessons learned from some tragic circumstances that resulted in an inquest, gave you food for thought on best practice documents and the professionalism of emergency communications, and in September the focus was on avoiding liability. So, where do you go now?
As we begin a new year in the Fire Fighting in Canada series, I want to examine a few key items or areas that are important for us to consider when it comes to firefighters becoming complacent.
As a brand new chief officer thrust into the role by, in my view, an outmoded right of passage that many of us know as annual elections, I was, to say the least, more than a little bewildered.
At our Dec. 5 practice, I referred to the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire in 1999 that claimed the lives of six career firefighters. After some background, we looked specifically at the first of the 13 recommendations laid out in the Firefighter Fatality Investigation Report F99-47 CDC/NIOSH. This Trainer’s Corner will follow that pattern.
Jan. 18, 2019 - WorkSafeBC and the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) are hosting a full-day symposium addressing the risks of silo fires.Focusing on both prevention and response to silo fires, the event is geared for anyone in an industry using silos, bins, bunkers, or other bulk storage vessels. It will also be highly relevant to first responders who may respond to silo fires.Why should you attend?Silo fire prevention and suppression requires a unique approach. Risks include combustible dusts, structural collapse, and smoulders that can result in explosions.WorkSafeBC and WPAC have secured international expert Henry Persson, author of the seminal Silo Fires – Fire extinguishing and preventive and preparatory measures, to present for the first half of the day. The afternoon will feature local experts from industry and prevention agencies.Topics include:· Causes of silo fires and explosions· Silo firefighting techniques and procedures· Use of nitrogen and foam injection (including retrofitting silos with nitrogen injection)· Personal safety· Fire prevention methods· First responder training· Case studies· Risk assessment and managementChoose from these two full-day sessions:Richmond Silo Fires Session – REGISTERTuesday, February 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.Richmond Westin Wall Centre – 3099 Corvette Way, Richmond, B.C.This session offers a broad industry focus for anyone using silos and related structures, or responding to fires in these structures. This includes all first responders as well as the agriculture and agri-food sectors (dairy, grain, ranching, etc.), food and beverage production industries, and warehousing (operators at ports and terminals). Afternoon speakers include first responders and WorkSafeBC field specialists providing practical insights on identifying your hazards and implementing controls to reduce your risk.Prince George Silo Fires Session – REGISTERThursday, February 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.Prince George Civic Centre – 808 Canada Games Way, Prince George, B.C.This session includes overall silo fire information and practicalities with focused examples from the wood pellet and other forestry related industries. Afternoon speakers include silo operators, first responders, and WorkSafeBC.Registration is $25 +GST and includes a hot breakfast and lunch.Questions about these sessions?Contact Lisa Ross, 
I first wrote about the issue of rapid intervention team, or RIT, 10 years ago in an issue of Canadian Firefighter magazine. But, it’s an important subject that’s worth revisiting.
I feel a surge of pride every time I don my fire service uniform in preparation for another day working at the job I love.
I’m sure many of you will agree that experience is the best teacher. Good or bad, we learn from our experiences. It might just be me, but I am seeing more and more white-haired firefighters in my first responder’s circle.  
There is much to consider when it comes to taking calls and dispatching in the fire service.
Our department, like many, has a firefighter association attached to it which supports the department, its members and is a presence in the community. I join their meetings in an ex officio capacity and am fortunate to provide updates, occasionally with views, perspectives and encouragements in the “Chief’s Chat.” My recent offering was around how the overall operation of a fire department is much like our individual emergency responses.
This column was first printed in September 2012, but is worth repeating. While communications may not be an exciting topic for hands-on training, it is necessary. It seems communications is always the one constant denominator in every aspect of our job and it is always being improved upon so that it will work without fail.Good communication is important and plays a vital role in how well firefighters in a department respond, react and conduct themselves in day-to-day operations. A breakdown in communications leads to a dysfunctional fire department or fire ground.Different types of communications are used in the fire service that we should all be familiar with and well-versed in. They are written communications, face-to-face communications, electronic communications and radio communications.In the station, we will be exposed to written, face-to-face and electronic communications.Written communications include memos, communiques, emails, bulletins and so on. These are usually posted somewhere for all to see or may be directed to one person.Electronic communications will be in the form of an email sent via mobile phone, text message, Facebook posting, or Twitter. These types of communications will be directed to a single person, for the most part, or to a group of people that have access to the media being used.On the fire ground, we are limited to certain types of communications that can be used, such as radio, electronic and face-to-face.Communication by a portable radio is the most common method for most firefighters. A portable radio allows a team of firefighters to remain in contact with the incident commander (IC) and each other. It is a lifeline for a firefighter working on the fire ground. Without it, a firefighter would be left to more primitive ways to communicate such as face-to-face. The portable radio gives distance to the working crew by allowing firefighters to be far away from the IC yet still be able to report back or receive messages. Knowing how to use the portable radio correctly is the key to effective fire ground communications.Of all the ways to communicate with a person or persons, face-to-face is the best. It allows the receiver and the sender to have instant acknowledgement from each other when passing on information, asking a question or giving an order. Facial expressions, as well as body language, are also used in this method as a way to convey or receive a message. There is an opportunity to clarify a message so that a full understanding is obtained. The downside to face-to-face communications is that it reduces the distance a crew can be from the IC or sector officer. Close proximity must be maintained to remain in contact with each other. Same goes for interior crews working with a limited number of portable radios and/or failure of portable radios. Defaulting back to traditional face-to-face or verbal communications will be the only way to communicate with each other. For some firefighters, this is a lost art.  Dependence upon a portable radio is all they know. Training on how to communicate on the fire ground when the portable radio fails or is lost during an interior operation is a good idea. This will reinforce the traditional skills that are needed when such a situation occurs, and it will happen as a portable radio is an electronic device powered by a battery.When firefighters are using portable radios on the fire ground, communications can become confusing and/or very hard to follow. This can be due to a number of reasons. One reason is the usage of 10 codes. Using 10 codes in the fire service was removed when the National Incident Management System (NIMS) came into existence. NIMS was created and implemented as a result of the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. The communications breakdown that day and in the days that followed led to a common plain text language being adopted and used. Plain text language is everyday language that we use and permits people to be able to communicate with each other.Within NIMS there are also provisions for common terminology to be used on the fire ground. Terms such as sectors, divisions, geographical designations of buildings, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, roger, over and acknowledge are terms that are used in an effort to reduce the amount of confusion over the airwaves when trying to communicate via a portable radio or by other means.Another reason for communication confusion on the fire ground is firefighters yelling into the radio when trying to speak. When a message is being transmitted by the sender and the individual is yelling into the radio, it will be received as a distorted message with the receiver wondering what was said. This can be due to improper positioning of the radio to the mouth when transmitting. Avoid holding the radio/microphone directly in front of your mouth when speaking. Avoid pushing or swallowing the radio/microphone when speaking. Instead hold the radio/microphone on a 45-degree angle about two inches away from your mouth and you will send a clearer message. If wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, make sure the radio/microphone is positioned at the communication portals on the facepiece, which will allow you to speak clearly and not sound muffled. Holding your breath while relaying the message may also help. Removal of breathing sounds help to amplify the message transmission.Another method is to hold the radio/microphone directly to the lens of the facepiece when speaking. This requires putting the radio almost at eye level on the outside of the lens. With the radio/microphone in direct contact with the lens, the message comes across a lot clearer for the receiver. Avoid feedback between other radios on the fire ground when transmitting. This can happen when all crew members have a portable radio and one is trying to transmit. The feedback distorts the message. Turn away from other radios when transmitting a message.Using these simple but basic techniques when communicating on the fire ground will enhance the quality of the transmissions and remove the confusion factor for all.Mark van der Feyst has been a member of the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. Mark teaches in Canada, United States and India, and is a FDIC instructor. He is the lead author of the Residential Fire Rescue book. Email Mark at
I’m not a big fan of the word “hero” for a couple of reasons. One is that I think it is used all too frequently, and the second is that I believe everyone is a hero to someone, most of the time.
Reading a piece from a recently retired colleague got me thinking. In particular, a comment about finding something to wear other than a uniform every day once you retire made me think of the power a garment has and the impact it can have on a volunteer fire department.
I want to write about “vision.” It’s a word that appears in the title of this column every edition. But do we really stop to think what vision means in our volunteer and composite firefighting world?
Every one of us knows the customer experience firsthand. We’re all consumers, and at some point each and every day we receive some form of service. Hopefully, we are treated properly as a customer.
It’s evening, that period just after supper and before you go to bed. The kids are asleep and, despite the television being on, you’re on your phone checking social media and looking at funny cat pictures.Then it happens. The tones drop. Dispatch comes on and gives you information about a possible structure fire just outside your community. Multiple calls have been received. You get up from the couch and hurry to your room to put on some more appropriate clothing before heading outside to start your vehicle. Getting to the firehall takes about six minutes and if you want to make a truck and get to the fire in time to have any impact you need to get moving.Sound familiar?Response time to any emergency is of critical importance to fire departments all across Canada.Preparation begins with the individual firefighter. The first step is to prep your individual kit. Having pants, socks, t-shirt (weather depending of course) and boots placed in a dedicated area negates time lost searching for clothing in the dark or in a panic. Ensuring the vehicle used to respond to the hall is clear of snow, full of gas and angled out and not blocked in is also a strategy, aiding in faster reaction times. Another trick is to put the keys to that vehicle in a place that is consistent. Looking for keys or eyeglasses is a time-killer.Responding from your house to the hall has to be done in a professional and safe manner. Planning ahead will ease that strain. Drive the route under normal conditions. Know the back streets and alleys that you could use in the event of obstruction. Identify hazards you want to avoid such as school zones, playgrounds and seniors’ complexes when travelling to the station. Understand road conditions, watch the weather forecast for precipitation and account for those factors when you respond.Another innovative way to reduce the timeframe from house to hall is to use a green light. This is unique in Canada and used by many rural departments in many provinces. Some, like Alberta and Ontario, have it written into their legislation. By mounting a green light inside a personal motor vehicle, a statement is being made that you are a firefighter, likely a volunteer, and, when activated, that there is an emergency that requires attending. This may seem like an easy venture to partake in, but it isn’t successful unless an educational component is attached to it.The first stage is ensuring firefighters using the lights understand their obligations and responsibilities under respective provincial traffic safety acts. Firefighters must know that the use of a green light provides no special privileges and all normal traffic control devices and regulations have to be followed.   View the embedded image gallery online at: https://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&Itemid=1&lang=en&layout=latest&view=latest#sigProGalleria4a3899ff4e Once firefighters understand those requirements, the second and more difficult phase begins – creating awareness amongst the public. Not every driver knows what a flashing green light signifies. Posting signs in your municipality that explain what a green light means is a great way to focus that message on anyone that enters your communities via a roadway. Social media posts, school talks and community events are also perfect ways to distribute the message. Green lights do not require another motorist to pull over, but it is a courtesy to yield the right-of-way to the responder, thus clearing the path to the hall.Once at the hall, there are still numerous little ways to speed things up. First, adequate parking is a must. In the Northwest Territories, this includes space for snow machines and snowmobiles. Safe parking spaces that are away from responding bay doors and exit routes is a consideration. Once parked, having the main door open for firefighters to enter through is a big help. Some departments open one of the bay doors, usually the door without the responding apparatus coming out of it, which allows firefighters moving from the parking lot to gain access to the hall without having to use keys to open locks or punch in access codes to pull the door open and gain entry. Arriving at the lockers, a firefighter should have stored his or her turnout gear in such a manner as to assist with rapid donning. Pre-rolled pants over the boots with gloves and balaclava attached to the coat save time.Technologically speaking, the use of firefighter responder apps on cellular devices are beneficial for telling departments who is on the way, sometimes how long it is expected to take them and provides the crucial data of how many firefighters are responding. Knowing who is coming and their specific skill sets and capabilities not only speeds up truck response, but it also arms an officer with advanced knowledge of the differing levels of experience available when a truck arrives on-scene.Responding to a call from the station often requires advanced training from the officer and driver. The officer must know where the call is, the quickest way to get there, and be aware of any barriers to the response. The driver must have knowledge of emergency vehicle operations, provincial traffic act rules regarding lights and siren usage, and be skilled enough to maneuver a vehicle under stressful conditions.Post-call review is also an important component to enhancing response times. Determining a department’s level of service is the first step. NFPA 1720 is the standard to strive for. Ignoring that standard is poor planning. Acknowledging the existence of that standard and working on complying accordingly is the right avenue to take. Gaining input from firefighters on how to further expedite responses is also worth a debrief after the call.Kirk Hughes is deputy fire chief of the M.D. of Taber Regional Fire Department in Alberta. A veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Kirk served with the Burlington, Ont., Portage la Prairie, Man., Deline, N.W.T., Fort Providence, N.W.T., and Behchoko, N.W.T., fire departments before taking a position with the Municipal District of Taber as the director of community safety.
Recruitment. It seems to be a topic of discussion a lot lately. Fire chiefs and officers are telling me that not only is it getting harder to recruit volunteer fire fighters these days, but when we do, some of the successful hires leave in a few short years for fulltime fire fighting jobs.
Many have heard me quote this saying about the fire service: it’s “150 years of tradition, unimpeded by change.” But that’s not entirely true. There really is change in the fire service – it just doesn’t happen overnight. Believe me, in the last 35 years I’ve seen my fair share of change; it has and does occur on a regular basis, not only in the way we conduct ourselves and the job we do, but the change in the people that do the work itself.  
You may be familiar with the phrase “sharing is caring”.  In this case, if you share this column in one way, shape or form, it may go a long way toward caring for those volunteers in your fire hall. This just may be the opportunity to tell the community their story.
Reflection. Wow, there is another one of those power words like Resilience, Change or Inspiration. Words that good leaders have emblazoned on their foreheads, or that we’d like to believe is the case.  
Feb. 1 marks a fire fighting milestone for me. It will be my 35th anniversary of the day I joined my hometown fire department and became a volunteer firefighter. I remember entering the fire hall that first training night, all excited and proud of the journey I was about to embark on. Now I look back and am even more proud of what the fire service means to me.
Firefighters are the kind of people that will help anyone, anywhere. For the most part, the communities they serve are willing to pitch in whenever needed too. That is, until it actually happens.
Firefighters do hazardous work, and that work can be very unpleasant at times. Emergency services form the safety network of our communities, and in the vast majority of communities volunteers are doing this work.

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