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Sept. 12, 2014, Thunder Bay, Ont. – So far, FireCon has lived up to its billing – friendly faces, well organized and, of course, wonderful hospitality – and I have high expectations for the rest of the weekend.

September 12, 2014
By Laura King


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Sept. 12, 2014, Thunder Bay, Ont. – So far, FireCon has lived up to its billing – friendly faces, well organized and, of course, wonderful hospitality – and I have high expectations for the rest of the weekend. Check out a Facebook gallery of my photos from FireCon here.

The annual training conference here in northwestern Ontario gets rolling this morning, with 241 delegates registered in hands-on training sessions ranging from SCBA for new firefighters to positive pressure attack.

Having never been to this neck of the woods, I sneaked a peek yesterday at Thunder Bay’s sleeping giant – the Sibley Peninsula, which, when viewed from the city, resembles a large, reclining figure – from the second floor of the North Central Fire Station; the view (from other buildings too) is being impeded by new condo buildings, which seems a shame. My university roommate was from Thunder Bay and that lounging giant stared at us for eight months from a poster on the cinder-block wall at Carleton. It looks better in real life!

I was at North Central – one of eight stations – for a fit test before joining Thunder Bay Fire’s recruit class at the department’s training centre. I had done a Drager fit test before ¬¬– in Peace River in April 2013, with the entire Drager Live Fire Training Tour crew observing my inability to hold my breath and push the button on the clicker at the same time, which made for a rather lengthy procedure (and some fine entertainment for the LIFFT instructors). Fortunately, this version was supervised by training captain Marty Hynna and a Windows PC, which told me to breathe normally, then deeply, bend down and touch my toes (while not cracking one’s head on the nearby desk – a hazard in the small room and, apparently, a common occurrence among recruits), and to talk, at which point poor Marty succumbed to an interview-like barrage of questions and likely wondered what he had gotten himself into by agreeing to host a reporter/editor for the day. I passed the test (and I have the proof!) – I’m sure I scored high on the talking part! – and we headed to Thunder Bay Fire’s training centre.

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The eight recruits, who are in week 14 of their 18-week training, are the first Thunder Bay recruit class to experience NFPA professional qualification rather than the Ontario standard. Ontario adopted NFPA last fall. The recruits have done live fire, so the plan was to experience rollover through the Drager fire simulator rollover prop in the basement of the department’s training tower.

We toured the prop first – noting the locations of the three emergency stop buttons, for safety, of course, but also to ensure that none of us would accidently hit one of the buttons with our cylinders; doing so shuts down the prop and requires a re-start, which takes time; longer, it seems, when a crew is pumped up. It was all I could think about as we geared up; e-stop button, left of doorway, do not hit it and be the talk of FireCon for the weekend.

You know what’s coming. First crew in – two recruits on a hoseline, me, and acting training captain Paul Heino. We crouch down in the small room with the bed pan, and wait. Muffled radio conversation between Paul and Tim in the control room. Nothing.  Still nothing. (As a trained observer, I noticed that Paul had mucked with the e-stop button when we entered the simulator behind the two recruits. It was pushed in. He pulled it out. Hmmm.) Still nothing. We go back upstairs. Masks off. “One of you hit the e-stop,” Paul said. It wasn’t me. I swear. The button had been pressed before I got into the room and there were red faces but not mine. Or maybe Paul was just being polite and not naming names?

Regardless, Tim got the simulator powered up and with the recruits on the hoseline, I witnessed several rollovers – and the challenge of releasing quick bursts of water in a tight space – and got some great photos.

All that time crouched down in the simulator in my still-a-bit-stiff but fabulous Globe gear (have I mentioned the awesome camo liner?) and boots, led to some burning quad muscles, which led to a minor injury, which led to ice packs and advice back at the conference hotel over lunch with a group of well-meaning fire officers – 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, bend it, stretch it, walk it out, don’t walk it out, ibuprofen, more ice, more ice, more ice. The swelling has gone down and I’m good to go today. But no crouching and I’m staying away from emergency stop buttons.

All this happened before the opening ceremony and trade show last evening, at which I was delighted to run into former FFIC blogger and columnist Tim Beebe, who now works as an instructor for the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management – and whose writing arm is hurting from the twisting . . . stay tuned!

Courses are full and there are firefighters here from parts of northern Ontario I’ve never heard of but will know more about by the end of the weekend. My expectations are high, but so is the standard here in Thunder Bay.


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