Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: September 2011

It wasn’t a single, blindingly clear moment of realization that the world had changed. For me, it wasn’t until the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center, about 17 minutes after the first attack on the north tower, that I understood America was under attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

September 7, 2011
By Laura King


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It wasn’t a single, blindingly clear moment of realization that the world had changed. For me, it wasn’t until the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center, about 17 minutes after the first attack on the north tower, that I understood America was under attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

We all know the horrible chain of events that day. And the attacks on the enduring symbols of the western world’s economic and military power indeed changed the world.

The loss of 343 firefighters in the horror makes the 10th anniversary of the attacks more sombre and more of a reason to reflect for fire services everywhere.

In this anniversary edition of Fire Fighting in Canada, we present powerful recollections from fire-service personnel across Canada and we let a Ground Zero responder share his emotion-churning memories of that day.

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And on an anniversary of a day repeatedly labelled as “the day the world changed,” we hope to address a question more fundamental to the fire service in Canada: Did your world change the way you do your job and if it did, how?
Some questions have more than one answer; some perspectives on the same issue contradict. Healthy debate is good and we want these pages to be a place for the fire service to explore difficult questions.

For example, in an age of unprecedented technology and communication, there is still a surprising lack of interoperability among levels of government and various emergency-response agencies. There have been subtle legislative changes and others that hit like a hammer on a thumb. There have been new programs – such as Ontario’s Heavy Urban Search And Rescue team – that have national response capability. What have they achieved? And there have been meaningful advances in training.

In this issue you will hear voices celebrating the heroes of 9-11, from Ground Zero to Gander, N.L., and voices honouring the fallen.

You will hear compelling arguments that much has changed, and not enough has changed, perhaps leaving Canada poorly prepared to deal with a similar disaster or terrorist strike here. If it can happen in New York and Washington, and if it can happen in London, Bali, Madrid, Mumbai and Oslo, it can happen here.

And utterly without surprise, you will hear that familiar blame for a big part of the shortcomings that exist in the system – a lack of funding from government for fire services and other critical components of emergency response.

The events of 9-11 led directly and indirectly to two wars. It changed the way we travel domestically and internationally. It highlighted weaknesses and strengths at every level of response.

The exploration of the lessons learned and, perhaps, lessons overlooked, is not intended to pay less than full tribute to the 343 firefighters who died that day.

In fact, understanding what fire services have done right since then, and what is left to be finished, is fundamental to honouring the sacrifices of 9-11, so that those who follow will be better prepared, better equipped, and able to survive.

Sept. 11, 2001. Lest we forget.


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