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Comment: Being prepared for the unexpected

Being prepared for the unexpected

December 10, 2007 
By James Haley

Grass fires in February. In Canada. Who would have thought of that risk in the dead of winter? With little or no snow this winter in some parts of the country it happened. We received word from Redwood Meadows, Alta., in January of a grass fire event and then a report in early February of fire fighters southeast of Calgary who worked a rare winter grass fire fuelled by gusty winds and tinder dry conditions that briefly forced 400 Carseland residents from their homes. Also in early February, in two different parts of south-central New Brunswick where the snow this year has also been light, a couple of fire departments have had to respond to grass fires. While we know that at this time of year California has to deal with wildfires fuelled by seasonal Santa Ana winds, and in Australia – which experiences its summer at this time – also expects grass and wildfires, we don’t normally think of them for this country.

Fire service SOGs advise the removal of brush fire fighting equipment from our apparatus in the late fall, to make room for the winter gear as necessary. A forward-thinking department should always consider the risks of the day – if conditions for grass and brush fires are evident, then keep the needed equipment on the trucks, or at least close at hand, ready to be loaded.

It only goes to prove the fire service adage: be prepared for anything, because anything may occur!

Mind you, progressive departments are always planning for the unexpected, and in the cases we heard about, the grass fires were knocked down and extinguished.


Coincidentally, this issue has articles on the upcoming wildfire season, notably John Wiznuk’s feature on the development of aerial fire fighting, and Ed Brouwer’s training column regarding wildland fire behaviour for structural fire fighters. In the latter, Ed explains the factors influencing the spread of fire in the bush, factors that even as structural fire fighters we need to know as we are often called out to fight fires in the bush and forests around our communities. As he notes, more and more we are seeing a mixing of forests with full-time residences, what we call the wildland/urban interface. It is paramount to fire fighter safety, says Ed, that structural fire fighters learn as much as possible about wildland fire behaviour. This training column will continue in our May edition with the second part of this, which will focus on suppression and safety during wildfires.

Just as we were putting the finishing touches on this issue, like most Canadians, we were following the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. For our fire service community, it was especially exciting as two of our own were competing – and they both won medals!

Fire fighters across Canada were particularly proud Feb. 17. Calgarian Duff Gibson won the gold medal in men’s skeleton, finally achieving his lifelong goal. We watched with emotion as the Canadian flag was raised at the podium and heard our national anthem. In an interview, he thanked his fellow fire fighters for covering shifts and helping him get to the podium. That same day Dominique Maltais of Montreal won the bronze medal in women’s snowboard cross. While we are proud of all of our athletes, having two fire fighters earning Olympic glory is something we won’t soon forget!
(Look for columnists Sean Tracey, Don Henry and Donal Baird to return with the May edition.)

Yours in fire service safety and education,
James Haley

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