Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: June 2014

If you do a Google search for concert stadium collapse you get the following headlines – Brazil car race 2010, Indiana State Fair 2011, Radiohead concert stage collapse Toronto 2012 – and dozens of others.

June 2, 2014
By Laura King


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If you do a Google search for concert stadium collapse you get the following headlines – Brazil car race 2010, Indiana State Fair 2011, Radiohead concert stage collapse Toronto 2012 – and dozens of others.

People in emergency services are paid to dream up worst-case scenarios, prepare for them, and then hope they don’t happen.

Which is why on tiny Prince Edward Island, police, fire, EMS and other agencies have instituted a multi-agency incident-command system (ICS) for the annual Cavendish Beach Music Festival.

I was invited last July by PEI Fire Marshal Dave Rossiter to tour the festival grounds and learn about incident command for mass gatherings. One of the incident commanders on site, Rossiter said, would be RCMP Cpl. Scott Stevenson, with whom I had grown up in Sydney. N.S., and who is the island’s RCMP ident specialist.

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Thousands of Canadian communities host summer festivals. With those events come the risk of terrorism, disease spread, fire and catastrophe. 

As we all knew but heard loudly and clearly in Elliot Lake, Ont., last summer during the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall,  impeccable on-scene communication is vital to a rescue operation or any other emergency. When the emergency involves tens of thousands of people, it’s even more critical that all responding agencies speak the same language.

Stevenson and his festival counterparts use ICS (www.icscanada.com), one of several incident-command or incident-management programs available to responders.

I was working on this issue of the magazine during the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference in May, at which Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek noted the confusion during the Elliot Lake inquiry over incident command programs and the provincial incident management system (IMS).

“It seemed,” Wieclawek said, “that anyone who got up [on the stand] had a slightly different spin to the point where the commissioner was saying, ‘Someone please explain to me what is IMS and what is incident command?’ ”

Presumably, the confusion will work itself out soon as Wieclawek is chairing a committee (with five sub-committees) to review the role of IMS and responding agencies in emergencies.

There were no emergencies at the Cavendish Beach Music Fest last summer – some  minor incidents and a lot of paperwork – but had there been, all responders would have been crystal clear on their roles because they knew each other, worked and trained together. Imagine that.

Due to an editing error, the Understanding Flow Paths story in the May issue wrongly stated the number of firefighters who escaped the Forward Avenue fire in Ottawa in 2007; five firefighters jumped from fourth-floor windows.


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