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June 3, 2014, Victoria, B.C. - It’s a bit more laid back here on the west coast than in some other regions of the country . . . which is good because as with any large-scale event, despite the best-laid plans, things go wrong. Like the theft of three brass bells needed for the conference – including last night’s memorial service – from the back of a certain chief’s truck.

June 3, 2014 
By Laura King

June 3, 2014, Victoria, B.C. – It’s a bit more laid back here on the west coast than in some other regions of the country . . . which is good because as with any large-scale event, despite the best-laid plans, things go wrong. Like the theft of three brass bells needed for the conference – including last night’s memorial service – from the back of a certain chief’s truck.

The chief was transporting the FCABC’s two lecterns and three bells from Nelson, B.C., and had stopped for a break. One smashed window and three missing bells later, and there was a mild crisis. One resourceful chief managed to have a bell delivered from a nearby department and the memorial service proceeded as planned, the only damage a bill for glass repair, and a good story told by FCABC president Tim Pley.

As with any conference, the mass exodus of vendors rushing to pack up and catch flights at the end of the trade show is akin to a well-executed evacuation: quick and efficient.


The trade show was to end at 2 p.m. yesterday, which, as conference delegates are aware, means vendors start packing up after lunch. And there are protocols – generally, all booth materials and boxes must be loaded in a certain area, out of sight to the rest of us.

Yesterday, unbeknownst to conference organizers, the City of Victoria happened to be paving the area immediately outside the loading spot, and had closed the road until 5 p.m. – by which time most vendors should have been seated with their seatbelts fastened and seat backs and tray tables in the upright position.

Panicked vendors with flights to catch were not amused. After some, uh, negotiations, dozens of sheets of plywood were delivered and put down over the new pavement, and the vendors loaded their wares. We’re not sure who’s paying that bill!

Those of us who haven’t been to the FCABC conference in a few years were pleasantly surprised – surprised isn’t the right word, pleasantly entertained, perhaps – when Fire Chief Alan Stebbing was called to the stage to sing the U.S. and Canadian national anthems.

A few brave souls who knew the words to The Star Spangled Banner sang along with Stebbing’s flawless rendition, then the room broke out in O Canada, wide smiles acknowledging the spectacular singing voice of the chief from Taylor, B.C. (Google it –it’s near Fort St. John, and not near anything else!).

Conference co-chair Tom DeSorcy said he and others noted Sebbing’s vocals a few years ago when, in the audience, he all but drowned out the hired anthem singer, and, voila, the FCABC’s own anthem-singing fire chief!

I know I wasn’t the only one in the room who wanted to start cheering at the final “O CA-NA-DA we stand on guuarrdd, for, thee!”

Conference organizers here in beautiful Victoria had some logistical challenges over the last couple of days – which they managed brilliantly – with the conference hotel on one side of Victoria harbor and the trade show and opening ceremonies/banquet on the other.

I grabbed a shuttle from the Delta Ocean Pointe to the trade show at the Victoria Coference Centre yesterday afternoon. I had just arrived, thrown my suitcases (yes, plural) into my room, and zipped over with just two hours to take in the whole show before 2 p.m.

Naturally, I started talking to the shuttle driver about the beautiful weather and the scenery, and he politely replied with the usual bit of small talk, then mentioned how the ocean affects the weather and how he loves it here because it’s like home. Home. Nova Scotia.

“No way,” I said. “Me too.”

“Where?” he asked.


“Me too,” he said. “The Pier.”

That would be Whitney Pier, the company-town part of home – The Pier, Dear, to locals.

And so it went. Shuttle driver Scott MacMillan’s family moved to Cole Harbour, N.S., where he grew up, but his parents are back on Cape Breton.

An hour later, I ran into Salt Spring Island Fire Chief Tom Bremner, who, of course, used to the be chief in Truro, N.S., and, like all of us, is a how-about-the-weather-small-talk kind of guy.

“I knew you had arrived,” he said. “The shuttle driver told me!”

Uh huh.

Back to logistics. The shuttle system worked flawlessly yesterday, and last evening we were treated to a water taxi ride across the harbor to the opening ceremony and the memorial service and banquet. Coming back, conference organizers had hired double-decker buses; our driver – clearly feeling particularly tourist-friendly and egged-on by a rather rowdy crowd – asked if we’d ever been to Chinatown at night, and offered to shuttle us downtown to see the lights and sights. A lovely ending to a long, but great, day.

As I finish this I’m sitting in the restaurant in the Delta Ocean Pointe, looking across at the B.C. legislature, and reviewing the Volunteer Vision-Live! presentation I’m doing this afternoon (two back-to-back sessions) with columnists and fire chiefs Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy. I’m sure I won’t get a word in edgewise!

June 2, 2014 – Very early this morning – 3:45 alarm, 6:50 flight – marked the beginning of a 10-day, western trip to the British Columbia and Alberta fire chiefs trade shows and conferences.

Circumstances – mostly other conferences and commitments – have prevented attendance at these shows in the last few years and, way back during budget talks in August, we thought it was smart to do one trip and cover both shows. I’ll let you know the verdict on that next week after our 17-hour drive to Grande Prairie from Victoria!

Meantime, at 30,000 feet, I’ve just put the final touches on two PowerPoint presentations to deliver this week.

Tomorrow’s session is Volunteer Vision – Live! – the brainchild of columnists Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy, who, as Fire Fighting in Canada readers know, share passion and provide wonderful insight into issues in volunteer departments.

The session – what we reporters call a bear pit, with lots of audience participation (I’m the moderator, and I will find you if you try to hide in the back row!) – promises to be energetic, and perhaps a bit controversial. More on that tomorrow.

On Thursday, I’m presenting on Elliot Lake and the $15-million inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall and the subsequent emergency response. There’s a lot to cover but there’s also a lot for delegates to learn, about command, control and communication. Especially communication.

Fire Fighting in Canada is extremely well represented at the B.C. conference: Vince is presenting solo in addition to Volunteer Vision – Live!; Rob Evans presents on recruitment and retention; AJ George gives a talk on use of iPads; and Gord Shreiner does one of his Stopbad sessions. (None of this has to do with the fact that Tom DeSorcy is the conference chair and Gord is the education director!).

I’m missing a good chunk of the trade show, which opened yesterday and closes at 2 p.m. today, so the plan is to sprint from the Victoria airport to the show – luggage in tow – and speed visit as many booths as possible during the last couple of hours, which could be a tall order given the early wake-up call.

I have interviews scheduled later this afternoon, and the banquet is tonight – a nice touch, I think, that allows vendors to attend; in other provinces often the trade-show participants depart before the banquet on the final day of the conference.

I’ve landed in Vancouver, where it’s sunny and warm and . . . only 8:30 a.m!

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