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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 
Feb. 25, 2016, Milverton, Ont. - The recently released movie Deadpool broke the superhero mold, broke box-office records, and even broke the biggest film risk of all: the fourth wall (the imaginary barrier that separates actors from the audience). Ryan Reynolds' adaptation of the Marvel character was soaked up by everyone who saw the leaked footage, the movie trailer, and then the film itself. Suffice it to say, Deadpool is just as much a social-media success as it is a box-office bonanza.Why?Because it grabs and holds on to people's attention. The movie is funny, raunchy and irreverent. Cast and crew took a cookie-cutter Marvel comic superhero action flick and took the safety off. The finished product is something audiences have never before seen.There's a lesson in Deadpool for fire-service public educators, including me.We obviously cannot suddenly make our smoke- and CO-alarm messaging contain F-bombs. But we can twist the predictability out of it.The general public is exposed to the most vulgar, arguably funny, violent and sarcastic humour ever produced. Every day. Which means any lame attempts to get a fire-safety message across are largely ignored. In fact, your fire department's tweets could be purposefully un-followed because your "Make sure you test your alarms" message is just plain boring.Your first piece of homework is to watch Deadpool. Watch it knowing that, although it is an R-rated film intended for the 18-or-older audience, there are probably more teenagers than adults in the audience. Now look at your public-education messaging and materials, which are likely unchanged from decades ago. While your audience's maturity levels have increased severely for each age group, the fire service's messaging has not kept up the pace.Your next piece of homework is to go on YouTube and watch the popular videos of the day or week. These videos are how today's kids are learning. Videos are how companies introduce us to products. Want to see a tent from Canadian Tire set up? Go on YouTube. Want to know how to remove a battery or change a SIM card in that exact type of cell phone? There are multiple video how-to guides to choose from.While you're on YouTube, search for Slap Chop. This seemingly corny infomercial-type video went viral, because its star, Vince, twisted the predictability out of product demonstration. The energy and enthusiasm of the Slap Chop videos are contagious and make the audience want to try the product. Your next bit of homework is to think about what it would look like if Vince were testing a smoke alarm instead.Finally, your last bit of homework on YouTube is to watch any and all Budweiser commercials, especially ones created for the Superbowl. These videos will teach you what Budweiser has perfected; there may be only one product or one behaviour, (i.e. buy beer) you want to promote, but there are multiple ways to get the message across. From baby Clydesdales to donkeys to beautiful people having a good time, Budweiser hits its target audience from every angle.Now for the final exam. Think about a movie that you saw two, three or even four decades ago. Think E.T. or Ghostbusters. As relevant as those stories are, chances are your kids are absolutely groaning at the so-called special effects or action sequences. That's pretty much how audiences react to our predictable, mainstream fire-safety materials. Your final exam is to Deadpool, Slap Chop or Budweiser at least one set of public education materials. Do something your community has never seen before. Bring new energy and enthusiasm into your project. Send one message using multiple angles.Your next video might not be a summer blockbuster and your materials might not make you millions in revenue, but a cutting-edge take on public education could save lives.
Nov. 13, 2015, Simcoe, Ont. – To Bruce Power from our magazine's main office in Simcoe is a good three and a half-hour drive northwest. Yesterday, in storming conditions, editor Laura King and I made the trip up to tour the much-touted fire training centre and preview cutting-edge sensor technology from Globe.And, like any good participatory journalists, we brought gear in case we had a chance to play!Privately owned Bruce Power nuclear generating station is the largest in the world. And as is befitting for such a massive, city-like facility, it has an awe-inspiring fire department and training centre.It's obvious Bruce Power Fire Chief Brian Cumming is proud of the new $25-million fire-training centre, which opened in April, and we appreciated his enthusiasm to show us around.For years, he said, the department shipped its members out to regional training centres across the province. Now, the department wants other fire services to come train with them.The centre is massive. The storage room alone is spacious, leading to a fitness area, classrooms and, most impressive of all, indoor fire props in multiple rooms. (The indoor aspect was well appreciated on a day with pouring rain and bitter wind!)The props, built by Pro-Safe Fire Training Systems, include replications of a turbine generator and primary-heat transport pump/motor, both one-third the size of those operating on site.As Chief Cumming told us, Bruce Power firefighters need to train as close as possible to the real deal, because a fire in a nuclear plant . . . well, no one wants to be reading about that in the newspapers! Much of the department's focus when not training is on fire prevention.To further the safety of its some 120 full-time firefighters, Bruce Power is testing Globe's WASP (wearable advanced sensor platform) technology, the first department in Canada to do so.Globe's Canadian sales rep Don King and WASP project manager Kathy McNutt were on hand to run a test of the tech. Firefighters wearing the WASP T-shirts ran a simulation with the turbine prop and we watched from the control room as their breathing rate and heart rates increased from the activity. (Look for more details about WASP in an upcoming cover story about new technology.)As a final highlight to the day, Laura and I geared up and took part in an exercise in the vertical motor room – Laura on the foam and me with the water stream. We were swimming in foam by the end.As a writer for, but not member of the fire service, it's always good to experience and appreciate the difficulty of the job.Decidedly well worth the drive.Check out more photos of the tour in our Facebook gallery.
Aug. 4, 2015, Simcoe, Ont. – Almost everyone I spoke with during my time at the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario’s (FFAO) annual convention on the weekend, had pretty much the same thing to say: “We’re a family.” And, frankly, the convention basically looked like a giant family reunion. Hundreds of campers filled a soccer field next to a massive covered picnic area, and everywhere volunteer firefighters and their families sprawled, chatting with their neighbours and watching the activity. The training was over by the time I arrived for the annual general meeting on Saturday, but I made it in time for the trade show and firefighter games. And as anyone would when crashing a family reunion, I sensed the love and support the members have for each other. Touring the grounds with FFAO board member and Township of Centre Wellington Chief Brad Patton after the morning meeting, we were warmly greeted by everyone we came across. With more than 300 firefighters from 55 departments, and almost 100 visitors (i.e. spouses and children), it was the biggest family reunion I’d ever seen. FFAO president and Port Colborne firefighter Chris Karpinchick explained the value of the casual and friendly convention best when he said that yes, formal training and education are important, but, “You learn just as much walking around talking to everyone. ‘We had this call.’ ‘Oh, what did you do there? Oh, we did this and this and this. Hmm, never thought of that, maybe we’ll try that at home.’” Karpinchick is going into his second year as president of the association after taking over from long-time member Dave Carruthers in October. Karpinchick honoured his predecessor during the AGM by presenting him with the president’s award. Karpinchick told me several stories of Carruthers’ dedication to the FFAO and of his continued assistance to him as president. It’s clear the award is well deserved. The association also welcomed three new executive members on the weekend. Next year’s convention is happening again in Wainfleet and organizers are expecting an even larger turnout after word spreads of this year’s success. Now boasting a new, attractive website and a focus on training and education, the association is going places, and it’s hoping to pick up new family members along the way.
May 5, 2015, Simcoe, Ont. – This past weekend was full of lessons and firsts for me in my (relatively) new role of assistant editor. With laptop, camera, phone and tape recorder in tow, I attended my first Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference and trade show in Toronto. Those of you who know me (particularly the ones I met at the conference) will know I’m a total conference newbie. I’m about nine months into the job and learning more every day. I probably looked a little lost throughout the weekend, but I was lucky enough to have an experienced editor at my side to help me navigate the unfamiliar territory. (Thank you, Laura King!) My expectations were high going in with this being Canada’s largest show, and after hearing stories about how fun it can be from my colleagues. Three activity-filled days later, I can now report that those expectations were exceeded. It was the first time I messaged my loved ones with: “Having fun while working this weekend. How bizarre!” Without further ado, here are the top five things I – an inexperienced conference-goer – learned at the OAFC conference and trade show 2015: 1) Social media introduces you to people.  I can’t tell you how many times I recognized faces from Twitter or Facebook and introduced myself with, “I know you!” And it was true – on a social-media level I did know them and we were already introduced. I thank my active presence on social media for making it easier to meet and greet during both the conference and trade show. You can bet I’ll be ramping that up over the next little while, and adding a ton of new acquaintances. 2) Networking can happen anywhere. Whether it’s a discussion during the morning coffee break or bumping into a conference-goer in the hotel lobby, networking is happening at all hours during a conference. And networking, we all know, is the quintessential conference experience. Meeting new people is the best way to learn from them. Granted, what I’m learning as an assistant editor of a magazine is slightly different than what chief officers are learning from each other! 3) Plans help, but it’s still easy to feel overwhelmed. This lesson is specific to the trade show since the OAFC did not overlap its sessions. The Ontario trade show is the largest in Canada and I don’t think I was quite prepared for its size. (I have, of course, been informed of the craziness that is FDIC trade show in Indianapolis.) I combated my feelings of awe by wandering about slowly to take it all in, then doing a second sweep of particular booths I wanted to revisit. I was lucky enough to meet a few patient vendors who gave me laymen’s explanations for their featured products. In the future, I’d feel more prepared if I knew what products I’d like to focus in on, while being open to anything that catches my eye. 4) Don’t forget your business cards. This one is pretty specific, but I thought I’d throw it in since I did, in fact, forget my business cards and keenly felt their absence. In fact, at one point, a new acquaintance took a photo of the lone card I had stashed in my wallet so that he had a copy for reference. You can imagine my embarrassment! Lesson learned. 5) And lastly, firefighters, especially leaders, are passionate about their jobs. I had an idea of this passion before I went into the conference after months of editing copy written by firefighters, and chatting with many on the phone. But it wasn’t until I sat in on Saturday’s learning sessions that I got a real sense of the extent of that passion. Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., Fire Chief and Fire Fighting in Canada columnist Vince MacKenzie’s passion for the volunteer fire service and leading with the positivity shined through during his presentation on leadership attitude. Kingsville, Ont., Fire Chief Bob Kissner was clearly amped up to share his knowledge of flow paths and SLICE-RS to the room of attendees. And David Griffin – a firefighter from Charleston, S.C., who presented on the Charleston 9 firefighters who lost their lives at the Sofa Super Store fire in 2007 – took the cake for passion, and volume. He spoke (yelled) on the need to embrace change in the fire service, drawing from the lessons learned by his department. Outside of the sessions, passion came through during the trade show Sunday as vendors eagerly shared their products and explained how they can help keep firefighters safe. And passionate faces beamed Saturday night as the organizers of the Ladders Up for the Foundation event proudly held up a $28,000 cheque for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Thank you to all those passionate people who made my first conference and trade show experience a complete blast!
Aug. 18, 2014, Toronto – As I write this, my arms, legs and core are all a little sore, but it’s the kind of sore you wake up to the morning after a good workout. Now, I’m not much of a gym rat, but I could certainly get used to workouts at the Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) in Toronto where I was taken through firefighter training on Wednesday.
April 24, 2014 – Editor’s note: Jasper, Alta., Fire Chief Greg Van Tighem finished his cycling journey along Highway 16 on April 14. The first part of his trip, which raised awareness of and funds for Multiple Sclerosis, took him from Masset, B.C., to Jasper, and the second part took him to Winnipeg. Now, after a whirlwind expedition, Greg is recapping his experience. You can see more on the website and follow Chief Van Tighem on Twitter at @_gvt
May 11, 2016, Winnipeg - The Toronto Star published an editorial cartoon yesterday of a group of superheroes standing together in solidarity in front of a Fort McMurray firefighter – Superman, Batman, and other comic-book icons looking stoic and in appreciation of a humble firefighter who was covered in soot from protecting his community; the image has appeared all over social media.
Jan. 3. 2016, Winnipeg - If you’re thinking of getting your 2016 off to a great start you could make one of those new year’s resolutions to get in shape – where you work out hard for about two weeks, then start slowly making excuses as you miss workouts and rationalize away your fitness goals to the point at which it is everything else and everyone’s else’s fault but yours that you failed. Sounds harsh I know, but I’ve been there; I speak from experience on this one and I know some of you have also struggled with goals at some point in your own lives. What if we got past these minor mental letdowns and we turned them around to be connected strings of successes? This could add up to our best year ever! This new year, instead of making a physical commitment for better health, maybe it’s time to make an ideological change. Maybe it’s time we train our brains to move past the temporary failures of promises not kept and take control of our lives for once and for all. Imagine what that kind of power could do for your goals. Maybe this is your year to take responsibility for your life and truly achieve what it is you’re after! I wanted to share with as many firefighters as possible a new book that teaches you how to take ownership of your life. Now I will never profess to being a professional book reviewer, however my own journey of development has allowed me to read too many leadership, management and improvement books that all start to say the same things, with the same ideas, and the same objectives that ultimately form the basis for a murky picture of what self leadership truly is. The problem is most of the books are not for firefighters, or do not have the linkages to our culture and way of thinking. I don’t have to tell you that our way is unique to almost every other vocation out there. So finding resources that can inspire us is a tall task. Until now.  I received and quickly devoured Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin as a gift this Christmas. Willink and Babin didn’t know they were writing a book specifically for firefighters; in fact they actually were writing the book for everyone because in my opinion they see at times a problematic world which, in their words, a lack of extreme ownership is the No. 1 issue. There has never been a book not written for firefighter that is so truly intended for firefighters. Extreme Ownership does not make any groundbreaking revelations about leadership. Truth be told, no one has made any major advancements in academic theory on the subject in years, so what we are left with is who can best clearly explain the concepts in a way that resonates for your unique situation. The book’s power comes from the simple and clear messages told through epic stories of battlefield conflict in the United States-led Iraq war on terror in the city of Ramadi, and how the lessons learned relate to your life and business. Both the authors were there as Navy Seal leaders who led SEAL Team Three’s task unit Bruiser. Their stories will make every firefighter take a good hard look at his or her own personal accountability and ask if he or she has the ownership required to succeed. How SEALs think, operate, and maintain a culture teamwork and discipline is not unique to just their profession as the fire service embodies much of the same thinking. However, Navy SEALs take leadership to the extreme. For this reason it makes perfect sense for SEALs to coach firefighters on teamwork, leadership and brotherhood. I remember being in a bar in New York City just blocks away from Ground Zero called Suspenders on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 when a about half a dozen Navy Seals came  down the stairs to where more than 100 firefighters from all over North America were enjoying a few beers and celebrating the lives lost 10 years ago. Within a few minutes, word had spread around the bar about who these gentleman were, then the line started. I’ve never seen firefighters star struck; certainly no other emergency service workers would command so much respect, but these men became the focus of the evening much to their chagrin. The SEALs were humble and respectful, shaking hands and accepting the appreciation.  Their team took a corner table in the back of the bar, backs to the wall as if to scope out the exits and survey the room. It will always be one of my fondest memories of my NYC trip. So if you have ever wanted to learn, grow, and expand your knowledge on leadership but were hesitant to dig into what you might think is a management book or a dry academic text, this book will be your new mantra. One of the authors, Willink, has already inspired me with his 5 a.m. postings of photos on social media of his militant discipline for taking charge of his life. It is my goal to challenge this man and make myself better by getting up before him and posting my work out before he even gets out of bed! There are no direct references to the fire service in the book but there are more than a dozen fully applicable tactics and strategies that will have you thinking these naval specialists wrote the book on some of our traditional rules and methods that have been a part of us for more than a century. One of the best chapters is Chapter 2, No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders, which uses story of switching the leaders of two opposing boat crews that are on complete opposite ends of the success spectrum. How it turns out and the lesson learned are so applicable to our own fire service issues that I think the authors might have written the story about us. So this is where I turn the page and leave you with your own ability to choose. Will you take extreme ownership? I know what I want to do; this book has given me the fuel to make some positive steps through which I take ownership. Happy new year and here’s to owning our futures!Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Email him at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and follow him on Twitter @firecollege
March 6, 2015, Winnipeg - I was recently assigned a temporary position seconded to our Winnipeg Fire Paramedic headquarters to assist with our Emergency Preparedness Program. As well, I’ve was asked to look at some policies and see if there are ways to streamline some of our processes. As you know, an emergency service organization runs off of rules, procedures, guidelines and orders, and it can be quite a task to keep track of all these directives. So far, adjusting to a nine-to-five work week has been OK, however, I did find myself in a Costco on Saturday afternoon cursing my nine-to-five existence. Such is life – as I found out – that Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Costco is virtually empty. There are some perks, however; I have not missed one of my kid’s hockey games, and I’ve attended a few more dance classes to watch my youngest daughter learn ballet, which I might add is extremely difficult. I’m not sure how these dancers aren’t recognized, along with their instructors, as competitive athletes. I never would have thought that ballet would be so rigid in structure, and yet so understated in all of its elegance and splendour. I actually found myself putting my phone away and watching how the transitions play out from one dance segment to the next. My wife took me to the Nutcracker many years back and I did not know it was a ballet. I thought we were going to some stuffy, up-tight building to see some guys in big hats and soldier suits sing some songs and march around at Christmas time; it was all just Nutcrackers to me. I guess when you’re not actually seeing the trees through the forest you have no idea what you’re actually looking at. Not only have my perceptions of routine things in my personal life changed, but I have also taken a new view in my work life of how a Fire Paramedic department works. I’ve always known generally how it works, just as you know the trees are there; but I had never realized just how important the administration staff members are to a fire and paramedic department. First, the administration support staff basically make up the nucleus of headquarters – without this bunch of dedicated soldiers the work of the department does not get done, period. There is no other way to define these women and men other than as absolutely crucial, and a gazillion times awesome. Here in Winnipeg, the HQ staff that support all the different branches are vital in collecting, analyzing, sorting, creating and processing everything. While the chiefs are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the organization, the actual management of these forward-moving directives is carried out through the work of these fine people in administration. Secondly, the Information technology folks are, by and large, my new secret service, spy-type heroes. IT folks are amazing, and I have unfortunately realized by watching them shoot lasers out of their fingers that I really have no clue how to use a computer. I’m very jealous of their knowledge and the ease by which they do their work. There are probably 10 other working groups up here at WFPS HQ that I could throw compliments to, and they all deserve their kudos as well, however I’ve only been upstairs for a month, and have not had a chance to meet and or work with everyone yet. I think it is very important that every fire and paramedic personnel get a chance to see how the job is run from inside the forest. I can tell you that I certainly see a few more trees today than I did just a few short weeks ago. And while emergency services work may not always be as elegant as the ballet, the professionalism and dedication to the task unquestionably produces an orchestrated masterpiece. Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it @firecollege
Jan. 20, 2015, Winnipeg - I know a few cops and, in general, I will always defend my opinion that cops are kind of cliquish, even more so than us. They’re a tight bunch, and rarely let anyone into their inner sanctuary, preferring to keep their blue brotherhood under guarded care. I get it, because I understand the job. Police are rarely celebrated when they arrive on scene. Usually, 50 per cent of the folks on scene are the problem, and, in some cases, everyone is. When the fire truck shows up, we’re usually greeted with some kind of statement of support, sincerity, and thankfulness. Police not so much. Now police officers get a bad rap because they enforce the law; when we break it, we’re obviously in the right, and the officer is out to lunch. Sound familiar? That’s a stupid law. I barely touched the guy. I only had seven beers and I’m fine! Imagine going to work when everyone and their cousin believe you to be doing a crappy job, for the most part, all of the time. Imagine getting spit on, or having children speak to you disrespectfully because they were raised to mistrust you. As firefighters, we wear the negative stuff and chew on it for a while, swallow it down deep and try to bury it. We’ve all seen stuff; stuff that we didn’t talk about at our spouses’ Christmas parties last month. We seem to understand and can relate to how police deal with the pain in their own souls that can start to wear on you. The real problem I have been dealing with lately is the lack of understanding, the hatred, the ignorance of what is really happening. Police deal with saving souls, and while firefighters do as well, I would gladly admit that firefighters deal with the misfortunes of life inflicted on folks from a perspective of non-culpability. A lot of the time, when we arrive, it is no ones fault. Fault creates blame, blame creates anger, and anger fuels the demons inside of us. When choices are made by people who are desperate, have lost hope, and have sunken to a depth at which point, in their own minds, committing a crime is the way out, you’ve now arrived at evil. And cops are in the business of dealing with evil like nobody’s business. Firefighters deal with evil but not anywhere near as much as those sworn to protect us from it. Society is changing before me; statistics may support the theories of a declining crime rate, but I believe the people that reach evil are in large parts more desperate, determined, and internally conflicted with rage and hatred toward us. We can argue until the cows come home about the differences between cops and firefighters; we can have our jokes, good-natured ribbings, and laughs at each other expense. But in the end, I want every police officer to know from coast to coast that I get it, I understand you, and I support you in your efforts to protect my family and the citizens in your care. I’m just so damn tired of cops getting shot, and I wanted to say thank you, and never give up. *Carousel photo from Flickr by Robert TaylorJay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Along with multiple fire and emergency services courses and certificates, Jay holds a master's degree in disaster and Emergency management from Royal Roads University and is an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @firecollege
Dec. 5, 2014, Winnipeg – Darius is my new hero. Truth be told, I didn’t even know the kid before his babysitter and this little man showed up at my fire station; the young woman, all bundled up for a Winterpeg day, rang the fire-hall doorbell and I happened to be right there. I answered the door and the woman asked if she and her young charge could see a fire truck. I looked down and there was this bright, smiley-faced kid that I put at about three years of age. As I started to say, “Sure come on in,” the kid ker-klonked right by me, snow boots on and all. He loves fire trucks his babysitter said. For the next 15 minutes, Darius and I talked about the job in a way that I’ve never had the pleasure to do with a four year old. You see, Darius will be a firefighter but he can’t apply now because he is only four, he informed me. He told me with certainty that when he is maybe 20 he can drive the truck. Darius and I talked about hoses and water supply, as he did not know that the fire truck had water in it already, explaining to me that firefighters get the water from the hydrants. It was quite apparent that this child had had someone in the family read to him about the fire service. I asked some more questions to find out if Darius had a relative on the job, but it did not seem like it. Darius will be our future. Darius will be a first-generation firefighter when he is 20, and, until that time, I will do my best to keep the job moving along so when it is his time to take over the reins, the job will still be the same magical place for him as it is for me now. For the rest of the day I felt invigorated and happy to serve, and Darius was the reason I felt this way; it was a quick reminder of the importance of what we do. Every day in the media we seem to see stories of public emergency services under some sort of attack – budget cuts here, firefighters doing this over there, and horrifically sad stories everywhere. It can get to you some times, and I will admit that there are days that the seed of complacency could be planted. It takes a good fire – which sounds awful but you now exactly what I mean – or a great save to really appreciate how lucky we are to do this for a living. That same day we had that good fire in the middle of the afternoon at which the crew pulled together and made a really good stop on a dirty basement fire – high heat, lots of smoke and all in -25 C conditions makes for a stellar afternoon. There were no injuries and we were all thankful for the chance to practise our trade under really challenging conditions. Right after the fire I had to get to my kid’s hockey practice; I am now the head coach of a group of 13-year-old boys. Several of the other coaches and a few mothers commented on how I smelled like a bonfire, even though I had had a quick shower. I informed them that I had just come from work. Suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed and parents were now looking at me funny. One dad said, “Wow I can’t believe you guys do that.” But all I could think about was how in 16 years I hope I am still on the job so I may have a chance to fight a fire with Darius.When Darius left the fire hall, I loaded him up with fire-prevention colouring books and a stuffed fire dog and I asked him in front of his babysitter to tell his folks to check his smoke alarms. She smiled at me and knew I was really talking to her. I have to keep this kid safe for a few more years until he can drive me around on the truck. Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg. Along with multiple fire and emergency services courses and certificates, Jay holds a master's degree in disaster and Emergency management from Royal Roads University and is an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @firecollege*Carousel photo from Flickr by Michael Himbeault
Sept. 23, 2014, Winnipeg - As a firefighter-PCP working in a busy urban centre I often get the opportunity to talk to families about the medical care that their loved ones are getting. I’ve written about this before in columns and blogs but this issue came to light again when I had some medical issues recently with my 10-year-old terrier cross pooch.
Aug. 1, 2014, Winnipeg - I love baseball movies. I actually like baseball movies more than I like baseball. I’ve never played the game and don’t really understand all of its intricacies. But baseball movies, they’re fantastic; they have drama, action, even romance, and usually inspire us to change, grow, and challenge ourselves to be more than we ever dreamed we could be.
July 28, 2014, Winnipeg - My son has just informed me that he wants to fight fire for a living. I quickly countered that he should try to get into the senate, but he just starred at me and said, Huh?
Jan. 4, 2017, Slave Lake, Alta. -  Run of the mill calls, or are they?
Monday, March 1, 2010 The game’s over. The Games are over. It’s Monday morning comin’  down from Sunday’s dramafest. Hockey fans across Canada rode the emotional roller coaster. In Vancouver, those who couldn’t afford a second mortgage to buy tickets from scalpers started lining up at the three major free viewing areas in downtown Vancouver at daybreak Sunday. Bars in the downtown core were jammed long before they could legally serve refreshments. As with the previous Canada-USA game, the streets were almost deserted when the puck was dropped.
Sunday, Feb. 28 So I was listening to the opera on Saturday afternoon (s’truth) on CBC Radio 2 (La Boheme) and Bill Richardson had Michael Farber on as his guest. As in, Michael Farber the hall of fame hockey writer for Sports Illustrated. Turns out he’s as big a fan of opera as he is of hockey. He had been hoping for a Canada-Russia final, with Canada as his pick. Check out his take on the quarter-final game here.
Saturday, Feb. 27 Not even Satan could stand between Team Canada and its date with Team America on Sunday afternoon. Miroslav Satan, that is. Right wing for Slovakia when not lacing his skates for the Boston Bruins. Scored the winning goal against Norway and almost had the tying goal against Canada. That’s why games are 60 minutes precisely and not one second longer.  
Friday, Feb. 26   The Canadian ego received a much-needed boost with the women’s hockey gold medal victory over the Americans on Thursday. Walking past CBC Vancouver in the waning minutes of the third period, it was neat to watch CBC’s TV news anchors (they’re broadcasting from the sidewalk during the Olympics), watching the game televised by CTV though the window of the restaurant next door
Thursday, Feb. 25 Downtown Vancouver erupted for joy at the conclusion of the Russia-Canada hockey game.  A wall of sound washed across English Bay and over a solitary photographer (me) setting up on Kits Point for some shots of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Vectorial Elevation light show. People yelling from apartment windows, banging pots, blowing horns and whistles, sounding car horns.
Wednesday, Feb. 24   The rain returned on Tuesday, along with the wind, making for a cold and miserable day for those who came outside in Vancouver. You’d think it was the middle of winter. Even at that, there were lots of people out and about on foot downtown. Not the stifling crowds of the sunny weekend, but still a lot of very enthusiastic people braving the elements. You can measure the buzz level by the length of the lineups at several key places. The Royal Canadian Mint has a pavilion the features the process behind the making of Olympic medals and allows viewers to handle the medals. Today’s lineup was down to about 90 minutes from Saturday and Sunday’s four hours.
Tuesday, Feb. 23 Yet another sunny day in Vancouver and Whistler Monday, though the rains are due to return today. So Team Canada lost and the sun rose the next morning.  Maybe the fate of the nation is not on the line after all. It was interesting to watch the shock sink in when the U.S. scored in the opening minute. There was absolute silence on a street where seconds before it had been Mardi Gras without the nudity. 

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