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May 8, 2014, Toronto - The awards given out at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs gala last night represented some of the OAFC’s best work to date.

Jim Jessop, the former deputy chief in Niagara Falls who is now with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, received the Alf Stone Award for his Herculean efforts to make sprinklers mandatory in homes for seniors and other vulnerable people.

May 9, 2014 
By Laura King

May 8, 2014, Toronto – The awards given out at the Ontario Association
of Fire Chiefs gala last night represented some of the OAFC’s best work
to date.

Jim Jessop, the former deputy chief in Niagara Falls who is now with the
Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, received the Alf
Stone Award for his Herculean efforts to make sprinklers mandatory in
homes for seniors and other vulnerable people.

The Ontario fire service honoured Jessop’s dog-with-a-bone-like persistence on sprinklers and his persnickety pestering of politicians – to be politically incorrect; let’s go with his unwavering commitment to fire safety and ensuring that seniors and firefighters are as well protected as possible from fire in these types of facilities.

Jim Jessop accepts the Alf Stone Award for his work to have the Ontario government make it sprinklers mandatory in vulnerable occupancies.
Photo by Laura King



Jessop had found a champion in newspaper columnist Christie Blatchford – previously with the Globe and Mail and now The National Post – who called out the Ontario government over fatal fires in seniors homes, and got Jessop’s message out to voters. Blatchford was also honoured last night, with the president’s award, and, in typical Blatchford style, dropped two f-bombs in her brief thank-you speech! Not that anyone was shocked, but with everyone in uniform or other formal attire – and some VIPs in the room – Blatchford’s street talk certainly lightened the mood!

Newspaper columnist Christie Blatchford was recognized by the OAFC for drawing public attention to the Ontario government’s lack of action on sprinklers. Photo by Laura King


A second president’s award was given by Matt Pegg to Hicks Morley lawyers John Saunders and Carolyn McKenna, who represented the OAFC at the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake.

Having spent time in Elliot Lake last August and September, and having written tens of thousands of words in stories, blogs and tweets about the inquiry, I appreciate the magnitude of the task that John and Carolyn undertook: first to learn the intricacies of the emergency management system in Ontario (perhaps they could explain it to the rest of us?); then pour through a million – really – pages of submissions and exhibits; capably and thoroughly question witnesses including HUSAR commander Bill Needles, Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer, Dan Hefkey – who is now the deputy minister of community safety – and OPP Chief Superintendent Robert Bruce; and then pull together a submission on recommendations.

I had dinner with Officer Tuesday night; it will be nice for him and the rest of the members of the Elliot Lake Fire Department to be able to move forward after commissioner Paul Belanger finally releases the recommendations. It was nice last night to witness the applause Officer received when Saunders noted that the chief had operated correctly at the scene of the collapse; there was even louder applause when Saunders reiterated that rescue should be the exclusive purview of fire, and not other agencies.

Lawyers John Saunders and Carolyn McKenna, with the OAFC’s Brad Bigrigg – who provided background and support on the Elliot Lake file – Elliott Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer, and FFIC editor Laura King. Photo by Karen Gordon


Earlier last evening, Chief Terry Gervais of Greater Napanee accepted the VFIS recruitment and retention award on behalf of the Lennox & Addington Mutual-Aid Association for its joint training initiatives, and a very surprised and overwhelmed Gary Bullock of Kingston Fire & Rescue received the Bill Williams Humanitarian Award for his longstanding contributions to the department and the community. Bullock’s wife and daughter had been sneaked into the gala and met him on stage when the award was presented – a very nice touch.

Chief Terry Gervais of Greater Napanee accepts the VFIS award from OAFC past-president Kevin Foster. Photo by Laura King


Garry Bullock of Kingston Fire & Rescue, with his family, receives the Bill Williams Humanitarian Award. Photo by Laura King


The 2014-2015 OAFC executive and board was introduced last night, with just a couple of changes: Toronto Deputy Chief Matt Pegg was acclaimed as president; Hunstville Chief Steve Hernan is first-vice president, replacing Oakville Deputy Chief Andy Glynn, who moves off the executive to deal with other work and personal projects; second vice-president Deputy Chief Rick Arnel returns for a second year; and Chris Harrow, who had been acting third-vp, also returns. Kenora Chief Warren Brinkman is treasurer, replacing Hernan.

There are two new faces on the OAFC board – Thunder Bay Chief John Hay and Brantford Chief Jeff McCormick. Directors Terry Gervais (Napanee), Debbie Higgins (Toronto), Mark Mehlenbacker (St. Catharines), Mike Molloy (Meaford) and Ghislain Pigeon (Hawkesbury) return.

Like some other chiefs associations, the OAFC has partnered with its counterparts – training officers, communicators (dispatchers) and public educators – and the annual conference now comprises all four groups. All delegates were welcome to attend keynote and industry-critical presentations, and then break out into their own streams.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on communications consultant Karen Gordon’s ( / @squeakywheelcom) presentation to the public educators on social media, during which FFIC columnist and Grand Falls-Windsor Chief Vince MacKenzie was highlighted as a Twitter guru and expert – he is among the strongest fire-service tweeters in the country – and, of course, I was tweeting to him about it as Karen was presenting!

I talked to Karen last night and we were surprised at the numbers of fire-service personnel in key positions – public educators, PIOs, chief officers – who still see Twitter as a time-consuming complication rather than an exemplary fire-service tool. Clearly we have some work to do!

Lastly, I was surprised at the OAFC trade show on Monday to hear my name called, and looked around to see Brampton firefighter and National Lacrosse League star Dan Dawson. Dawson coached my boys in lacrosse camps and used to come to the lacrosse house-league championship weekends in Oakville to do ceremonial face offs and sign autographs. It’s cool when worlds collide! Dawson happens to be on a crew in Brampton with Britney Holmberg, a delightful young woman who carried me across the finish line – literally – in a firefighter fitness competition a few years ago when she was still applying to departments and experiencing the challenges of the hiring process. Two of Brampton’s finest!

May 7, 2014, Toronto – I had planned to write this morning about the
speakers, presentations and news at the Ontario Association of Fire
Chiefs conference, which wraps up tonight. But perhaps that’s better
left for another day given the passing this morning of Ajax Fire Chief
Mark Diotte

Mark died 11 months to the day after being diagnosed with brain cancer
and, subsequently, lung cancer. I don’t know if Mark’s cancer is work
related, but I expect that given his age – Mark was 55 – and his 34
years in the fire service, that it is.

Too many chief fire officers are waging their own wars on cancer – as Mark called his valiant fight.

Helmets were laid Sunday night at the OAFC memorial service for 11 former OAFC members, among them Caledon Deputy Chief Tony Lippers,
who died last May of complications from work-related esophageal cancer.
Remarkably, OAFC director and St. Catharines Fire Chief Mark
Mehlenbacher is in good form after months of health challenges from the
cancer he is fighting. There are myriad others.

A week ago, the Ontario government added six cancers to the list of
those presumed to be work related. As I said last week, all provinces
except Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island have some form of
presumptive legislation – which leaves considerable work to be done.

I didn’t know Chief Diotte well, but I do know he was well respected and well liked – which speaks volumes about a leader.

I was having a late dinner at a restaurant in St. John’s during the
Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs conference two years ago, and had
scored a table by the window to watch people walking by on a lovely
September night. The service was a little slow because of the number of
fire chiefs in town looking for great seafood, but the wine and the
company were nice and we were in no hurry. A group walked by the window –
obviously fire people given the blue t-shirts and gregarious
conversation and laughter. I did one of those double takes – a look and
then another look; Mark had taken two steps back to wave and offer us a
goofy grin before moving on; it was a silly moment but a silly moment is
even sillier when it is courtesy of a six-foot, six-inch fire chief –
who I usually saw in uniform during serious meetings – mugging on the
streets of St. John’s.

I’m glad I got to see that side of him. Mark’s full-honours fire-service funeral is next Thursday, May 15.

May 6, 2014, Toronto – Time to play catch up on what’s been a whirlwind of a week – and it’s only Tuesday.

Golf. Last Friday. If you’re a golfer you know that the first day out in
the spring never-ending-cold-wet-windy-post-winter is always an
adventure, particularly if it has rained steadily for a week and the
temperature hasn’t risen above 6 C. Layers were wise. A little something
in the morning caffeinated beverage of choice may have been wiser.

My foursome – Toronto Deputy Chief Debbie Higgins (whose first drive of
the day, with a neon pink ball, was spectacular), Oakville Deputy Chief
Andy Glynn (our ringer – rhymes with zinger!), Brad Bigrigg, program
manager for the OAFC’s new candidate testing services and an occasional
golfer, and me – had moments of brilliance; sadly, those were the witty
one-liners spat regularly at each other rather than spectacular drives
or perfect putts, but we did agree that if there were a prize for most
honest we would have won hands down.

We apologize to, and thank, the members of the team behind us who
retrieved two of our clubs left on a previous hole (there’s no need to
be specific here about whose clubs they were – but one of them was baby
blue, as is my golf jacket!), for their patience as we exercised some
search and rescue techniques and, at one point, a near firefighter
(chief) rescue from a rapidly moving creek.

Congratulations to repeat winners M&L Supply Team 2 Scott Maracle,
Ian Maracle, Steve Rose and David Aitken who came in at 12 under –
impressive given the conditions.

Fire Fighting in Canada partnered for the tournament this year
with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) – and although timing
and the wonky weather may have kept some fair weather golfers away, the
day was a success with manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, and
chief officers networking between holes and at our BBQ afterwards. Any
day on the links – good, bad or
no-one’s-really-sure-because-we-stopped-keeping-score really is better
than a good day in the office!

Our Ladders Up event Saturday night raised $26,500 for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation and emcee – Dryden Chief Ken Kurz – was worth the price of admission (editor’s note: admission was free!).

The band Better Under Fire rocked the house – and the venue, the atrium
at the Toronto Congress Centre, was perfect; those who appreciated the
live music but not the volume were able to drift to the back to network
while others enjoyed the mosh pit at the front! Kidding, although there
were some impressive dance moves by certain members of the Marmora &
Lake Fire Services, and the Toronto Pipes and Drums put on an fabulous

The music was fabulous, the food was fantastic, the auctioneer
occasionally paid attention to the directions he was given from FFIC
sales manager Catherine Connolly, but otherwise winged it (I was told to
say that!) and a full house of fire officers and fire-service suppliers
opened their wallets to benefit children and spouses of fallen
firefighters. You can see photos of the event here. Congratulations to the organizing committee which has, over three years, raised $82,500!

The OAFC conference opened Saturday and runs through Wednesday; the
trade show ran Sunday and Monday. Our Firehall Bookstore booth did
booming business – and having authors Mark van der Feyst and Lyle Quan
in the house made for a bit of a celebrity atmosphere!

On Sunday, I was invited by Code 4’s Jason Defosse to stop by for a
Hurst demo at 1 p.m. “We’ll put you in gear,” he said, “and you can
participate.” OK, I thought, sounds good, I’ll learn something and it
will be one-on-one with Jason so he can wield the heavy tools and I can
do the fun part – cutting – and ran to grab something to wear under the
bunker gear that was more appropriate than a business suit and heels.

When I arrived back at the appointed hour, a large crowd had gathered
(including many of the Conestoga College pre-service students I had
spoken to in February about fire-service media) and Jason was
introducing (loudly), to applause, his special guest – moi! – who was
going to help to demo the Hurst eDraulics. What??




I flashed back to the drive to Peace River last April in the middle of
the night after a delayed flight during which Deputy Chief Kieran Moore
of Grande Prairie said, “So, you’re the keynote speaker for the
conference,” and I said, “No, no, not the keynote, it’s just a breakout
session,” and he said “Ohhhh, yes you are.” Bit of a shocker.
Turns out Jason Defosse was as light on details of the demo as Peace
River Fire Chief Lance Bushie had been about my presentation. Yes, it’s
better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. So, always a good sport, I
cut pillars, pretended that the tools weren’t nearly as heavy as they
are (Jason tosses them around like matchsticks, of course), but was
suitably impressed by the portability and efficiency – no cords to
connect and trip over, no hydraulic fluid. Needless to say, helmet hair
and a rather flushed face ensued but I learned a lot and Jason put on a
spectacular demo. For a big crowd. Forgiveness granted.

The trade show floor was buzzing Sunday and Monday and vendors seemed
suitably satisfied with the crowd and the shopping – people were buying,
not just looking. I was asked years ago by the Simcoe County chiefs to
take a group photo at the show and I have done so every year since –
this year in front of the new Orillia rescue command unit that’s on
display at the show.

The county chiefs traditionally have t-shirts made that they unveil
Monday afternoon at the show then wear to events throughout the year.
Apparently there had been some, uh, debate about this year’s version –
an interesting red/maroon and black version of the Two-And-A-Half Men
style button-up, un-tucked (did someone say bowling?), relaxed-style
shirt. Which may be so, but it was certainly easy to pick out the Simcoe
County chiefs from the crowd!




After the photo shoot – which is usually a herding-cats type of affair
but this year someone suggested they choose a time and all meet at a
designated spot (you’d think a bunch of fire chiefs . . . ). Anyway,
tall guys in the back, less tall in the front and the shoot was done.
After which Orillia Deputy Chief Jeff Kirk was kind enough to present me
with my own version of the Simcoe County chiefs shirt – in lovely
two-tone grey (which was, apparently, the choice of many who aren’t so
keen on the red/maroon and black – oops!). Given that I am taller than
most women (and many fire chiefs!), Jeff was concerned about the size of
the shirt that had been ordered for me and wanted to be sure it fit.
Jeff is . . . diminutive. I am . . . not, so I could appreciate that
Jeff’s perspective may be different than those of his taller peers. But a
word to the wise: men asking women about clothing sizes should choose
their words carefully! The shirt fits fine Jeff, it’s actually a little
large! Thanks guys!

More (serious stuff) tomorrow on the conference and speakers but one
final tidbit for today: Those Simcoe County chiefs (they tend to travel
as a pack) are staying at an alternate hotel than most conference
delegates – they wanted to be closer to the venue and avoid shuttle
buses. Good option. Until this morning when a gaggle of them became
trapped in a stuck elevator and had to be rescued by Toronto Fire
Services. There’s irony there somewhere!

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