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July 5, 2013, Ben Eoin, N.S. - The peril of blogging is that not everyone agrees with what you write. And those who disagree often like to express their opinions. Which is fine. Everyone’s entitled. I’m just happy that people are reading! But as we say in this business, you’re not doing your job unless you’re . . . ticking off someone.

July 5, 2013
By Laura King


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July 5, 2013, Ben Eoin, N.S. – The peril of blogging is that not everyone agrees with what you write. And those who disagree often like to express their opinions. Which is fine. Everyone’s entitled. I’m just happy that people are reading! But as we say in this business, you’re not doing your job unless you’re . . . ticking off someone.

Two things came to light overnight.

First, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs put out a press release yesterday – I received a copy at 9:20 p.m. Nova Scotia time (where I am hanging out in advance of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association conference in P.E.I. next week) – commending Ottawa for its response to the High River flood.

Interesting choice of words, from my perspective, given that although High River was hard hit, Calgary and dozens of other places experienced unprecedented flooding. Regardless, the CAFC commended “the Government of Canada for its rapid response to the dire situation faced by so many Albertans and the emergency responders working to protect their safety.”

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Certainly, Ottawa has committed to disaster relief for residents who have lost homes and belongings, as it should, so no big deal. How quickly the cheques will arrive remains to be seen – but that’s just me being cynical, as always.

The CAFC also praised Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who toured High River last weekend, and, as the CAFC says, expressed support for flood victims. As he should. (The CBC reported this morning that Towes is expected to announce his retirement today, ahead of a cabinet shuffle.)

“We were encouraged to see Minister Toews and the federal government respond so quickly to the needs of flood victims and to pay careful attention to the important work of emergency responders during the minister’s visit,” CAFC president Steve Gamble says in the release.

Which is rather a contrast to what Alberta Fire Chiefs Association president Brian Cornforth had to say to Postmedia News after commanding operations in High River, and following Toews’ visit. (I wrote about that earlier this week.)

Cornforth – who is the chief in Lethbridge, a member of the CAFC board, and whose department graciously hosted me on a ride-along a few years ago while I learned about combined fire/EMS – wasn’t nearly as complimentary. Indeed, Cornforth was critical of the minister, whose visit, he said, disrupted operations, and expressed frustration over the spending scandals plaguing Ottawa while the government has cut funding for Canada’s HUSAR teams.

Cornforth, it seems, has created a bit of a kerfuffle and the CAFC is doing its best to smooth things over with Public Safety Canada, with which it is working to secure new funding for the HUSAR teams. The last thing the CAFC wants as it negotiates with Ottawa on public-safety issues is bad press and, it seems, feels the need to do some damage control, albeit several days after the fact.

Interestingly, I was reminded this morning that first responders in New Orleans had the same problem with self-important, visiting politicians disrupting operations after Hurricane Katrina, and have since amended the protocol so that local resources are not affected by the political gladhanding.

According to the Postmedia story, Cornforth’s comments about Toews were part of a candid interview on the drive back to Lethbridge after, presumably, a harrowing few days at the helm of the disaster response. What’s more, the story quotes Gamble saying the teams are living on “borrowed time.”

The CAFC notes in the release that the role of the HUSAR teams has been highlighted during the flood response – which it has, although I’m not sure anyone outside the first-response community has noticed – and that all three levels of government “play a vital role in resourcing and delivering materials required for emergency response.”

The last paragraph in the release is a quote from Calgary Fire Chief Bruce Burrell, who thanks Toews for visiting and witnessing first-hand what the HUSAR team members do.

“We will,” Burrell says, “continue to work constructively with our federal government partners to ensure these critical disaster response teams have the necessary resources to sustain their multi-response capabilities to respond to future major incidents.”

Politically correct but I like Cornforth’s version better.

The second item of interest in my in box overnight was a story out of Los Angeles about the Yarnell Hill, Az., wildfire that killed 19 firefighters.

“More heat, more drought, more fuel and more people in the way are adding up to increasingly ferocious fires,” the Associated Press story says.

“Scientists say a hotter planet will only increase the risk.”

So, as I wrote earlier this week, I’m not a scientist but – as regular readers know, I am a trained observer! – and I recognize global warming or climate change or whatever you choose to call it, when I see it – even if my field of vision spans just a half century.

Whether or not you a agree with Al Gore’s inconvenient truth, and whether the semantics of climate change or 100-year-weather events offend you, sometimes it’s nice to just listen to the experts.

The Associated Press story goes on:

“While no single wildfire can be pinned solely on climate change, researchers say there are signs that fires are becoming bigger and
more common in an increasingly hot and bone-dry West.”

Fair enough.

A couple of further points:

The increase in temperature in places like Arizona has led to more wildfires, the story says, which has led to more fuel on the ground.

“In Arizona, where a drought has persisted for nearly two decades,
the manzanita, evergreen, mount mahogany and oak in the Yarnell area were so crispy Sunday that a nearby state fire-monitoring station
recorded a near-maximum level of potential fuel in area vegetation.”

“In many places,” the story says, “decades of aggressively snuffing out wildfires also have led to a buildup of fuel ready to ignite. On top of that, more people are living in fire-prone areas near forests, grasslands and shrub lands, which complicates firefighting logistics.”

The writer quotes climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona, who says that unless emissions are curbed, there will be more fierce wildfires.

“We owe it to the men and women who put themselves in harm's way
to do everything we can to make their firefighting jobs safer,'' he says.

Further, the story says, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 predicted that warmer summer temperatures were expected to increase fire risk.

Six years later, says fire ecologist Steve Running of the University of Montana, “we keep seeing more and more amazing fire
dynamics. And there's just no reason to believe overall that this is going to go back . . . We better be ready for more of it.''

Carl Seielstad, another University of Montana fire scientist and an elite firefighter, says governments need to rethink the way they deal with fires, “which could mean just letting some burn rather than sending fire crews into increasingly intense and unpredictable situations.”

Agree with me now?


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