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Comment: June 2012


June 11, 2012
By Laura King


Topics

Two topics for this issue.

Two topics for this issue.

First, labour relations. I was disappointed when a trusted advisor told me recently that an executive member of a firefighters association had referred to Fire Fighting in Canada as “your” magazine, “your” being fire chiefs and fire-service management.

While I like to think of our magazines as publications for the entire fire service, FFIC certainly has a leadership bent, while our brother publication, Canadian Firefighter, is geared more toward the rank and file.

Still, that conversation stuck in my craw and with this month’s cover story about labour relations in Edmonton, I hope we’re starting a journey to what some may see as better coverage of the fire service as a whole rather than the us or them of union-management relations.

Sure, many of our columns about leadership focus on things chief officers should consider to ensure healthy environments in their departments, but that advice is relevant to every firefighter in every department in Canada: communicate, listen, build partnerships, lead by example and play nicely with others.

Our feature stories on fire-service issues – mandatory retirement, the 24-hour shift, cancer, recruitment and retention, hoarding, liability and accountability, regionalization – are must-reads for all firefighters. If you’re not interested in these issues, you’re not interested in getting ahead.

So, as writer Jay Shaw says in Labour Relations 101 on page 10, it’s time to get along, because together unions and management can affect positive change much more efficiently and effectively than when they’re butting heads.

Where have you heard that before?

*   *   *

Secondly, Slave Lake. By the time you read this Jamie Coutts will have given his presentation at FDIC Atlantic in Wolfville, N.S. (June 1-3) on the wildfire that devastated his town.

I heard the presentation at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference in May and was riveted, even though I’d interviewed Coutts and we had run a cover story on the fire in July 2011.

The chief’s quiet humour and down-to-earth approach was apparent when I spoke with him last June, just weeks after the fire; firefighters  in Wolfville are (were) in for the lesson of a lifetime.

Chief Coutts’ tale of his 15-year-old son driving a 4×4 all over town to deliver supplies (everyone else was gone) and his 12-year-old daughter making loads of sandwiches and then sobbing when a batch of 150 disappeared in minutes are the people stories that will be remembered long after houses are rebuilt and equipment replaced.

Still, there are countless lessons to be learned from Chief Coutts’ presentation and the ongoing study of the May 2011 wildfire. Our story on page 27 looks at the weather behind the wildfire – the wind, the warmth and the unique mix of meteorological phenomena that conspired to wreak such havoc. A second feature story, on page 30, looks at radio communication during the fire and what various agencies are doing to make sure everyone is better prepared next time.

Because there will be a next time.


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