Comment: August 2018

Defining time
July 16, 2018
Written by
Time passes, but where does it go? This element is a much pondered but muddily understood concept. And yet, everything is about time; the time it takes to arrive on scene, to suppress the fire, to save a life. The time you work, the time you play.
Time far surpasses money on the wish list of that for which we want more; at least for many of us in the West. Unlike money, we can never earn more time and we never know how much of it we ultimately have.

Time is on my mind a lot these days, as I write this in mid-June preparing to go on maternity leave in early July. Our associate editor Jayson Koblun is the best initial point of contact until the interim editor is transitioned in. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 519-410-0600.

I will be returning in July 2019 and look forward to re-joining the team at Fire Fighting in Canada and reconnecting with you, our audience. A year sounds long or fast, depending on your stage of life (why do the years go faster as we age?). This is my third child and I know how speedy a maternity leave flies while you attempt to savour all the rapidly changing days of life with young children and babies.

Thus far, I haven’t said anything particularly revelatory about time. Let me make an attempt here. We are all aware that we feel time in different ways, depending on what we are doing. But why? Author Marc Wittmann looks for potential answers in his book Felt Time, published in 2017. Of particular interest to the fire service, he discusses the slow-motion effect, where people in dangerous situations describe the strange way that events seem to unfold at a lessened pace that seemed to allow for greater reaction time.

Researchers are trying various experiments to prove this slow-motion perception using tactics that try to replicate the excitability of danger in a lab setting. The theory that most seem to be hinging on suggests that when in events of extreme adrenaline, your brain processes speed up with the rest of your body, which perceptually translates to a slower experience of time. One experiment suggested that the brain does not speed up, but rather it is hindsight in explanation that people tend to overestimate the duration of the event.

Wittmann notes that a number of lab tests have proved the existence of over-evaluation, where highly emotional images are rated as lasting longer when appeared to the viewer than they actually do. Objections have been raised to some of the testing conditions in the search for the rhythm of the brain generally, so it remains unclear whether the brain actually speeds up or not, but it is clearly a fascinating area of research for first responders who regularly experience an adrenaline rush.

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