Fire Fighting in Canada

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Fully Engaged: October 2012

This past summer I watched more of the Olympics than I ever have before.

September 26, 2012
By Ken Sheridan

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This past summer I watched more of the Olympics than I ever have before. For the first time, I wondered about these athletes, marvelling at their incredible dedication to be the best in the world. It was exciting to see rowing and swimming but what impressed me the most were the endurance sports – long-distance events such as 10-kilometre bicycling, running and, of course, the decathlon.

What kind of training and preparation do these people do in order to get to this point in their lives? As a former junior hockey player, I recall running and lifting weights, hoping to be strong enough and fit enough to endure the punishment hockey can bring. But I am aware that to be an Olympic hero is more than that – it demands more diligence, more drive, more mental determination.

Those in the fire service require those same attributes. Firefighters are often looked upon as heroes. There is this mysticism that the public expects when we step out of the fire station and onto the bright, shiney truck, cloaked in turn-out gear, fearless and ready to intervene on their behalf. But do they know the other part of us, the part that awaits behind the closed doors, hidden from view?

There are fewer fires today than in days gone by, but fire losses continue to rise. There are more motor-vehicle collisions and medical calls than before and yet our identity is with fire; I suppose this is because fire is so unpredictable and uncontrollable without human intervention. Like the decathlete, the firefighter must be in superb condition and prepared for any situation. All fires will eventually go out after consuming all they can; we as a society cannot afford this. So, the firefighter is here to stay.

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I talk to many firefighters not only in my own fire department but across Ontario and Canada and abroad. When I speak to our new recruits each year near the end of their training, I see myself sitting there many years ago, eager, excited and anticipating the difference that I would make. I talk about my experiences and what I’ve seen, what I expected and what I have learned. Most of all, I try to impress upon the recruits that fire is deadly, destructive and unforgiving both for the public and for us.

To be prepared for such a battle, we must be ready. How? Being a firefighter is more than a job; it’s a career that demands we be physically fit. Let’s face it: the job can be very demanding on the body. Consult a professional trainer or go online, get a program that you can do at home. Walk, bike or do whatever you need to in order to stay ready to perform your duties.

Know your role and responsibilities. Any gaps here can mean inefficiencies that will compound any scene. We must know our equipment, personal protective gear including SCBA, its function and all of its limitations. We must know the other equipment – power saws, fans, hydraulic rescue tools, nozzles – and, of course, how to use them safety. We should know how to drive our vehicles and pump water and raise an aerial ladder. We should know how to keep the fire station clean and presentable – who knows when a taxpayer will walk in for a visit. It’s important for visitors to see a tidy place – a place we are proud of, and a place for which we don’t have to apologize.

When it’s time to train, be on time and be ready to learn. Hone the skills you have learned in the past and help less experienced co-workers learn what you know. If you are running the training, know your stuff; your knowledge and your ability to pass it on will have huge repercussions – make them positive ones.

Most of all we have to be ready mentally. I think this is where the volunteer firefighter has it the hardest – to drop everything at the body shop, grocery store, insurance office, warehouse or farm and respond to the station, quickly becoming the firefighter that you now need to be.

Strengthen your mind. Being mentally prepared is one of the most important aspects of being a firefighter. It gets easier with time and experience, but like physical fitness, mental fitness must be a regime that is ongoing. There are countless books and articles on positive thinking and personal development. Some firefighters pray, while others meditate daily to remain focused. Our minds are capable of so much – positive and negative.

Having confidence in your equipment and your abilities is the biggest part of this demand. Getting your head in the game will be much easier if you have looked after being competent in the job. This competence can breed confidence and that will make you a good and safe firefighter.

Though we may never become Olympians, we must train as if we would, practising and preparing our bodies and minds for the battles on the fire ground. Will you be ready to take your mark, get set, go?


Ken Sheridan is captain of fire prevention in Norfolk County, Ont. Ken is a certified fire prevention officer and certified fire and life safety educator for the Province of Ontario. He is a graduate of the Dalhousie University fire administration program and has more than 21 years in fire suppression and fire prevention. Contact him at ken.sheridan@norfolkcounty.ca.


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