Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Hot topics Opinion
Comment: March 2012

My 18-year-old son – a strapping lad of six feet, four inches and 210 pounds who plays defence for the Oakville Blades junior A hockey club, can box-squat 550 pounds, and has been taught by parents and coaches to do as we say, not as we do – thinks he might like to be a firefighter.

March 19, 2012
By Laura King


Topics

My 18-year-old son – a strapping lad of six feet, four inches and 210 pounds who plays defence for the Oakville Blades junior A hockey club, can box-squat 550 pounds, and has been taught by parents and coaches to do as we say, not as we do – thinks he might like to be a firefighter.

He fits the mould. He’s big, fit, smart, he listens, and he thrives on discipline and teamwork – not surprising for a kid who has played rep hockey and lacrosse for most of his life.

He has watched me learn about the fire service over the last five years and we sometimes talk about the cool things I get to do – photographing the Oakville Fire Department’s high-angle rescue training inside the cavernous Ford plant, or learning how to use a thermal imaging camera inside the burn room at the new fire training facility in Fredericton.

Fire fighting seems to be a good fit for him. He says he doesn’t want to work behind a desk. He’s extremely empathic and he’s a quiet observer rather than a ringleader.

Advertisment

He’ll finish out his junior A eligibility, hopefully go on to play NCAA hockey in the States while getting a college education, and then, presumably, look for a pre-service spot.

Or so I thought. In the middle of writing the cover story for this issue, I had a phone conversation with former Toronto district chief Peter Sells about the status of his (late!) Flashpoint column. We got to talking about the story (see page 10) and about our kids – his two girls are around the same age as my two boys. And then he dropped the bomb.

“I would have recommended fire fighting to anybody,” he said. “But now, knowing what I know, I wouldn’t want my kids to do it.”

I had figured that by the time my children would be ready to try to get on the job that we’d be smarter about things like exposure to toxins, and that cancer-related deaths would be declining thanks to better fire-ground decisions and early detection.

But as I listened to the tape of my interview with Tony Lippers, the deputy chief in Caledon, Ont., who survived esophageal cancer, talked with Dave Sutton, the new chief in LaSalle, Ont., whose friend and former chief Ken Day died suddenly last summer of complications from colon cancer – at just 47 – and followed the journey of Hector Babin, the volunteer chief in Eel Brook, N.S., as he willed himself back to health, the magnitude of the matter began to sink in.

Astoundingly, one in three firefighters will contract some form of cancer, compared to one in eight for the rest of us.

In every issue we list promotions, retirements and, in the Last Alarm section, deaths. In so many cases the short write-ups contain that clichéd phrase that has become so horribly familiar – after a courageous battle with cancer. Courageous, indeed. More courageous than fighting fires or attending car wrecks? I’ll let you be the judge of that but, to me, those who fight to slay this dragon of a different kind are the real heroes.

I wonder what my son – who, at 18, still thinks he’s invincible – will say about that.


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*