Editor's Blog
Written by Laura King
Oct. 6, 2015, Toronto – Ontario's interim fire marshal is . . . a police officer.

As expected, that announcement – made quietly last week – has rattled some cages. But unnecessarily so, if you ask me (I know, no one's asking, but it's my blog . . . !).

Don't go looking for the announcement, by the way; it's not on the OFM website, the government website, the website of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC), or anywhere else, for that matter. (If you google Ontario + interim fire marshal hoping to find a notice from the government, you get, surprise . . . previous blogs!)

The way I understand it, the news of Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Ross Nichols appointment was shared with OFM staff in a memo from Matthew Torigian, the deputy minister of community safety, last Sunday, Sept. 27.

As far as I can tell, no one told the province's fire chiefs; they found out either through the grapevine (goodness knows the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is rather leaky!) or from OAFC president Matt Pegg, who issued a notice to members five days later, on Friday, Oct. 2, after he was – finally – officially given the information.

Interestingly, the province's training officers, I'm told, were alerted to the appointment during their annual conference at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst last week – by an OFM staffer who happened to be there. (Which is bizarre, because training officers had similarly congregated and were similarly alerted to the previous, previous fire marshal's departure a few months ago.)

Anyway, according to Pegg's notice, Nichols the OPP inspector will help the deputy minister and OFMEM staff until a new fire marshal – from the fire service – is named. This detail was not in the announcement from the province, which may explain why some chief fire officers were less than pleased to learn of Nichols appointment.

"Deputy Minister Torigian continues to work very closely with the OAFC," Pegg said in his note, "and has assured us that a comprehensive search for a seasoned fire-service professional, who will assume the role of Ontario fire marshal, will be initiated as soon as possible."

I'm not clear on the hold up. According to Pegg's memo, the search for a permanent fire marshal – to replace Jim Jessop, who replaced Ted Wieclawek – hasn't even started yet. News of Jessop's departure from the OFMEM (he was fire marshal briefly, from June 19 until Sept. 18) made the rounds weeks before it was announced on Aug. 12, giving the government plenty of time to start targeting and vetting potential candidates.

That said, I have no doubt that Deputy Minister Torigian is on the hunt for the right woman or man; he is fairly engaged and seems to have a good handle on the politics of police, fire and EMS in this province (he played in our Fire Fighting in Canada/OAFC golf tournament in the spring, which is more than I can say of the fire marshal at the time.)

I'm not going to name any names – doing so got me into trouble the last time I did so – but there are some seemingly quality candidates.

Thinking about it, given the turmoil at the OFM, maybe the delay is justified – if it means that this time the right person ends up with the job, a proven leader whose has the authority to return the office to its core mandate and away from the politics and bureaucracy that has plagued it for the last several years.
Written by Laura King
Oct. 5, 2015, Sydney, N.S. – I was walking out of our Firefighter Training Day in Toronto late last Saturday afternoon – in my own little world after a long (but fabulous!) day and rather windblown from taking photos outside – when a sweaty but happy firefighter said "I read all your blogs. You're bang on."

While it's nice to know people (well, at least one!) are reading and enjoy the edgier news/political blogs, it's also tough to keep up, particularly this month with travel to Thunder Bay for FireCon, Victoria for the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs conference and to Nova Scotia for an abbreviated vacation (coast to coast in eight days!). There's also a magazine to write and edit and presentations to prepare and meetings to attend and a Firefighter Training Day to help run!

But with time to kill in Halifax airport – where the Tim Hortons line is still the slowest in Canada – and now, on the return trip, delayed in both Cape Breton and Halifax (where the Tims closes at 9 p.m. – not kidding!) due to torrential rain, there is time to regale you all with my witty prose!

So, a (very brief!) synopsis of Life on the Road since Sept. 8, when I last posted here.

Sept. 9-12, FireCon
Highlight: Spending Thursday, Sept. 10, at the training ground with the crew from Drager and trainers from the Ontario Fire College and Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, in my (custom-fitted Globe!) gear. SLICE-RS/transitional attack. Rollover. Fire behaviour. Awesome (and very patient!) instructors.

Most embarrassing moment: Car-fire evolution. Live and learn – to ask for more direction about nozzle patterns and never let another firefighter hold your camera (after teaching her how to use the video option!) while you try something new!

Editor Laura King is put through her paces by Drager instructor Rich Graeber on the car-fire prop at FireCon in Thunder Bay last month. Video by Natalie Quinn.

Playing politics: Many of you know about my (sometimes precarious) relationship with the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal. The former fire marshal left Sept. 18 to be a deputy chief in Toronto; the former former fire marshal vacated the position in June. Which caused some confusion about who was going to fill the many speaking roles at FireCon – which is divided into a leadership track and a training track.

I mentioned longtime OFM staffer Barney Owens in a previous blog, and I had the pleasure of meeting him again in Thunder Bay, hearing him speak about upcoming internal changes and initiatives, and invited him to stay in the room (I'm fairly certain he was making a beeline for the door before I intercepted him!) for my presentation on social media. Which he did. I picked on him a bit – others in the room were similarly singled out! – and he responded with aplomb, thoroughly answering questions about the OFMEM's media strategy and being a good sport.

(Incidentally, an interim fire marshal was named on Wednesday but I only know this through the grapevine. It is, as I suspected, an appointment from the policing side of emergency management and someone who is, I'm told, not in the running to become the permanent fire marshal. More on this tomorrow.)

Sept. 19-23, CAFC, Victoria
Highlight: Volunteer Vision-LIVE! with columnists Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy, a bear-pit session during which we threw out questions, comments and ideas about recruitment, retention, retirement, professionalism, social media and work-life balance for chief fire officers. The audience was engaged and passionate and, we think, we offered up some solutions to bring home to departments from coast to coast to coast. (We're not exactly a shy bunch!) Stay tuned to a conference near you – we're taking the show on the road!

Sept. 26, Training Day, Toronto
Our fourth annual Firefighter Training Day at the Fire and Emergency Services Institute near Pearson in Toronto was . . . amazing! We put more than 120 students through their paces in live fire, firefighter survival, auto ex, aircraft rescue fire fighting, patient packaging and triage and IMS 100.

The best part? The dripping T-shirts and smiles at the end of the day, and the number of students from departments as far away as Manitouwadge (in northern Ontario) and Montreal.

The students – rookies and seasoned veterans – trained for free, many returning for a second or third year in a different training session.

Dozens shook our hands and thanked us at the end of the day, sent emails or posted on Facebook.

It was our pleasure!

Sept. 28, Maritime Fire Chiefs Association conference planning, Sydney, N.S.
Shameless plug for the 2016 MFCA conference in MY HOME TOWN! I met last week with conference chair Ian McVicar, a volunteer deputy with the Cape Breton Regional fire service. Ian has more ideas than a fire truck has chrome, and as a firefighter and software company principle, he is a stickler for detail. I've been waiting eight years for the MFCA conference to be in beautiful Cape Breton! On the agenda . . . Volunteer Vision-LIVE!

Oct. 1, Sydney, N.S./J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport
No one knows who Douglas McCurdy was – an aviation pioneer and 20th lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia – but the airport that bears his name has been considerably upgraded over the last several years (which is good for the speakers who will be flying in to next year's MFCA conference!). That said, there's no Tim Hortons and the red wine (I'm on vacation, remember!) selection is . . . minimal. But the people are nice and the Jays game is on while we wait for a delayed flight to arrive from Halifax then turn around and take us back there and then on to Toronto . . . where I will stay for 11 days before heading to Winnipeg for the Manitoba Disaster Management Conference.

Stay tuned!

P.S. Flight to Toronto from Halifax delayed until 11:15 p.m . . .
Written by Laura King
Sept. 9, 2015, Toronto – It used to be that when I sat in a room full of (mostly male, mostly 40-plus) chief fire officers there was a certain . . . similarity. Some in the room were lean, fit and healthy. Many others not so much.

Sitting at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) health and safety seminar in Toronto Tuesday, with more than 130 delegates – chiefs, deputies, firefighters who are members of health and safety committees – the view is somewhat different; some younger chief officers (or maybe I’m just older!), more lean, more fit, more role models and examples of healthy lifestyles.

There was lots of fruit on the breakfast table yesterday morning, along with the sausages, bacon and – really? – muffins. And a commitment by government – according to Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, who spoke Tuesday morning – to firefighter health and safety, both physical and mental.

Dr. Glen Selkirk, a kinesiologist, probably lost most of the crowd with his way-too scientific PowerPoint slides and text too fine for some eyes, but his message hit home: we can combat aging by staying fit, managing body mass index and, in essence, working twice as hard as our younger counterparts.

“Exercise helps,” he said, the obvious understatement of the day. And strength training is key to endurance.

Aging, the negative effects of shift work, accelerated hearing loss, increased risk of injury and disability, cancer, cardiovascular risk factors – all scary stuff for this profession.

Which is why it’s important to be screened. And therein lies the issue of the day.

“What has to happen is that we have to change the culture . . . through education, workshops, training . . . ,” Selkirk said.

Selkirk and his team of researchers, working with the OAFC’s Candidate Testing Service, are developing a First Responder Prevention and Wellness Program, which, in his words, is “to help maintain the career health and wellness of Ontario’s first responders through clinical evaluation, early detection and prevention education.”

The Ontario program is supposed to align with the IAFF’s wellness and fitness initiative and the OAFC’s Road to Mental Readiness program announced this summer.

The key is non-punitive screening (plus confidentiality) and convincing firefighters that it’s important.

And that requires a wellness paradigm shift, Selkirk said, so that the program can be implemented to combat the aging physical capacity of career firefighters and, even more importantly, volunteers.

It’s not rocket science. Any more than wearing your seatbelt on the way to a call, keeping your PPE on during overhaul, washing your balaclava, and cleaning your bunker gear. But there are hurdles to screening aging firefighters – all firefighters – that can only be dealt with at the grassroots (union) level.

Regardless, as I sit here in a room with 125 men – I’m counting five women (one chief, one deputy chief, two municipal health and safety types, and me) – who spend a lot of time sitting in seminars and behind desks and at council meetings, it seems that the paradigm is shifting; for the most part. I see toned physiques, salad on lunch plates and glasses of water instead of cans of Coke.

Those 125 gentlemen – most are chief officers – have bought in, obviously, because they’re here, the week after Labour Day, learning more about the health and safety of their firefighters. As one chief who stopped to chat as I was sitting in the hallway writing this noted, it’s the chief officers from the other 300 Ontario departments who are not here and, perhaps, don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s a shame.


I hate clichés, but talk about a can of worms. This can, particular to the Province of Ontario, involves updating Ontario Regulation 714-94, which deals with things like PPE, head protection, enclosed cabs, seating positions and aerial-truck structure.

Long story short, the regulation needs to be re-worked for the 21st century, so the committee that’s working on that project wondered out loud at the OAFC’s health and safety seminar Tuesday afternoon how broad the changes should be, and whether potential changes might involve amending legislation.

As Section 21 committee co-chair Andy Kostiuk noted, “we have to sort out how intense these renewed regs would be.”

While there seemed to be agreement among delegates that the regulation is stale, OAFC first vice-president Steve Hernan wants more details and the terms of reference for making any agreed-upon changes.

Delegates weren’t sure which legislation could potentially be involved – the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, or both.

Essentially, Kostiuk said, Tuesday’s discussion was exploratory, to determine interest and need for changes to the regulation.

“We’re just bringing it up for discussion now,” Kostiuk said. “If we’re going to redo it do we do it grander now? It’s a three-year project just to update the current one.”

In Ontario, police and EMS services are governed by much more specific regulations than fire, which relies, save the regulation in question, on occupational health and safety guidelines.

A can of worms indeed.
Written by Laura King
Sept. 8, 2015, Toronto – Something to consider on the day after Labour Day and the week that school starts: How is it that in a province in which everyone and his brother or sister wants to be a firefighter and municipalities are hiring the best of the best, retired chiefs who have been around for 30-plus years are filling job vacancies while also collecting their pensions?

Has no one heard of succession planning? Or does no one else want to work that hard what with the predominance of 24-hour shifts that make white-shirt desk jobs about as appealing as fighting a grass fire in 30-degree heat.

Last week, an eastern-Ontario municipality announced that it had hired a chief effective Sept. 1 who has more than 35 years experience. That chief retired from his previous fire-chief job the week before with, I’m sure, a delightful Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) pension. Good for him!

A former deputy chief with Canada’s largest fire department did the same thing earlier this summer; was hired by a small municipality as full-time chief of its composite department, then retired from Toronto Fire Services with a full pension.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this; municipalities want experienced people with a fire-service track record and a litany of leadership credentials. But, my goodness, are there really just a few good wo/men out there? Where are the deputy chiefs? Why are departments hiring from outside rather than from within?

Across Ontario, municipalities with labour issues are struggling to find anyone to fill top jobs. Headhunters for small towns are begging retired or ex-fire chiefs to at least come in for interviews (perhaps in hopes of learning something). Indeed, some of my best fire-chief friends across the country have been approached repeatedly to work in municipalities in which the politics are as nasty as bout of poison ivy.

Up in Simcoe County, north of Toronto, the chief in of one municipality was tapped to run a neighboring department after its chief left – one chief, two departments. Interesting concept.

In Kearney, Ont., according to the local newspaper, the chief was let go – it’s not clear why, although I suspect everyone in Kearney, population 800, knows – but nobody told the firefighters. Seriously. The mayor told the newspaper he thought the chief’s wife would tell the firefighters; she happens to be a town councillor and the department’s training officer. Would you want to be the chief in Kearney?

Look at the job postings for fire chiefs nowadays; human resources departments want degrees in public administration, business or management, leadership training, ongoing executive education, fire-ground experience, the soft skills necessary to work with people.

So this week, as colleges and universities suck money out of our bank accounts so our children can earn diplomas and degrees, think about where you’ve been, how you got there, and what has changed.

I never went back to school; my degree in journalism and political science/public administration served me well. But after more than 25 years as a reporter and editor, I’m not eligible to teach journalism because I don’t have a masters. Ridiculous? Maybe. Reality? Absolutely.

So, is the problem too few good men or women? Do today’s fire chiefs and the municipalities in which they work lack succession-planning skills or will? Are human-resources departments loathe to promote younger officers who might challenge the status quo? Or do those firefighters have no interest in the drudgery of day jobs that require budget preparation, putting up with politics, managing peers, and compressed salaries?

I don’t have answers – just some things to think about the day after Labour Day and the week that school’s back.
Written by Laura King
Aug. 31, 2015, Toronto – Hallelujah! It took 142 years, but Rhoda Mae Kerr was installed Thursday as president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) – the first woman to hold the office.

One hundred and forty-two years.

Kerr is the fire chief in Austin. Before she was a firefighter, she was a phys ed teacher for 13 years.

I first met Kerr in 2011 at the International Conference for Fire and Rescue Executives in Toronto; by that time, I had been editing Fire Fighting in Canada for four years and had travelled to a dozen or more conferences from coast to coast.

Kerr was the first – not kidding – female chief officer I ever heard present at a fire-chiefs conference. I thought that was appalling.

I hovered at Kerr’s table after her presentation in Toronto, wanting to develop a professional relationship so I could make others aware of her leadership expertise.

Kerr has attended Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs conferences as a member of the board of the IAFC, and last September, in Ottawa, we spent a fair bit of time together (some of it on the dance floor at the wildly entertaining fifties swing night!).

Kerr is widely respected as a fourth-generation firefighter. She pulls no punches. Her Texas drawl is endearing and, like me, she stands five feet, 10 inches (six feet in heels!), so is a rather imposing figure.

Kerr has been in the fire service since 1983. Before she became chief in Austin she was chief in Little Rock, Ark. She spent more than 20 years in the fire department in Fort Lauderdale, five as deputy chief. She holds the chief fire officer designation and is on the executive of the IAFC Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association.

She has a website – of course she does! – www.rhodamaekerr.com. “Chief Kerr is a 30-year veteran, and fourth-generation firefighter who is currently chief of the Austin Fire Department and president and chair of the board of directors of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, where she continues to break glass ceilings,” it says.

I’ve never liked the glass-ceiling cliché. Fire is a tough business for women – and men. Fire-service leaders today need ongoing professional development along with degrees – generally more than one – experience, leadership skills and training, political savvy, business acumen, a thick skin.

Kerr is a role model, no doubt, for women – and men. As are the likes of Essa Township Fire Chief Cynthia Ross Tustin and Lake Louise Chief Keri Martins and the scores of other women who are chiefs, deputies, training officers, public educators, dispatchers and firefighters.

In my craft – journalism – equality has never been an issue. But journalists generally chase fire trucks and take pictures of burning buildings – neither requires remarkable physical ability, endurance or cognitive resilience. It’s challenging for women – and men – to become firefighters; it’s even more challenging to rise to the top, no matter your gender.

Congratulations, Ms. Kerr. You’ve got this.
Written by Laura King
Aug. 27, 2015, Toronto – Something to ponder: a directive from Ontario Fire Marshal Jim Jessop – his first (and likely only given his imminent departure) – says that when incidents occur that require OFM investigations, “media releases should be kept to a minimum” and all reporters’ requests deferred to the investigating agency.

This, as you can imagine, got my blood boiling.

The Fire Marshal’s Directive 2015-002 was released July 21, a month or so after Jessop took over from former fire marshal Ted Wieclawek. Clearly, I’m a bit behind in my Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management news (I don’t usually go trolling for OFMEM directives – it was a slow news day!). But whoa, let’s think about this for a minute.

Not telling the media what happened was the problem in Elliot Lake, Ont., after the Algo Centre mall collapsed in 2012, killing two women: the way I see it (I’ve said this before), had reporters been told that there were two victims rather than led to believe there were multiple bodies in the rubble, the province could have avoided a $20-million inquiry and two years of upheaval for families, firefighters and townspeople.

What’s more, if you’ve read this space before, you’re well aware of the OFM’s abysmal track record with (my) media requests over the years.

It’s appalling (but not surprising, really) that the OFM wants to control media, particularly when the recommendations from the Elliot Lake inquiry specifically say that teams with media expertise should be available to municipalities during declared emergencies. The OFM in its present chaotic state (that’s a blog for another day!) neither communicates with media nor has the necessary expertise to do so. Harsh? Maybe. But I speak of what I know.

Furthermore, the document instructs fire chiefs to provide a list of documents – firefighter statements, dispatch chronology, incident-commander reports, and fire-prevention files – to OFM investigators post-incident. Which is exactly what others in this province have been telling fire chiefs not to do, in order to protect themselves if there is potential for charges to be laid.

Remember the Meaford trial, when it came to light that a Ministry of Labour investigator told the then fire chief that there would be no charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after two firefighters were injured during a restaurant fire? The chief complied and handed over documents, charges were laid, and the evidence was used – by the prosecution.

Think about it: essentially, the province is telling chiefs that they do not have the same rights as other citizens. (In any other situation, the investigating authority must get a search warrant to obtain evidence.) Is that a bit over the top given that fire chiefs in Ontario are designated assistants to the fire marshal (they are not, however, OFM employees) and must comply with OFM directives?

Look more closely at the directive: it says it is the duty of the fire marshal to investigate cause, origin and circumstances of any fire or explosion that meets certain criteria (fatalities, serious injuries, large-loss fires, for example). The Office of the Fire Marshal helps police determine if fires were set purposely and it is important that security be maintained, the directive says. Fair enough.

Do firefighter statements after the fact, the dispatch chronology, incident-commander reports detailing suppression and overhaul activities, and fire-prevention files help to determine cause, origin and circumstances? Maybe fire-prevention files would help (smoke alarm violations, for example); the others, I’m not so sure about.

I am sure, however, that like not telling reporters the truth – or anything else for that matter – this isn’t going to go over well.
Written by Laura King
Aug. 24, 2015, Toronto – A former fire chief I know often says that whatever matter he’s working on with a certain agency is moving at the speed of government –painfully slowly.

That frustration with the bureaucracy was clear in Rama, Ont., the week before last, as some new board members with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC) vented about perceived lack of progress on issues and the revolving door through which federal policy makers come and go, leaving organizations to start from scratch with new appointees (in this case, five in the last five years).

That’s the point at which AFAC executive director Blaine Wiggins gently interjected, explaining that, in fact, the association and the government have made remarkable progress on myriad fire-service issues from transportation of dangerous goods to fire prevention on First Nations, and that the task at hand – building a new legislative framework for First Nations in order to establish and enforce building codes – is overwhelmingly complex and requires time and patience.

Sure, fire fatalities on First Nations grab headlines and the good work of the association rarely merits a mention, but that’s the way news works. As for government, portfolios change, people move on, and it’s up to First Nations fire chiefs to lead regardless of the machinations of the bureaucracy, Wiggins said.

The challenge, Wiggins told me a couple of times, is finding strong First Nations leaders with the necessary support to push a fire-safety agenda, educate politicians and policy makers, and work relentlessly at home to improve conditions.

Steve Nolan and Billy Moffat are two of those leaders. As fire chiefs around the table during a morning strategy session detailed the goings on in their provinces, Nolan and Moffat, from Ontario and Quebec respectively, talked about empowerment and initiative – for example, starting a health program for First Nations firefighters through a partnership with Fit for Life, and improving standards on reserves.

“We want a better, more progressive system, “ said Nolan, the new chief in Garden River, Ont.

Agreed, said Wiggins. But amending the Indian Act – a decades-old piece of legislation – and building that framework necessary to raise building standards and therefore increase fire safety is a measured and meticulous process.

In the meantime, the association has been collaborating with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to update the First Nations fire-protection strategy, which sets objectives for the next five years to help communities reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries through fire prevention, and the more complex level-of-service standards. LOSS – which everyone agrees is an unfortunate acronym – define the minimum level of service that Ottawa is willing to support for fire-prevention programming, capital and equipment investments and operations and maintenance funding. AFAC has been working with government to update the standard for two years already.

While all this is going on, AFAC has committed to establishing standards for fire prevention, and it’s making progress. A national poster contest draws hundreds of entries from school children who are incorporating previous years’ fire-safety messages along with the current mottos and slogans – a small step forward that makes Wiggins beam with pride.

A fire-safety radio campaign in conjunction with Aboriginal Affairs has also been successful, but even it presents challenges because of political divisions north and south of 60. A national fire marshal would help, Wiggins said.

“That’s the other thing we lack,” Wiggins said, “a national fire marshal and one of the things we’ve been trying to push as an agenda item is the creation of a national aboriginal fire marshal that will take some of the work we’re doing and formalize it.”

Another significant positive, Wiggins said, is AFAC’s strengthened relationship with parliamentarians.

“Three years ago we could not have gone to Ottawa, to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs’ door, and get a meeting if our lives depended on it. We have worked with partner agencies from coast to coast, we come with solid information – not political agendas – and now those doors are open to us.

“The gaps that exist – pretty much every MP is aware of them now. So if a bill were introduced, the MPs know what the issues are. And we recognize that working with the bureaucratic component of the federal government and working with the political component . . . our role is to educate, not to lobby. It’s the political component that really needs to do the right thing and have the political will to make changes.”

Still, Wiggins said, although many First Nations communities are, as he says, over subscribed – meaning that under self-government they are responsible for social programs, taxation, health services and myriad other programs – they need to take responsibility for fire protection, or the lack of it.

“We believe in accountability at all levels,” Wiggins said, “right from those who live in the homes to the local First Nations fire departments, to the band chiefs and councils, to the regional INAC [Indian Northern Affairs Canada] that supports the communities, to ourselves as a national organization, and to Aboriginal Affairs.

“If we don’t bring the awareness of the accountabilities to those who live in the homes, we can’t have everybody else take care of them, so that really is an important component, and we hold ourselves accountable for that as an organization.”

Six years ago, Wiggins was part of an investigation into a fire that killed a grandmother, her daughter and her grandchild. That, he says, inspires him to work 18-hour days and take vacation time to attend AFAC-related events.

Wiggins has committed to five more years as AFAC executive director. He already has a plan for educating new MPs after the October election.

He will, in his words, hold feet to the fire until a new legislative framework is in place. Even if it happens at the speed of government.
Written by Laura King
Aug. 12, 2015, Toronto – The worst-kept secret among Ontario’s fire services is out: Jim Jessop is the new deputy chief in Toronto.

Jessop fills the spot vacated by Ron Jenkins, who left Toronto Fire Services (TFS) several weeks ago to become chief in Georgina. The Ministry of Community Safety announced Jessop’s departure this afternoon; he joins TFS Sept. 18.

Jessop, for those who may not know, was the province’s interim fire marshal, having taken over from Ted Wieclawek, who left office June 19. Actually, that may have been the worst-kept secret given that everyone also knew about Wieclawek’s departure long before it was announced. (Interestingly, the word interim disappeared from Jessop’s email signature and on official communications a few weeks ago, leading to confusion – which, as far as I can tell, was never clarified – about whether he had been given the job permanently.)

Regardless, Jessop’s move to TFS leaves a gaping hole at the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) at a critical time.

The office has devoted myriad resources to a review of the provincial incident management system and other recommendations from the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake in 2012; its response to the report is due Oct. 15.

An inquest into two fatal fires – three deaths in Whitby and four in East Gwillimbury – begins in late September.

And the province is in the throes of transitioning to NFPA professional qualification standards from the Ontario curriculum – a complicated process that includes grandfathering and that no one seems to thoroughly understand. Indeed, seemingly the only person who fully grasped the province’s certification processes – Doug Goodings – left the OFMEM in the spring for the United States.

Jessop’s departure leaves Al Suleman (who is on leave) and Barney Owens (who is close to retirement age) as the OFMEM’s senior staffers – both took on new roles when Jessop’s appointment as deputy fire marshal was announced in early 2014, Suleman in prevention and risk management and Owens in emergency response.

Former assistant deputy fire marshal Shayne Mintz left the OFM two years ago, for the NFPA, and Trevor Bain, also an assistant deputy fire marshal, left the office in 2013 for the City of Greater Sudbury Fire and Paramedic Service. Nancy Macdonald-Duncan left to go to Mississauga Fire and Monique Belair moved to St. Catharines to be a deputy chief.

I’m hard pressed to come up with a list of potential fire-service candidates to become the province’s chief fire officer, particularly following the amalgamation of the OFM with emergency management in 2013. Mind you, you can’t throw a stale hotel bun in a conference room in this province without hitting someone who used to work for the OFM – Richard Boyes, executive director of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs; Cynthia Ross Tustin, chief in Essa Township; Brad Bigrigg, program manager for the OAFC’s candidate testing service; Andy Glynn, deputy chief in Oakville; Rob Browning, a former fire chief and city manager; Jamie Zimmerman, deputy chief in Mississauga; Olaf Lamerz, the deputy in East Gwillimbury, and others who’ve left over politics, salary and red tape – but I bet none of them has much interest in returning given the modest civil-service salary, the gag orders and the headaches that come with the job. Carol-Lynn Chambers, who is still with the OFMEM, has her hands full trying to resuscitate the Ontario Fire College.

Which leads me to believe that the Ministry of Community Safety may look to the policing side of emergency management for candidates – potentially a tough pill to swallow for the Ontario fire service.

Back to Jessop. He’s well known in Ontario as a fire-safety advocate, was deputy chief in London before moving to the OFMEM, and deputy in Niagara Falls for 12 years before that. There is little doubt that Jessop would have been named fire marshal after an appropriate time had passed since Wieclawek’s departure (if, in fact, he hadn’t already been), so why the move to Toronto to become a deputy for a third time?

Salary, no doubt. And potentially a shot at becoming chief of Canada’s largest fire service. Jessop is young, he has an MBA, experience in different-sized communities, is a solid speaker and has a proven track record, having led the call for mandatory sprinklers in seniors homes. It’s a big loss for the OFMEM.
Written by Laura King
Aug. 11, 2015, Toronto – I first met Blaine Wiggins, executive director of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC), a few years back, on a bus, travelling between downtown Calgary and a rodeo ground somewhere outside the city for a conference “fun” night. (I learned way too much about bulls but also got to meet country-music superstar Paul Brandt, so it wasn’t all bad!)

On the bus ride, I wanted to know more about the challenges of fire prevention, protection and suppression on First Nations. Wiggins obliged. (I didn’t get a word in edgewise on the 45-minute drive, but that was fine; reporters are supposed to listen, not talk!)

That was in 2011, when Wiggins was a firefighter in Iqaluit. He’s now superintendent at the BC Ambulance Service and the voice of the AFAC. He’s been quoted a lot recently, by the likes of the CBC, The Canadian Press, the National Post and other major newspapers, mostly following fatal fires on First Nations.

Not much has changed in the four years since we (he!) talked on the bus; over the winter two toddlers died in a fire on the Mawka Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan. You probably remember the discussion and debate that followed, about a fire-service agreement with nearby Loon Lake, unpaid bills, funding and resources.

“First and foremost, we need a national building and fire code on reserves,” Wiggins told CBC News in February. “Most people aren’t aware that that doesn’t exist.”

More money, Wiggins said, would also help.

Then, in April a keen, young Canadian Press reporter interviewed the fire chief at Six Nations of the Grand River here in Ontario – where my older offspring played a fair bit of lacrosse, where I trained a few years ago with instructor and columnist Mark van der Feyst, and which I pass every time I drive to our Fire Fighting in Canada head office in Simcoe – who said the department is “hanging on by a thread” with too many calls and not nearly enough volunteers or resources.

The Six Nations story went national – because many other First Nations fire departments are in exactly the same challenging circumstances.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reminds us often that it provides $26 million annually for fire departments on First Nations. Yet, as is reported often, First Nations people are 10 times more likely than everyone else to die in a fire.

Wiggins is in Ontario this week, at the AFCA’s annual general meeting hosted by Chippewas of Rama Fire and Rescue, a well-funded and progressive department with strong leadership by Chief Mike French, Deputy Chief Jeremy Parkins and Assistant Chief James Simcoe.

I’m heading up there for training (and lots of picture-taking) with M&L Supply on Thursday, a strategy session – the FireSmart program and the transportation of dangerous goods are on the agenda, among other things – and the AGM on Friday.

In February, after the fatalities in Saskatchewan, AFAC president Leon Smallboy put out a press release listing the association’s targets for working with Ottawa:
  • to establish a national fire-service standard for First Nations communities
  • to establish standards for mutual aid and fee-for-service fire-protection agreements
  • to establish standards for fire prevention/public education

The AFAC also wants more support from provincial fire marshals and fire commissioners.

All are lofty goals that require considerable commitment, time and perseverance.

I’m anxious to hear more.

Once again, I’ll be doing the listening.
Written by Laura King
July 27, 2015, Toronto – On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper posed in Kelowna, B.C., with wildland firefighters working the Westside Road blaze, ostensibly to show support for wearied crews.

No announcement, no big news, just a pre-election campaign photo op. And rather a shameless one at that (similar to former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ visit to flood-ravaged Alberta in 2013).

Ottawa has a minimal role in wildland fire fighting, or most other types of fire fighting, for that matter – save for military. It provides one-third of the operating funding for the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre – a private, non-profit corporation that tracks and disseminates forest-fire management information. Federal bureaucrats sit on the centre’s boards of trustees and directors.

My politics lean slightly left of centre, and, as a reporter/editor who used to work in Ottawa, I have little patience for Harper and his media policies (and some other policies, but we won’t go there today), so you’ll forgive me for saying that the PM looked ridiculous in a sport coat and dress shoes in July, in front of a line up of sooty firefighters, while the hill behind him smouldered.

Clearly reporter Adam Proskiw, who writes for Kamloops InfotelNews, doesn’t have much time for Harper either – although his story was a straight-up news account. Proskiw refused to get sucked into the vortex around the PM’s visit.

“After more than an hour wait, the press conference was over in less than five minutes,” Proskiw wrote. “The prime minister would not take questions about why he was there, how much time the photo opportunity took from firefighters, or what resources were used in the photo effort.”

What’s more, InfotelNews declined to name Harper, posting a headline that said simply, “Man in blue suit thanks firefighters.”

Proskiw’s editor, Marshall Jones, told The Huffington Post that the event wasted everyone’s time.

“The photo op smelled like electioneering and we didn’t want to play a part in that,” he said.

“We didn’t go to B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s media show the day before, even though that seemed appropriate since she is the local MLA and the premier of the province responsible for fire fighting. We thought she could thank them without the photo op.”

Clark and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall have asked Ottawa for a national wildland firefighting strategy after weeks of fires, and Harper alluded to that.

"We know these are tough and dangerous jobs and these efforts really are appreciated by everybody," Harper said.

"When the dust settles, so to speak, on all of this we're obviously going to sit down and assess what new or different needs to be done in the future, what we can do in terms of better co-ordination of resources, mitigation, we'll look at all those things."

I’m not holding my breath. First, as I said, Ottawa has a minor role in wildland fire fighting, which is a provincial responsibility. And its record on the fire side of emergency management isn’t so hot either. The Harper Conservatives cut funding for Canada’s HUSAR teams, cancelled the Joint Emergency Preparedness program, closed the Emergency Management College and effectively told the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) to shelve its requests for a national fire advisor.

Yes, a meager $850,000 in federal funding has been allotted for a national fire incident database – it’s a three-year pilot project that may or may not even begin as planned in the fall. And Transport Minister Lisa Raitt – a fellow Cape Bretoner who was three years behind me at Sydney Academy – has tackled the dangerous goods file, but only after countless derailments, Lac-Megantic, and a lot of work by CAFC and others.

What about the abysmal state of fire fighting and fire prevention on First Nations? What happens when there’s an earthquake in B.C. and there aren’t enough trained urban search and rescuers?

Many of you won’t remember a blunder by Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who hefted a sandbag at a dike in Winnipeg in 1997 as the Red River raged and asked, “What do you want me to do with this?”

As Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dan Lett (a fellow Carleton journalism grad) wrote in a lookback piece in 2011, “Several locals no doubt thought of several things Chrétien could have done with that sandbag, but they were too polite to say anything.”

Even then, editorials called for politicians to stay away from disaster zones, just like former Alberta Fire Chiefs Association president Brian Cornforth lambasted Toews for disrupting the work of emergency responders in High River two years ago.

“Coming into the site, it’s pretty hard to deal with those guys because they require a lot of resources to provide them security,” Cornforth told PostMedia. “Unless they’re directly in charge of the military and have a functional role, it’s really just posing.”

Which is exactly what Harper did.

As the anti-Tory website pressprogress.ca asked on Friday, is it ethical to use firefighters as props while a forest burns in the background?

Not in my book.
Written by Laura King
July 21, 2015, Toronto – A month ago I wrote about a proposal by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) asking the province to fund a pilot project under which some of its members would become fire-medics.

While the Ministry of Health considers the proposal to have career firefighters provide symptom-relief such as nitroglycerin spray, Ventolin, epinephrine and glucagon following 20 hours of training, groups with a vested interest are voicing dissent.

On July 8, Ontario’s base-hospital physicians decried the proposal in a letter to the province. Now, the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs has dissected the OPFFA’s proposal, and fairly harshly.

There’s a lot to report. First, though, something worth considering. OPFFA president Carmen Santoro has noted to me several times that the province has, unsuccessfully, poured millions of dollars into land-ambulance service to try to improve response times. Indeed, as Santoro pointed out, the 2013 auditor general’s report lambastes the province for its inability to fix the problem. Whether or not you agree with the OPFFA’s proposal, and no matter what ulterior motives others say may be at play, the association has put considerable effort into a proposal it believes will improve pre-hospital patient care – more than any other group has accomplished.

That said, the base hospital doctors have disassociated themselves from the submission, citing potential harm to patients should the province go ahead with a pilot project, and the paramedic chiefs have methodically discounted many of the OPFFA’s arguments.

The base hospital doctors say the mere 20 hours of training – combined with a lack of clinical experience – could put firefighters in situations in which they could potentially misdiagnose patients and, therefore, incorrectly administer symptom relief.

“The Ontario Base Hospital Group . . . does not support the OPFFA proposal as outlined,” says a letter to Tarmo Uukkivi, director of Ontario’s Emergency Health Services Branch.

Paramedics, the doctors note, train for two years, write certification exams, and their work is overseen by the base hospital group. Firefighters require no post-secondary education, many are not certified, and, under the OPFFA proposal, would require just the 20-hour course to become fire-medics.

(As an aside, I’m waiting for the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management to let me know how many of the OPFFA’s 11,000 firefighters in Ontario are certified to NFPA 1001 Firefighter. I asked last week, was told the number wasn’t available because of the grandfathering process under the transition to NFPA from the Ontario curriculum. I asked Friday for specific numbers for the end of 2012, 2013 and 2014 and was given those stats – a total of 134 over the three years. I asked again Monday for the total.)

The base-hospital letter also says that while firefighters can and should help patients suffering cardiac arrest by using a defibrillator, or patients experiencing an anaphylactic reaction by administering epinephrine, firefighters do not have the skills or experience to provide other symptom relief and could hurt people.

The letter is signed by Dr. Michael Lewell, chair of the Ontario Base Hospital Group’s medical advisory committee. Lewell said in an interview that the group’s regional directors collaborated on the content of the letter, and that it was written to ensure that the province is aware that the doctors were not involved in the OPFFA’s proposal, not as a political tool.

The OPFFA wants funding for a pilot project that would put one fire-medic on every front-line pumper (in career departments). It says that 42 per cent of calls are medical, that firefighters arrive on scene well before paramedics, and that more than 1,000 of its members – about 10 per cent – are already fully trained as paramedics.

The paramedics say the firefighters’ case for fire-medics is weak.

“We are concerned about public safety . . . and duplication of service given the small subset of calls where patient outcomes can be improved,” paramedic chief Norm Gayle says in a document shared on Google Drive.

The paramedic chiefs say there is no evidence that firefighters delivering symptom relief would make a difference to patients. The document cites the 2005 study that indicated the only statically significant benefit of the participation of firefighters in pre-hospital care is for life-threatening cardiac events.

“Other calls that are truly sensitive to paramedic response times in minutes or seconds comprise less than two per cent of total call volume,” the document says. Those calls include heart attacks and stroke and severe, life-threatening trauma.

“The fire union proposal would not change response to these types of calls.”

The chiefs also note that in 2014, just 6.6 per cent of calls required the type of symptom relief the OPFFA is proposing, and they dispute the assertion that quick firefighter responses would make a difference.

“Rapid response times in minutes and seconds to medical 911 emergencies are important less than two per cent of the time,” the paramedics say.

Frankly, I’m a bit confused by the whole thing, and from what I hear, the government may be too, and may direct all parties to collaborate on a revised proposal.

Organizations such as the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Emergency Services Steering Committee and the base hospital physicians say that while they are aware of the fire-medic proposal now, they were not all formally consulted or advised of the proposal by the province, and now they’re scrambling to respond to media inquiries and develop positions. There’s conflicting information about which groups were or were not consulted and at what stage that occurred. Clearly not everyone is playing well in the sandbox.

Not to mention that municipalities set levels of service, not the province, so I’m not clear how this would all play out. In Ontario, many EMS organizations are regional, while fire services are municipal, which, it seems, would present an organizational conundrum.

Santoro said in an interview that a couple of base-hospital doctors were indeed consulted – medical directors who do oversight for firefighters regarding medical certification.

He also said he’s disappointed by both the base-hospital doctors’ letter and the lack of acknowledgement by various groups that they were aware of the proposal.

As for the paramedics’ response, Santoro said he has little interest.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is the public deserves the quickest trained emergency responder, regardless of what colour truck they arrive on.”

True. As long as those responders know what they’re doing.
Written by Laura King
July 9, 2015, Ben Eoin, N.S. – I overheard a conversation Tuesday night between Paul Boissonneault, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and Greg Shaw, who was acclaimed this week for a second term as president of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association.

Like all of the come-from-away speakers in Summerside for the 101st annual MFCA conference this week, Boissonneault was blown away by the hospitality extended to him and his family – his wife, Jennifer, and boys Gage and Cole.

Sure, some of the formalities and even some staples often associated with conferences were absent at the Maritime show – air conditioning in the hotel (we were smart enough to stay at a nearby cottage!), iPhone agenda apps (paper works just fine), lapel mics for speakers (who needs ‘em!).

But what the Maritime show sometimes lacks in that regard it makes up for in others: Summerside firefighter Lindsay MacLeod made repeated trips to the Charlottetown Airport to pick up speakers – and answered a few hundred questions about the red island and potatoes and the Confederation Bridge every time; the Boys and Girls Club organized activities for kids so parents could enjoy evening events worry free; the band took requests from the stage at Tuesday night’s closing barbeque and dance; the speakers were first-rate; and everyone was friendly and stress-free (well, except the host-committee members, who sweated the small stuff – as they should! – were easily identifiable in their orange shirts and who I only once saw sit down.)

A couple of cool things happened this week that weren’t specifically conference-related. The Canadian Coast Guard – which runs search and rescue out of Summerside – was doing exercises Monday almost right outside the trade-show door, a hover-and-hold operation with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s SAR CH-149 Cormorant, after which the CGC vessel docked beside the Fort Garry Fire Trucks Sutphen SP 70-foot platform demo parked at the Marine Terminal. It’s not often that a fire conference/trade show happens ocean-side – it’s spectacular when it does.

The following evening, when I came back from the conference, I chuckled at the sight of the FGFT aerial parked beside the picnic table at our cottage just a few minutes outside of Summerside – an odd juxtaposition!

That evening, while I was at the closing barbecue with conference delegates, the Fort Garry crew and Dan Sutphen took all the kids (and some of the grown ups, including our own Bookstore Becky!) from the other cottages at our working-vacation location up in the platform – what thrill for them!

One of the cottages in our cluster at Schurmans Shores (hmmm – I shouldn’t give away the name of our secret paradise, particularly given that the conference may be back in Summerside next year!) was occupied by a family from Maine, and a young teenager named Hayden who was taking lessons at the College of Piping & Celtic Performing Arts of Canada in Summerside.

After some repeated but gentle coaxing Monday evening, Hayden pulled out his pipes, warmed up, and gave us a brief concert – steaks hot off the barbecue, clouds of hungry mosquitoes, a roaring and continuous campfire, and the skirl of the bagpipes . . . hardly a typical conference experience!

The highlights of the conference for me were introducing keynote speaker (and Fire Fighting in Canada blogger and former columnist) Les Karpluk, and the closing session Tuesday afternoon about PTSD with Nathalie Michaud and Wayne Jasper. I also had the honour of introducing Wayne and Nathalie, and even though I saw the presentation last month in Penticton, I sat rapt as Nathalie told her compelling and gut-wrenching story about finding her husband, Fire Chief Richard Stringer, hanging in the fire hall five years ago.

Many in the room didn’t know what was coming, and the collective intake of breath when Nathalie stoically delivered her most difficult line – “Chief Stringer was my fire chief for five years; Richard Stringer was also my husband.” – was palpable.

Afterwards, Wayne – a firefighter with CFB Esquimalt in B.C. – posted some thoughts on Facebook. The responses to his post were remarkable, one in particular: a firefighter who had seen the presentation said now knows he has PTSD and is going to get help.

Later Tuesday, a fire chief who is being treated for PTSD spoke to me about the challenges of getting coverage – and we’re going to add that to our story in the September issue of the magazine.

And a long-awaited addendum to Nathalie’s story came to fruition this week when she picked up her PTSD service dog, aptly named Phoenix, in Nova Scotia, thanks to Citadel Canine Society and a lot of legwork by the persistent Wayne Jasper!

Nathalie is the first Canadian to have a service dog for PTSD, and, therefore, the first first responder. We’ll tell you more about that in September too.

I’m now sitting on the shore of the Bras d’Or Lake in Cape Breton, having driven from one island to another with Maritime Safety Equipment’s Frank Simmons, who provided great company and (a lot of!) fabulous conversation – a bit more of the east-coast hospitality that surprises the come-from-aways but that those of us from here know and expect. I’m on vacation and I’m hiding my BlackBerry. Kidding. But you knew that.
Written by Laura King
July 2, 2015, Toronto – I love my job. Three weeks ago I was in picturesque Penticton, B.C., for the B.C. chiefs conference. Saturday, I head to the opposite coast, to spectacular Summerside, P.E.I., for the 101st Maritime conference – always a favourite with lots of lobsters and rousing (but off-key) renditions of American Pie around the campfire.

There’s work, too. But it never feels like work. (Shhh!)

The trade show is, literally, on the shores of the Northumberland Straight, in the Summerside Marine Terminal – where there’s a gorgeous breeze (or a freezing gale, depending on Mother Nature!) – rather than in a stuffy hotel, and the salt air somehow makes the outdoor apparatus displays more appealing.

The Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) is different from other Canadian chiefs associations because it represents all four Atlantic provinces.

(Quick social studies lesson: the Maritime provinces are Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; the Atlantic provinces include Newfoundland and Labrador. The MFCA is 101 years old – founded before Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949 – and, in typical, laid-back east-coast style, never bothered to change its name.)

Membership from from four provinces makes it difficult for the MFCA to tackle issues or lobby government – all four provinces have their own associations: the Fire Services Association of Nova Scotia; the New Brunswick Association of Fire chiefs; the PEI Firefighters Association (which is not a union, rather a training-based group to which all 1,000 P.E.I. firefighters belong); and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services. The MFCA, instead, focuses on fellowship and, more recently, education and training.

Both Comox, B.C., Chief Gord Shreiner – creator of the StopBad tour (short for stop bad things from happening on the fire ground) – and Ryan Pennington, who you may know from Twitter as @jumpseatviews – have done whistle-stop tours of Atlantic Canadian fire departments in the last couple of years, hosted by the MFCA. The Beyond Hoses and Helmets program administered by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs for the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has been offered in all four provinces – St. John’s, Moncton, N.B., Charlottetown and Sydney, N.S. And the MFCA conference itself has featured some big-name speakers.

Fire Fighting in Canada blogger and former columnist Les Karpluk is first up in Summerside on Monday, with his always entertaining and insightful leadership presentation.

I’m looking forward to hearing firefighter Nathalie Michaud again – she presents Tuesday afternoon in Summerside. Nathalie first told her heart-wrenching story about PTSD in Penticton (you can read about it here), a no-holds-barred, personal, sometimes unbelievable saga of her spouse’s suicide, a downward spiral, and, ultimately, strength.

As was the case in Penticton, Nathalie will be accompanied by Esquimalt, B.C., firefighter Wayne Jasper, who shares his story about the challenges, occasional chaos, and compassion in their long-distance friendship.

Last month, Manitoba became the second Canadian province to recognize PTSD as a presumptive illness for firefighters – Alberta is the other. After Nathalie and Wayne spoke in Penticton, the Fire Chiefs Association of BC (FCABC) passed a motion to engage with other emergency services and government organizations to lobby the province to have PTSD recognized as a presumptive illness.

Newfoundland is the only province without presumptive legislation of any kind, despite pressure from the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Nathalie wondered after she spoke to the FCABC if her presentation mattered, if anyone cared. She got a standing ovation; chief officers who had never met her wept, and stood in line to shake her hand; and there’s a movement to change provincial legislation.

I’m confident the same will happen in Summerside, and that members of all four provincial associations will take Nathalie’s message back to their respective provinces and do something.

Why do I want to see Nathalie a second time? Because I believe Nathalie is the catalyst for change, for ending the stigma around PTSD, for understanding that it’s OK to ask for help.

I’m also hoping Nathalie, who, more than anyone I know can use a bit of east-coast hospitality, gets to experience lobsters, campfires and off-key renditions of American Pie.

Follow @FireinCanada for live updates from the conference.
Written by Laura King
June 30, 2015, Toronto – Did you know that Ottawa announced on Friday funding for five projects to help first responders – three for firefighters, two for paramedics?

If you did, it’s probably because you read it here, on our website, after we promoted our story on Twitter and Facebook Friday afternoon. No other media (that we could find) carried the story about funding for a database for fire stats, and studies on wildfire patterns and recruitment and retention in Alberta.

The government says the five projects are part of a $12-million investment in 24 projects under the Canadian Safety and Security Program.

We had a heads-up about what was supposed to be a news conference in Halifax Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. Atlantic time (who announces anything at 3 p.m. on a Friday?) with Julian Fantino, the associate minister of National Defence, and CAFC president Paul Boissonneault – although we weren’t aware of the four other projects, only the database.

Neither, apparently, was anyone else who has anything to do with the fire service in Canada.

The news conference was hastily called and sparsely attended, I’m told; the Atlantic bureau of The Canadian Press had no knowledge of it – I checked.

The CAFC and people like Surrey, B.C., Fire Chief Len Garis have been lobbying government about the database for ages; it’s an $850,000 commitment for a three-year pilot project.

Recruitment and retention, particularly in western Canada, is a significant challenge, so much so that Alberta’s chiefs developed an outreach program dubbed Answer the Call, which has been adopted by the CAFC and was launched in May.

The CAFC, I’m told, had no knowledge of the government’s plan to study recruitment and retention in Alberta or the funding for the project. Nor did Alberta’s chiefs. The president of the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association, Peter Krich, was the lead on the Answer the Call project, and even he didn’t know. The study will be led by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, partnered with Social Research Development Corporation, which, as far as I can tell, would have applied to Defence Research and Development Canada for the funding. I’ve Googled both of those organizations and, for the life of me, I can’t make the connection to fire-service recruitment and retention.

It’s all a bit bizarre given that the Alberta chiefs have already studied recruitment and retention – the 2010 report is right here on my desk. We know there’s a problem and the AFCA has already taken action, so specifically what these two research organizations are going to study is beyond me – the press release and backgrounder are light on details.

Ontario’s chiefs were out of the loop on all this too.

What gives?

The Harper government is in a tailspin. Although $12 million is no great shakes in terms of government spending, it’s more than Ottawa has done for first responders recently – since it scrapped funding for heavy urban search and rescue (HUSAR), closed the Canadian Emergency Preparedness College and essentially ignored requests for a national fire advisor. The federal tax credit for firefighters announced in 2011 was nice, but does nothing to help community safety.

With Canadians going to the polls in October – and Harper in trouble over Senate spending, among other things – you’d think someone connected with Defence Research and Development Canada (which does some great work) or Public Safety Canada might have connected the dots and let the affected parties in on the secret, encouraged some promotion.

Or maybe the powers that be didn’t want to be reminded about the lack of federal funding for the firefighting/EMS and rescue side of safety. You all remember from the Elliot Lake mall collapse aftermath that in most, if not all Canadian jurisdictions, rescue is the purview of fire, not police or any other response agency. Which leads us, of course, to Ottawa’s decision two years ago to nix funding for Canada’s HUSASR teams.

Maybe the dollar figure for the five projects is so insignificant (it’s not clear how much of the $12 million is allotted to the fire and paramedic research), and the projects so academic – most don’t really do anything for first responders in the short term – that Ottawa didn’t deem Friday’s announcement particularly important so didn’t bother making a kerfuffle about it.

Maybe Ottawa didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that empirical evidence from the database will, I expect, be used to prove that emergency services need better funding for PPE and training, and that the obvious target for that funding will be the federal government.

I guess it doesn’t matter. Stephen Harper doesn’t like media, although mainstream reporters likely would have put a positive spin on this announcement – even with Fantino as the face of it.

A few million in federal funding for fire and EMS projects isn’t really a Halifax Herald or Canadian Press story; for us – and for you – it’s news.

Would have been nice had it been properly communicated.
Written by Laura King
June 23, 2015, Mississauga, Ont. – There was a lot of good information (and acronyms!) at the Canadian Nuclear Society’s technical meeting on fire and emergency response last week. The industry spends money and commits a ton of time and resources to adequate and appropriate emergency planning and response.

But I got hung up on a brief discussion about social media.

Dave Nodwell, manager of planning exercises with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, was asked how the province would handle rumours about radiation levels or spread during a crisis.

Not that scuttling rumours on social media is Mr. Nodwell’s purview, but given that he spoke Thursday morning about the misinformation disseminated through Facebook and Twitter after Fukushima in 2011, I hoped to hear that the province is thoroughly prepared – indeed, overly prepared.

“The problem,” he told delegates during his presentation, “is that media exacerbate the problem – we all saw that after Fukushima. People believed it and it was all over the Internet.”

Nodwell explained the importance of messaging and social media, which, he said, is “a game changer in this business.”

He talked about the necessity of staying ahead of story (definitely), establishing a credible presence (absolutely), of being compelling and persuasive (perfect).

“Governments don’t really put out press releases that fast,” he said. “It takes hours, and that’s not acceptable when people are tweeting and facebooking within seconds. In some cases, [social media] is probably the only way to reach a segment of the population.”


Later, in the question and answer session, Nodwell was asked whether the province had identified a hashtag or hashtags for use during a nuclear emergency, and about mitigating rumours and misinformation.

Admittedly, Mr. Nodwell said, he finds hashtags confusing (many delegates nodded in agreement), and, he said, the province’s communications people deal with that.

“The first step,” he said, “is monitoring what’s going on in social media . . . You need a team that is stuck to Twitter and Facebook to monitor what is happening in order to respond to what’s going on. We’re never going to get there in its entirety – it’s going to be continually evolving.” Good point.

Nodwell said the province has prepared a number of bulletins relative to each nuclear facility in Ontario that can be sent out “in a heartbeat.” Excellent. But, he acknowledged, “that doesn’t really address concerns that are out there in social media.” Exactly.

Another positive point: quicker high-level OKs for social-media messaging.

“This has been put in place,” he said. “Normally, in large government organization there are a large number of approvals that public communications need to go through.”

Cleary, he said, in an emergency situation – nuclear or otherwise – time is critical.

As for hashtags – Nodwell wasn’t sure if any have been designated, and, to be fair, it’s not really his job to know such details, but would be good information to share.

Quashing rumours and bad information?

“The process is there but there’s a long way to go,” he acknowledged.

An honest answer, but a frustrating one given the magnitude of resources at the province’s fingertips and the significant efforts of the nuclear industry to ensure safety and solid messaging.
Written by Laura King
June 18, 2015, Toronto - Leave it to a bunch of nuclear experts to come up with an agenda for a seminar on fire safety and emergency preparedness so detailed and complex that it’s impossible to find a session that doesn’t seem crucial to cover.
Written by Laura King
June 17, 2015, Toronto - Yesterday, I wrote about a proposal by Ontario’s unionized firefighters to become fire-medics, to expand their services to include symptom relief and certain fairly simple procedures.
Written by Laura King
June 16, 2015, Toronto - There’s some tension on Twitter today between the province’s paramedics and the firefighters union. The issue? The Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association wants its firefighters to become fire-medics, and it has the ear of government.
Written by Laura King
June 11, 2015 - I’m writing in the air between Calgary and Toronto, having left Penticton Wednesday afternoon, which means I’m missing the Fire Chiefs Association of BC theme/fun night – Disco Inferno. Oh darn!

Watching the map on the seatback screen in the emergency row with the extra leg room, Fort Nelson, B.C., caught my attention. It’s three hours north of Fort St. John, I was told by the chief and deputy at lunch on Wednesday. That’s almost in Yukon. Two days ago, after having driven about 90 minutes south, I was a stone’s throw from the American border, near Osoyoos.

The point? In Nova Scotia or P.E.I. it’s easy to get to the provincial chiefs conferences. Not so much in the central, Prairie and western provinces, but the turn out in Penticton was the best ever with 600 delegates, which speaks volumes about the the association’s expanding role.

I talked to FCABC President Tim Pley Wednesday afternoon for 15 minutes between education seminars. The association’s strategic plan – developed over the last six months – was to be discussed in business sessions later in the day. Essentially the FCABC aims to be the lead advocate for fire safety in British Columbia.

Similar to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the BC group is positioning itself to better serve its members and to strengthen its advocacy role by increasing organizational capacity.

Further, the FCABC sets out in the plan a couple of dozen initiatives that will enhance its role as the recognized voice of the fire service in BC to the public, the provincial government and other stakeholders.

There’s a SWOT analysis, an action plan, pillars – organizational capacity, advocacy, and member services; there are to-do lists that include working with the training officers association, supporting the province in developing and adopting a replacement for the Fire Services Act, pursuing the establishment of a fire-services advisory committee and supporting the Office of the Fire Commissioner in the creation of a provincial fire department framework for use in emergencies.

Timelines are listed.

The document is impressive – the culmination of some deep thinking about the association’s evolution and the expanding needs of chief officers. It’s crucial that provincial chiefs associations undertake these exercises. We know from experience that governments don’t hear pleas for change unless there is empirical evidence about fire fatalities or training and equipment needs. To do this, top-notch organizational capacity is critical; for career chiefs, member services are more important than ever in challenging labour-relations environments.

A lot of work has been done. There’s lots more to do.

My BlackBerry’s low-battery light is flashing, my MacBook Pro is almost out of juice, and I’m 30,000 feet over Brandon, Man., having visions of certain Fire Fighting in Canada columnists on the dance floor in Penticton while the band belts out Bee Gees greatest hits.

Time to call it a night.
Written by Laura King
June 10, 2015, Penticton, B.C. – It’s not often a speaker at a fire chiefs conference can silence a room, bring delegates to tears, generate a standing ovation and create energy around a formerly taboo topic so strong that there is unanimous agreement to act.

Nathalie Michaud did that yesterday.

Nathalie Michaud is a firefighter. On the morning of Jan. 30, 2010, she found Otterburn Park, Que., Fire Chief, Richard Stringer, hanging in the fire hall. Richard Stringer wasn’t just the fire chief; he was Nathalie’s husband.

Nathalie’s story of PTSD, told with Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation director Wayne Jasper in breakout sessions three times yesterday at the Fire Chiefs Association of BC conference, is gut wrenching.

Fire officers in the packed room fidgeted, stared at the floor, wiped their eyes, and came out of the hour-long presentation emotionally drained but with a clear understanding of the chaos caused by traumatic events, and unanimously determined to finally confront post-traumatic stress disorder head on.

For the first time, in front of an audience of colleagues, Nathalie bared her soul, eloquently revealing details: frantically flitting among five different hospital departments to identify her husband’s body, tellinghis kids, flashbacks, anger, despair, hypervigilance, her own suicidal notions, tequila as a tranquilizer . . .

In July 2013, Nathalie responded to Lac-Megantic. The sounds and smells caused flashbacks to other events in Natalie’s life that pushed her to the brink. Anger. Resentment. Fear.

“I’ve learned that there are two ways PTSD can kill you,” she said, standing on a box behind the lectern, her strong voice and stamina defying her petite frame. “First, you’re still alive, but you’re slowly dying inside. Second, suicide.”

Each traumatic event, Nathalie said, strips the sense of security.

“I’m in a constant state of looking over my shoulder,” she said.

Nathalie’s story is lengthy, complex, overwhelming. She was properly diagnosed, spent time at La Vigile, a centre for first responders – “people like me, who speak the same language,” she said. “And when I came out I had a new normal.”

Nathalie’s message (look for a more detailed story in our magazine in September), is simple: it’s time. Time to talk, time to listen, time to act. It doesn’t take much: ask your colleagues if they’re OK. If you think they’re not, ask again. Keep asking. The firefighter façade will crack.

Share resources – www.lavigile.qc.ca is a start.

Nathalie tells her story in Summerside in July at the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association conference and hopes to speak at other conferences. She and Wayne Jasper are committed to helping fire chiefs commit to helping those with PTSD. When you hear Nathalie speak, you will be too.


DSC 3971  
Trainer's Corner writer Ed Brouwer at his
Eagles Nest Ranch.
Ed Brouwer has written extensively about PTSD in his Trainer’s Corner column in Fire Fighting in Canada. As a fire-services chaplain he counsels colleagues. He has dealt with his own stresses and challenges. And, as I learned on Sunday, his Eagles Next Ranch is the perfect elixir, an antidote to emails, deadlines, technology, a haven of spectacular sights, sounds and smells.

We lost track of time touring Brouwer’s 160-acre paradise, under a sapphire blue sky after a rancher’s skillet breakfast (I was right, no yogurt!) – hanging out with rescued horses, marveling at the wonders of nature that dot the terrain. We took a wrong turn, circled back, sweated under the blistering sun, and did business not on the phone or by email, but face to face. Until I realized it was 11:30 a.m. and I was a 90-minute drive from my 1 p.m. meeting . . .

It’s difficult to move quickly over the switchbacks on Anarchist Mountain overlooking Oyosoos in a boxy Ford Flex. I made the meeting, but with no time to change and smelling of woods and horse farm, sneakers coated in dust, windblown hair and sunburned. Nobody noticed, everyone firmly focused on BlackBerries and PowerPoints.

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