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Feb. 9, 2012 - As I’ve said before, it’s always good to get away from the office and try new things, challenge ourselves, meet peers, and, for me, learn more about fire-service issues, politics and people.

February 9, 2012 
By Laura King

Feb. 9, 2012 – As I’ve said before, it’s always good to get away from the office and try new things, challenge ourselves, meet peers, and, for me, learn more about fire-service issues, politics and people.

While most of my time out of the office is spent in workshops at conferences and seminars, on ride alongs or doing interviews, occasionally, the tables turn.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of teaching a fire-services media/journalism class to pre-service students at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont.

With some heady issues – from budget cuts to the 24-hour shift – plaguing the fire-service, it was invigorating to meet the keen and untainted students whose enthusiasm for all things fire should bode well for those hiring in the next few years.

The highlight – other than the fact that my PowerPoint videos played when they were supposed to, after an initial scare (always, always bring backup – which I did, whew!) – was an interesting exchange about Twitter and the benefits of it for fire officers on scene.

The students came up with lots of reasons why tweeting from a scene might be a bad idea – among them, the perception that the officer is not paying attention to the situation at hand, and setting a bad example for firefighters.

But, used properly – as Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie (@firechiefvince) did on Tuesday from the scene of a massive fire at a vehicle repair/rental/towing and storage facility in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., when he tweeted that things were under control, there were no injuries and that the response (33 GFW volunteer firefighters at the scene) was excellent – Twitter can be a positive tool for the fire service and the community.

Most of the students in the class yesterday said they are on Facebook but few are on Twitter, and that appears to the be the norm. Seems us baby boomers can teach these kids a thing or two about social media after all!

Thanks to Conestoga instructor Doug “Rocket” Richard (who is on Facebook, but not Twitter – go figure!) for the invite!

And, if you’re not convinced that you should be on Twitter, take 10 minutes to listen to Fire Chief Bill Boyd of Bellingham, Wash., about his Twitter experiences. And then follow him (@chiefb2) and us on Twitter – we’re @fireincanada. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you didn’t know you didn’t know!

Last Friday, I was at an educational seminar in Vaughan, Ont., about PTSD and CISM, put on by the Tema Conter Memorial Trust. (Note to publisher – yes, that’s two full days out of the office in less than a week and the March issue is due to production tomorrow, but all editors work better under deadline pressure!)

There were some fascinating stories told about post-traumatic stress disorder and critical incident stress management, most notably Toronto SWAT team officer Jim Bremner’s presentation, which carried this intro:

“One night, when I was a young officer, I picked a drunk up off the street. He told me he used to be a fighter pilot. I thought, ‘Look at you. What a mess.’ Then one day I woke up in the gutter and a light went on. Now I understand. This is what happens to people who have been traumatized.”

Bremner was a police officer, SWAT-team leader, explosives technician and tactical trainer for 24 years. He’s soft spoken and small framed and is the officer who shot – at close range, with an assault rifle – the man who took a hostage at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto on New Year’s Eve 1999. The hostage-taker’s weapon turned out to be a pellet gun.

Bremner recounts that horror and others in Crack in the Armour, published last year – a worthwhile read for all first responders.

You can read more of Jimmy’s story in this Toronto Star piece, or in his self-published book, which you can find at

We’ll tackle PTSD and CISM in an upcoming issue of the magazine, with some help from Paul MacKenzie, the firefighter and family assistance co-ordinator with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.

Paul, a fellow Cape Bretoner (a point he made to delegates on Friday by warning that his presentation would contain some Caper-isms and potentially, um, colourful language!), and former Halifax police officer, was the lead escort at Tema Conter’s funeral in 1988.

The January issue of Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly – which should arrive in your mail box this week – features the November fire that gutted the White Point Beach Resort and a story by Deputy Chief David Payzant about the challenges of fighting a fire in an 83-year-old wooden building in a remote area of Nova Scotia.

White Point’s owners are using Facebook and Twitter to keep fans of the family vacation spot up to date on reconstruction, but they’ve also gone a step further and turned a webcam on the site. You can see it here . Cool!

Lastly, some uplifting news.

Further to the Jan. 23 blog entry about the community of Bird Cove, N.L., and the donation of a fire truck and equipment from Ontario, Fire Chief Steve Cooke in Central Huron says the truck has been inspected and some minor repairs made, and it should leave next week for The Rock.

Here’s Cooke’s e-mail update to those who have taken an interest in the project:

I thought I would share this heartwarming information with you.

I just had a talk with Richard May, the mayor of Bird Cove, to bring him up to speed on our progress and he related this to me: The morale across the five communities that will benefit from our help has soared, according to Richard.

He said people there can’t believe the generosity being demonstrate by people they don’t even know. [Obtaining this equipment] would have created a huge hardship for the people there . . . Basically, eliminating acquisition costs so they are only responsible for operational costs is, to them, almost a miracle they never expected to happen.

He said you can see the rise in spirits daily as people go about their normal day-to-day routines.

Sure puts budget cuts and 24-hour shifts in perspective, doesn’t it.

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