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Comment: December 2011


December 5, 2011
By Laura King


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We were finishing this issue of Fire Fighting in Canada on the weekend of Nov. 12 and 13 (yes, editors work weekends too!) when I checked Twitter on my BlackBerry and saw a tweet from fellow Cape Bretoner John Cunningham of the Nova Scotia Firefighters School about a fire at the White Point Beach Resort on the province’s south shore.

We were finishing this issue of Fire Fighting in Canada on the weekend of Nov. 12 and 13 (yes, editors work weekends too!) when I checked Twitter on my BlackBerry and saw a tweet from fellow Cape Bretoner John Cunningham of the Nova Scotia Firefighters School about a fire at the White Point Beach Resort on the province’s south shore.

Having stayed at White Point, and knowing so many firefighters in the region from all those trips to the FDIC Atlantic and the MFCA conferences, the news hit home.

Very quickly, there were multiple tweets, Facebook postings, photos, videos and lots of excellent and accurate information about the fire and the response.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking to students, politicians, emergency managers and fire personnel about the value of social media for emergency services. Some have embraced it; others are skeptical.

I don’t know if we can measure the value of social media in getting word out to thousands of interested and concerned people about what was probably the biggest fire most members of the 16 responding volunteer fire departments will encounter in their careers, other than a feeling of connectedness and an understanding of the magnitude of the incident, which became apparent as the afternoon wore on and the main building collapsed. What I understood from knowing the area was the fact that all 16 of the responding departments are staffed by volunteer firefighters – not a career or composite department among them.

Interestingly, the White Point fire happened the weekend after the Colchester County Firefighters Association conference in Truro, N.S., at which Toledo, Ohio, battalion chief and popular FDIC Atlantic speaker Robert Krause – who is writing a series on fire attack for Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly in 2012 – ran a seminar for attendees. Krause went home from Truro so impressed by the quality and dedication of the region’s volunteer firefighters that he e-mailed me to ask if he could write about the experience. He did, and we posted the piece on our website. What struck me, though, was the fact that Krause – who has more than three decades of firefighting experience – was so gobsmacked by the fact that most of the firefighters in Nova Scotia’s Colchester County are volunteers.

Admittedly – and he’d chuckle at this – Krause is a career firefighter from a landlocked state, so he’s not overly familiar with the Nova Scotia landscape, but his essay was a bit of an eye-opener about the overall lack of understanding of the fact that there are 89,000 volunteer firefighters in Canada who are well-trained, committed, passionate and as competent as their career counterparts.

Sure, there will be an analysis of the response to the White Point fire, and most likely those doing the analyzing will find (through all those social media photos and videos) things that the 16 responding departments could have done better. But with a fully involved, wind-driven fire in an 83-year-old, wooden building, hats are off across the country to the volunteer fire crews from Shelburne to Liverpool.
Watch for our in-depth story about the White Point fire in early 2012.


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