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May 8, 2014
By Laura King


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May 8, 2014, Toronto - The awards given out at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs gala last night represented some of the OAFC’s best work to date.

Jim Jessop, the former deputy chief in Niagara Falls who is now with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, received the Alf Stone Award for his Herculean efforts to make sprinklers mandatory in homes for seniors and other vulnerable people.

May 8, 2014, Toronto – The awards given out at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs gala last night represented some of the OAFC’s best work to date.

Jim Jessop, the former deputy chief in Niagara Falls who is now with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, received the Alf Stone Award for his Herculean efforts to make sprinklers mandatory in homes for seniors and other vulnerable people.

The Ontario fire service honoured Jessop’s dog-with-a-bone-like persistence on sprinklers and his persnickety pestering of politicians – to be politically incorrect; let’s go with his unwavering commitment to fire safety and ensuring that seniors and firefighters are as well protected as possible from fire in these types of facilities.

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Jim Jessop accepts the Alf Stone Award for his work to have the Ontario government make it sprinklers mandatory in vulnerable occupancies. Photo by Laura King


 

Jessop had found a champion in newspaper columnist Christie Blatchford – previously with the Globe and Mail and now The National Post – who called out the Ontario government over fatal fires in seniors homes, and got Jessop’s message out to voters. Blatchford was also honoured last night, with the president’s award, and, in typical Blatchford style, dropped two f-bombs in her brief thank-you speech! Not that anyone was shocked, but with everyone in uniform or other formal attire – and some VIPs in the room – Blatchford’s street talk certainly lightened the mood!

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Newspaper columnist Christie Blatchford was recognized by the OAFC for drawing public attention to the Ontario government’s lack of action on sprinklers. Photo by Laura King


 

A second president’s award was given by Matt Pegg to Hicks Morley lawyers John Saunders and Carolyn McKenna, who represented the OAFC at the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake.

Having spent time in Elliot Lake last August and September, and having written tens of thousands of words in stories, blogs and tweets about the inquiry, I appreciate the magnitude of the task that John and Carolyn undertook: first to learn the intricacies of the emergency management system in Ontario (perhaps they could explain it to the rest of us?); then pour through a million – really – pages of submissions and exhibits; capably and thoroughly question witnesses including HUSAR commander Bill Needles, Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer, Dan Hefkey – who is now the deputy minister of community safety – and OPP Chief Superintendent Robert Bruce; and then pull together a submission on recommendations.

I had dinner with Officer Tuesday night; it will be nice for him and the rest of the members of the Elliot Lake Fire Department to be able to move forward after commissioner Paul Belanger finally releases the recommendations. It was nice last night to witness the applause Officer received when Saunders noted that the chief had operated correctly at the scene of the collapse; there was even louder applause when Saunders reiterated that rescue should be the exclusive purview of fire, and not other agencies.

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Lawyers John Saunders and Carolyn McKenna, with the OAFC’s Brad Bigrigg – who provided background and support on the Elliot Lake file – Elliott Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer, and FFIC editor Laura King. Photo by Karen Gordon


 

Earlier last evening, Chief Terry Gervais of Greater Napanee accepted the VFIS recruitment and retention award on behalf of the Lennox & Addington Mutual-Aid Association for its joint training initiatives, and a very surprised and overwhelmed Gary Bullock of Kingston Fire & Rescue received the Bill Williams Humanitarian Award for his longstanding contributions to the department and the community. Bullock’s wife and daughter had been sneaked into the gala and met him on stage when the award was presented – a very nice touch.

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Chief Terry Gervais of Greater Napanee accepts the VFIS award from OAFC past-president Kevin Foster. Photo by Laura King


 

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Garry Bullock of Kingston Fire & Rescue, with his family, receives the Bill Williams Humanitarian Award. Photo by Laura King


 

The 2014-2015 OAFC executive and board was introduced last night, with just a couple of changes: Toronto Deputy Chief Matt Pegg was acclaimed as president; Hunstville Chief Steve Hernan is first-vice president, replacing Oakville Deputy Chief Andy Glynn, who moves off the executive to deal with other work and personal projects; second vice-president Deputy Chief Rick Arnel returns for a second year; and Chris Harrow, who had been acting third-vp, also returns. Kenora Chief Warren Brinkman is treasurer, replacing Hernan.

There are two new faces on the OAFC board – Thunder Bay Chief John Hay and Brantford Chief Jeff McCormick. Directors Terry Gervais (Napanee), Debbie Higgins (Toronto), Mark Mehlenbacker (St. Catharines), Mike Molloy (Meaford) and Ghislain Pigeon (Hawkesbury) return.

Like some other chiefs associations, the OAFC has partnered with its counterparts – training officers, communicators (dispatchers) and public educators – and the annual conference now comprises all four groups. All delegates were welcome to attend keynote and industry-critical presentations, and then break out into their own streams.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on communications consultant Karen Gordon’s (www.squeakywheel.biz / @squeakywheelcom) presentation to the public educators on social media, during which FFIC columnist and Grand Falls-Windsor Chief Vince MacKenzie was highlighted as a Twitter guru and expert – he is among the strongest fire-service tweeters in the country – and, of course, I was tweeting to him about it as Karen was presenting!

I talked to Karen last night and we were surprised at the numbers of fire-service personnel in key positions – public educators, PIOs, chief officers – who still see Twitter as a time-consuming complication rather than an exemplary fire-service tool. Clearly we have some work to do!

Lastly, I was surprised at the OAFC trade show on Monday to hear my name called, and looked around to see Brampton firefighter and National Lacrosse League star Dan Dawson. Dawson coached my boys in lacrosse camps and used to come to the lacrosse house-league championship weekends in Oakville to do ceremonial face offs and sign autographs. It’s cool when worlds collide! Dawson happens to be on a crew in Brampton with Britney Holmberg, a delightful young woman who carried me across the finish line – literally – in a firefighter fitness competition a few years ago when she was still applying to departments and experiencing the challenges of the hiring process. Two of Brampton’s finest!


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