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Comment: August 2013

I was later than usual writing my editorial for this issue, with travel to the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) conference in Summerside and a bit of vacation.

July 29, 2013
By Laura King


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I was later than usual writing my editorial for this issue, with travel to the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) conference in Summerside and a bit of vacation. So before we put this special edition on the Alberta floods to bed, Canadians had witnessed the country’s worst train derailment and the subsequent disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., and the record rainfall that wreaked havoc in Toronto.

We will write about the tragedy in Lac-Megantic from first-response point of view – hopefully in September – and Deputy Chief Debbie Higgins of Toronto Fire Service (TFS) is putting together a piece on the response by TFS to the more than 1,100 calls for help, plus a structural collapse, a three-alarm fire and two, two-alarm fires.

While all this was happening, first responders in Alberta were still working to bail out the areas hardest hit by floodwaters.

As an aside, Calgary Deputy Chief Len MacCharles was scheduled to speak at the MFCA conference, on firefighter health and wellness. MacCharles had spent 16 days in the EOC, yet, not wanting to renege on a commitment, flew to Prince Edward Island on Sunday, July 7, for a Monday afternoon seminar. On the flight, MacCharles threw together an impressive slide show on the floods. I’ve attended probably 40 conferences in the last 6.5 years; rarely do speakers get a standing ovation. But after witnessing MacCharles’s unscripted and often awe-inspiring chronology of events, the 200 chief officers in Summerside stood and applauded, not for a spiffy presentation, but to thank a clearly exhausted MacCharles, firstly for even considering coming to P.E.I. given the circumstances at home, and, secondly, for his role in the response: 16 days of command, analysis and excellent decision making. Unbelievably, MacCharles’s flight out of Toronto en route to Calgary Monday evening was delayed due to . . . flooding.

So, how did we get four stories in time for this issue, which was due to production two weeks after Day 1 of the Alberta floods? It was too soon to dig deeply into the responses – ICs and emergency management personnel were still up to their ears. So I asked two people I knew were up to the challenge to write pieces from their perspectives – Rob Evans, a volunteer fire chief of a volunteer department in Redwood Meadows, and Chad Sartison, a career captain in Foothills. Both are great writers, both had great stories to tell, and I knew both would appreciate our desire to print their pieces ASAP. Interestingly, both, without being asked, also submitted stories – Evans’ communications officer wrote one, Sartison wrote the other – about the value of social media in disaster response.

You may have already read here and in my blogs my take on Ottawa’s decision to cut funding for Canada’s HUSAR teams. If floods and train derailments that wipe out entire towns don’t get the attention of the policy makers, then the challenge, like the horror in Lac-Megantic, is greater than we imagined.


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