By Laura King
July 2, 2015, Toronto – I love my job. Three weeks ago I was in picturesque Penticton, B.C., for the B.C. chiefs conference. Saturday, I head to the opposite coast, to spectacular Summerside, P.E.I., for the 101st Maritime conference – always a favourite with lots of lobsters and rousing (but off-key) renditions of American Pie around the campfire.
There’s work, too. But it never feels like work. (Shhh!)
The trade show is, literally, on the shores of the Northumberland Straight, in the Summerside Marine Terminal – where there’s a gorgeous breeze (or a freezing gale, depending on Mother Nature!) – rather than in a stuffy hotel, and the salt air somehow makes the outdoor apparatus displays more appealing.
The Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) is different from other Canadian chiefs associations because it represents all four Atlantic provinces.
(Quick social studies lesson: the Maritime provinces are Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; the Atlantic provinces include Newfoundland and Labrador. The MFCA is 101 years old – founded before Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949 – and, in typical, laid-back east-coast style, never bothered to change its name.)
Membership from from four provinces makes it difficult for the MFCA to tackle issues or lobby government – all four provinces have their own associations: the Fire Services Association of Nova Scotia; the New Brunswick Association of Fire chiefs; the PEI Firefighters Association (which is not a union, rather a training-based group to which all 1,000 P.E.I. firefighters belong); and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services. The MFCA, instead, focuses on fellowship and, more recently, education and training.
Both Comox, B.C., Chief Gord Shreiner – creator of the StopBad tour (short for stop bad things from happening on the fire ground) – and Ryan Pennington, who you may know from Twitter as @jumpseatviews – have done whistle-stop tours of Atlantic Canadian fire departments in the last couple of years, hosted by the MFCA. The Beyond Hoses and Helmets program administered by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs for the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has been offered in all four provinces – St. John’s, Moncton, N.B., Charlottetown and Sydney, N.S. And the MFCA conference itself has featured some big-name speakers.
Fire Fighting in Canada blogger and former columnist Les Karpluk is first up in Summerside on Monday, with his always entertaining and insightful leadership presentation.
I’m looking forward to hearing firefighter Nathalie Michaud again – she presents Tuesday afternoon in Summerside. Nathalie first told her heart-wrenching story about PTSD in Penticton (you can read about it here), a no-holds-barred, personal, sometimes unbelievable saga of her spouse’s suicide, a downward spiral, and, ultimately, strength.
As was the case in Penticton, Nathalie will be accompanied by Esquimalt, B.C., firefighter Wayne Jasper, who shares his story about the challenges, occasional chaos, and compassion in their long-distance friendship.
Last month, Manitoba became the second Canadian province to recognize PTSD as a presumptive illness for firefighters – Alberta is the other. After Nathalie and Wayne spoke in Penticton, the Fire Chiefs Association of BC (FCABC) passed a motion to engage with other emergency services and government organizations to lobby the province to have PTSD recognized as a presumptive illness.
Newfoundland is the only province without presumptive legislation of any kind, despite pressure from the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Nathalie wondered after she spoke to the FCABC if her presentation mattered, if anyone cared. She got a standing ovation; chief officers who had never met her wept, and stood in line to shake her hand; and there’s a movement to change provincial legislation.
I’m confident the same will happen in Summerside, and that members of all four provincial associations will take Nathalie’s message back to their respective provinces and do something.
Why do I want to see Nathalie a second time? Because I believe Nathalie is the catalyst for change, for ending the stigma around PTSD, for understanding that it’s OK to ask for help.
I’m also hoping Nathalie, who, more than anyone I know can use a bit of east-coast hospitality, gets to experience lobsters, campfires and off-key renditions of American Pie.
Follow @FireinCanada for live updates from the conference.