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April 12, 2013, Peace River, Alta. – I learned a lot yesterday. I learned that, although respirator fit testing isn’t rocket science, the testee (that would be me!) needs to focus enough to press the button and stop breathing for eight seconds.

April 12, 2013 
By Laura King

April 12, 2013, Peace River, Alta. – I learned a lot yesterday. I learned that although  respirator fit testing isn’t rocket science, the testee (that would be me!) needs to focus enough to press the button and stop breathing for eight seconds.

I learned that the instructors doing the fit testing have the patience of saints (and that observers should keep their comments about upcoming keynote presentations to themselves so as not to muck up a perfectly good fit test!).

And I learned that the dragging a hoseline up stairs, in the dark, and then following instructions to do short, quick bursts instead of drowning the instructors, is harder than it looks. 

Day 2 of Drager’s Live Fire Training Tour here in Peace River, Alta., wrapped up late Thursday with more than 40 students having rotated through four courses – RIT (or RIC as they say here), fire behavior/rollover, offensive fire attack/interior lines, and Drager’s System 64 (vehicle fires). By the way, kudos to Drager engineer Byron Charbonneau who refused to give in and made the somewhat temperamental System 64 prop do what it was supposed to do, and to the students and instructor Rich Graeber who stayed late after an already long day to make sure they finished the program.


A couple of observations.

If you’ve seen my photos from this week on Facebook, you may have noticed the helmet covers worn by some of the participants and instructors here. The Peace River Fire Department’s training ground comprises Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 5 of Drager ’s Swede Survival fire-training systems (watch for a story in Fire Fighting in Canada). At a two-day course like this, the instructors spend a fair bit of time in the “cans” running evolutions. The repeated heat exposure has been known to bubble the helmets, hence the helmet covers.

Protective helmet covers worn by firefighters in Peace River this week
help to prevent bubbling and damaged head gear. Photo by Laura King

So when I asked conference speaker Jason Hoevelman – a volunteer deputy chief/fire marshal and a career captain and training officer in Missouri – shortly after he arrived at the training ground yesterday morning what he saw that was different, he immediately singled out the helmet covers.

Truth be told, the covers are a bit goofy looking but the instructors are setting an example by wearing them (or Drager’s European-style helmets) to protect their PPE and, therefore, save on new helmets and, more importantly, ensure that volunteer firefighters aren’t wearing damaged head gear; the students follow suit – either that or they’re just told to do so. More than likely it’s the latter.

Interestingly, I took in few minutes of Hoevelman’s presentation this morning on NFPA 1403 – Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, and he was telling the same story about the helmet covers and describing how guys still think dirty gear is cool and won’t wash their helmets or properly clean their gear despite what we know now about firefighter health and safety. Jason talked about a buddy who refused to clean his helmet until the guys hijacked it and washed half of it, which, he said, resulted in a thou-shalt-not-touch-anyone-else’s-gear policy but no SOG at the time on cleaning it. I’m sending Jason copies of the February issue of Fire Fighting in Canada – the one about the Burlington Fire Department’s SOG on hydrogen cyanide (HCN) – to distribute to his buddies, he just doesn’t know it yet!

Incidentally shortly after the February issue of FFIC landed in Whitehorse, I got an e-mail from Fire Chief Clive Sparks, whose department instituted an SOG on HCN in September 2011, about a year before Burlington’s was adopted. Cool.

Back to Peace River. All that training Wednesday and Thursday made everyone good and tired last night, which meant that things quieted down fairly early – at least in my wing of the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre – and there was a great turnout for this morning’s keynote (last time I’ll say it, promise!) on media coverage of the Elliot Lake mall collapse.

Once we found the projector for the PowerPoint presentation, all was well, and the full room was engaged and engaging. I learned this morning that there’s pretty much a universal disdain for the media among fire agencies, and a pretty strong feeling that no matter how hard first-response organizations work to help reporters get things right, quotes are still taken out of context and accuracy is questionable at the best of times. (See last week’s blog on coverage of the four fatalities in East Gwillimbury, Ont., for an example of just that.)

As a longtime newspaper reporter and editor, that’s a tough pill to swallow, but social media has exacerbated the situation and, like it or not, fire departments and other first-responder agencies need to do a better job getting clear messages to the media. There was lots of good discussion about that this morning, and I even convinced some in the crowd to start using Twitter (sorry, a necessary plug – follow me at @fireincanada) and learn how to manage a twitter feed to get the best, most accurate information quickly, and how to use social media as a fire-department tool.

(Sadly, I learned through Twitter last night of a line-of-duty death in East Hants, N.S. – a heart attack either at or after a garage fire. LODDs are rare in Canada and hearing of one from home was even more disturbing. As last check, there were no news stories on the LODD; we’ll keep you posted.)

It’s lunchtime here in Peace River and the two-hour time change and almost-24-hour trip on Tuesday has left me perpetually hungry; or maybe it’s dry air or the unbelievable quiet here, away from the QEW and the hustle-bustle (which means not only can I hear my stomach growling, but so can others!)

Speaking of the busy highways, I’m off this afternoon to learn more about auto-ex – and therefore be a better fire-magazine editor – from Randy Schmitz and (one more shameless plug!) find some of those Schmitz Mittz! I’ll let you know tomorrow what I else I learn today – there’s a fair amount of pressure from the good people here in the laid-back northwest to maintain a regular blogging schedule – either I’m wildly witty or they just like the attention! – so stay tuned.

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