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Editor’s blog – OAFC 2015


May 4, 2015
By Laura King


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May 4, 2015, Toronto – I met Jessica Boomhower last night. Jessica, you may remember from a column in the December issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, is a 20-year-old firefighter from Greater Napanee, Ont., who collapsed while getting onto a truck for a call last June.

Jessica had a brain bleed. She is in a special-ordered hot-pink wheelchair, although she walked on Saturday, unassisted under the watchful eye of Chief Terry Gervais, a milestone after brain surgery in March. Not a big deal, Jessica insisted with a typical young-adult attitude: “It was just too much trouble to get my wheelchair or walker out.”

Jessica’s sense of humour is intact but she has lost the hearing in her left ear. She calls her progress slow. Her mom, Bonnie, also a volunteer firefighter for the Greater Napanee Emergency Services, marvels at how far she has come in less than a year.

Jessica cruised the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs trade show yesterday and attended the memorial service and reception last evening.

The folks Greater Napanee are resilient. The Highway 401 bus crash that involved several members and their families had already brought the department closer together. Jessica’s challenge is another hurdle but hardly a roadblock.

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Delegates here learned a lot about resilience yesterday. I’ve seen a lot of duds in eight years of conferences and presentations, so I was looking forward to hearing David Griffin, the driver of the first-due engine at the Charleston, S.C., Sofa Super Store fire.

Griffin’s energy – HE YELLS A LOT! – is contagious and, admittedly, part of his schtick as a speaker, but his message – that doing things the way they’ve always been done just because they’ve always been done that way is unacceptable – is bang on.

In Charleston, where everything that could go wrong did, and nine firefighters died fighting that furniture-store blaze, there was no accountability system. No RIT. Tradition dictated SOPs and SOGs. Egos as big as aerial trucks trumped safety. Best practices didn’t exist.

Griffin was on the pump panel that day. There wasn’t enough water pressure. He shut off the flow at a crucial moment. His survivor guilt drove him to alcohol, drugs and mixed-martial arts fighting.

Until he woke up with his eyes swelled shut from blows to the face and realized that punishing himself wasn’t the answer. He went to school to learn about leadership and change.

And he had hundreds of fire officers hanging on his every word yesterday. He tells the story better than I can – we’ll have his book In Honour of the Charleston 9: A Study of Change following Tragedy, on our Firehall Bookstore site shortly. Read it!

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It’s down to 13 candidates for 12 spots on the board of directors of the OAFC. Voting ends tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. Of course, no one wants to be the odd person out so there is some lobbying going on – I even saw some vote-for-me flyers.

I’m told Matt Pegg will not be challenged in his run for a third term as president, and although no one expects big change, there’s certainly talk that a board incumbent could be unseated. As always, watch @fireincanada and @OnFireChiefs on Twitter for results.


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