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Comment: February 2012

Sometimes, things just go wrong.

February 13, 2012 
By Laura King

Sometimes, things just go wrong. People in the fire service know that better than most.

On Jan. 9, a Toronto fire captain fell through the floor while searching for hot spots after a five-alarm fire at a storage facility. He had minor injuries, was taken to hospital as a precaution, and was OK. Sometimes, things just go wrong.

The predominant theme of this issue – by accident rather than by design as three columnists chose to write about the topic with no knowledge of the others’ subject matter – is the case concerning the fire department in Meaford, Ont. As many readers know, the provincial Ministry of Labour has laid charges against the fire department for allegedly not doing enough to ensure the safety of two firefighters who were injured in a 2009 blaze.

While that case awaits a ruling on a defence motion to dismiss the charges, a similar trial will start in April as a result of the death of a firefighter during an ice-water training exercise in Point Edward, Ont.

The tragic loss of two volunteer firefighters last March in Listowel, Ont., is also expected to bring charges from the ministry.

In essence, these cases are the intersection of a bureaucracy’s need to assign responsibility and/or blame, and the often unpalatable truth that yes, sometimes – no matter how prepared you are – things just go wrong.

The cases above – and in Meaford in particular – have grabbed the attention of the fire-service leadership and shaken it. In this month’s cover story on page 10, we assess the matter and its possible implications for the fire service.

Elsewhere in this issue there’s an effort to counsel fire-service leaders on dealing with what feels like a new layer of accountability enforcement, for want of a better term.

Our sage back-page columnist, Peter Sells, revisits the link between knowledge and power, and the critical and life-saving correlation between thorough, complete and ongoing threat assessment before and during incident response.

Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs president Tim Beckett, in his Straight Talk column on page 38, underscores the need for training and preparedness, but also for innovation and embracing new technology, even in a climate of fiscal prudence and municipal belt tightening.

And Chief Lyle Quan of Waterloo Fire Rescue, on page 50, drills into some practical coping strategies and resources for fire-service leaders feeling the stress of shrinking budgets and growing responsibility and accountability.

Luckily, that Toronto firefighter who fell through the floor was just fine. It was Toronto’s first mayday of 2012 and history tells us it won’t be the last, because sometimes things just go wrong.

But what happened to Toronto Fire Services Capt. Kevin Aucoin that January afternoon is a metaphor for the fire service to consider on both the practical and philisophical levels: How prepared are you for the moment the floor falls out from under your feet?

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