The NEFEC was held March 23-25, at Deerhurst Resort and Conference Centre in the rocky Muskoka outpost of Huntsville, Ont. The NEFEC was hosted by the Nipissing/East Parry Sound Fire Services Mutual Aid Association and managed by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC).
Over 275 members of the Ontario fire service gathered for a full agenda of speakers and trade show on Friday and Saturday, with workshops capping the event on Sunday.
OAFC president Stephen Hernen provided an update on several of the association’s strategic initiatives, including improving two-way communication with members, generating new revenue streams through partnerships and grants, enhancing member services in the realm of PTSD prevention and becoming more effective at influencing legislation. Hernen noted that the OAFC was very active in getting firefighters exempt from certain provisions in Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act), which was projected to carry a heavy financial toll for municipalities in paying their volunteers.
The subject generating most questions amongst the audience was undoubtedly the proposed Ontario legislation that will require all firefighters to achieve mandatory training and certification requirements as set out by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). By all accounts, it appears the new regulation is heading towards finalization following the public consultation that has now closed.
Here are the key messages Hernen emphasized in regards to the changes:
- The OAFC supports the Ontario governments efforts to modernize fire service delivery through the requirement of certification.
- Grandfathering as an option has re-opened immediately for all. The closing date is Sept. 30 and people can start applying right away. He strongly encouraged the audience to take advantage of this clause while it is available.
- Hernen assured that he “went to bat” for small town Ontario in the roundtable consultations with the government and that they were not forgotten.
- In responding to audience concerns about how volunteers would be able to find the time to meet these new requirements, he noted that departments doing adequate training already shouldn’t have difficulty getting their members certified via third party testing, and there is an online component that allows for flexibility.
- The OAFC would like departments to share information regarding costs so the association can mobilize to acquire funding effectively from the government.
- The legislation and ensuing conversation highlighted the gravity to which volunteer recruitment and retention is a concern for departments.
In another highlight, Chief Mike Benson of Gogama Fire Department shared the story of a large CN Rail train derailment that happened in his community on March 7, 2015. Forty-three train cars were impacted, with two hitting the river after a bridge collapsed. He invoked an emergency status and followed a detailed emergency plan, the latter being attributed with key success to in making the emergency manageable. In the case of an emergency, Benson said it is up to the fire chief to assume the role of incident commander.
“The community has the be the first priority,” he said of his efforts to ensure that CN Rail’s interests in getting their trains up and running weren’t getting the upper hand.
Billy D. Hayes, chief program officer for The National Center for Fire and Life Safety, spoke on leadership Friday and Saturday. Fire Fighting in Canada sat in for the second leg on Saturday. Hayes drew upon history to illustrate why leadership is a privilege. The nuts and bolts of Hayes’ talk came down to having a positive outlook on leadership regardless of the challenges it presents. The key, Hayes said, is to be a solution driven leader,
Leadership has key functions Hayes summarized as this: develop observation skills by understanding events through scanning, monitoring and interpreting; use intuition, common sense and good judgement; be innovative; learn how to take calculated risks; share a vision; have presence; care about people and outcomes; and celebrate the success of everybody.