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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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