By Laura King
July 9, 2015, Ben Eoin, N.S. – I overheard a conversation Tuesday night between Paul Boissonneault, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and Greg Shaw, who was acclaimed this week for a second term as president of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association.
Like all of the come-from-away speakers in Summerside for the 101st annual MFCA conference this week, Boissonneault was blown away by the hospitality extended to him and his family – his wife, Jennifer, and boys Gage and Cole.
Sure, some of the formalities and even some staples often associated with conferences were absent at the Maritime show – air conditioning in the hotel (we were smart enough to stay at a nearby cottage!), iPhone agenda apps (paper works just fine), lapel mics for speakers (who needs ‘em!).
But what the Maritime show sometimes lacks in that regard it makes up for in others: Summerside firefighter Lindsay MacLeod made repeated trips to the Charlottetown Airport to pick up speakers – and answered a few hundred questions about the red island and potatoes and the Confederation Bridge every time; the Boys and Girls Club organized activities for kids so parents could enjoy evening events worry free; the band took requests from the stage at Tuesday night’s closing barbeque and dance; the speakers were first-rate; and everyone was friendly and stress-free (well, except the host-committee members, who sweated the small stuff – as they should! – were easily identifiable in their orange shirts and who I only once saw sit down.)
A couple of cool things happened this week that weren’t specifically conference-related. The Canadian Coast Guard – which runs search and rescue out of Summerside – was doing exercises Monday almost right outside the trade-show door, a hover-and-hold operation with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s SAR CH-149 Cormorant, after which the CGC vessel docked beside the Fort Garry Fire Trucks Sutphen SP 70-foot platform demo parked at the Marine Terminal. It’s not often that a fire conference/trade show happens ocean-side – it’s spectacular when it does.
The following evening, when I came back from the conference, I chuckled at the sight of the FGFT aerial parked beside the picnic table at our cottage just a few minutes outside of Summerside – an odd juxtaposition!
That evening, while I was at the closing barbecue with conference delegates, the Fort Garry crew and Dan Sutphen took all the kids (and some of the grown ups, including our own Bookstore Becky!) from the other cottages at our working-vacation location up in the platform – what thrill for them!
One of the cottages in our cluster at Schurmans Shores (hmmm – I shouldn’t give away the name of our secret paradise, particularly given that the conference may be back in Summerside next year!) was occupied by a family from Maine, and a young teenager named Hayden who was taking lessons at the College of Piping & Celtic Performing Arts of Canada in Summerside.
After some repeated but gentle coaxing Monday evening, Hayden pulled out his pipes, warmed up, and gave us a brief concert – steaks hot off the barbecue, clouds of hungry mosquitoes, a roaring and continuous campfire, and the skirl of the bagpipes . . . hardly a typical conference experience!
The highlights of the conference for me were introducing keynote speaker (and Fire Fighting in Canada blogger and former columnist) Les Karpluk, and the closing session Tuesday afternoon about PTSD with Nathalie Michaud and Wayne Jasper. I also had the honour of introducing Wayne and Nathalie, and even though I saw the presentation last month in Penticton, I sat rapt as Nathalie told her compelling and gut-wrenching story about finding her husband, Fire Chief Richard Stringer, hanging in the fire hall five years ago.
Many in the room didn’t know what was coming, and the collective intake of breath when Nathalie stoically delivered her most difficult line – “Chief Stringer was my fire chief for five years; Richard Stringer was also my husband.” – was palpable.
Afterwards, Wayne – a firefighter with CFB Esquimalt in B.C. – posted some thoughts on Facebook. The responses to his post were remarkable, one in particular: a firefighter who had seen the presentation said now knows he has PTSD and is going to get help.
Later Tuesday, a fire chief who is being treated for PTSD spoke to me about the challenges of getting coverage – and we’re going to add that to our story in the September issue of the magazine.
And a long-awaited addendum to Nathalie’s story came to fruition this week when she picked up her PTSD service dog, aptly named Phoenix, in Nova Scotia, thanks to Citadel Canine Society and a lot of legwork by the persistent Wayne Jasper!
Nathalie is the first Canadian to have a service dog for PTSD, and, therefore, the first first responder. We’ll tell you more about that in September too.
I’m now sitting on the shore of the Bras d’Or Lake in Cape Breton, having driven from one island to another with Maritime Safety Equipment’s Frank Simmons, who provided great company and (a lot of!) fabulous conversation – a bit more of the east-coast hospitality that surprises the come-from-aways but that those of us from here know and expect. I’m on vacation and I’m hiding my BlackBerry. Kidding. But you knew that.