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Run silent, run deep

August 11, 2010

I watched a great movie on TV earlier this week, U-571. It's a submarine drama involving espionage and combat, more or less a WW2 version of The Hunt for Red October. There are several very suspenseful scenes in which the sailors wait in silence, staring up as the sonar man reports the splashing of depth charges into the water above. When a scene like this is filmed well, you can feel the tension in your neck and shoulders as the actors brace themselves.

Boom. Far away and muffled. Boom! Closer, sharper and rattling the sub. BOOM! Now the sailors are being tossed around as pipes split, spewing water and fuel under pressure. How close will the next one be? Which drum of explosives has our name on it?

August 11, 2010  By Peter Sells

I have seen a different kind of
fear take hold of fire chiefs and training officers. Different in that the fear
is not of imminent destruction; a less acute fear but still real and
debilitating. I'm talking about the apprehension and angst that someone is
always watching us and sooner or later we are going to be held accountable for
some action or failure to act. You may notice that I did not use the term
paranoia. I avoided it for two reasons; first, in its strictest sense paranoia
requires a clinical diagnosis, and I am not a psychologist; second, paranoia is
an irrational fear, and the reality is that we ARE under scrutiny.

Changes in Occupational Health
& Safety legislation across Canada, and even the Criminal Code, have
increasingly placed duties and responsibilities on employers and supervisors to
"take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for
protection of a worker." Penalties have been specified in monetary terms
and in terms of personal incarceration for failure to meet the expected
standard of care. Each time these penalties were broadened or increased by new
legislation, ripples ran through the fire service. I know for a fact that
individuals, who of course I will not name, have declined promotion to higher
ranks for fear of placing themselves in the line of such fire. And among those
of us who were already in positions of supervisory responsibility, there have
been protective actions such as placing all assets in a spouse's name or taking
out personal liability insurance.

We all knew this day was coming,
and like the depth charges raining down on the U-boat crew in the movie we
could only wait and wonder how close the next blast would be. The Fire Chief of
the Village of Point Edward Fire Department in southwestern Ontario and a
contracted training expert aren't wondering. They just took a direct hit. There
is no point in me rehashing the details of the incident which led to this
point. There is a link on the FFIC home page to media coverage, I encourage you
to read those articles and stay informed. I will, since they are now a matter
of public record, list the types of charges that have been laid by the Ontario
Ministry of Labour:

  • failing to ensure that an
    adequate number of rescuers were on shore at the time of the incident
  • failing to provide adequate
  • failure to appoint a safety
  • failing to ensure that adequate prerequisite training
    had been completed and/or confirmed
  • failing to ensure an adequate safety plan was present
  • failing to ensure an adequate pre-training hazard
    assessment was conducted
  • failing to have an adequate training plan and/or adequate
    pre-training briefing

Don't let fear of what might
happen if something goes wrong paralyze you; do the necessary work to minimize the
chances of a training accident or fireground mishap. Do all of the things that
are alleged to have not been done in the charges above. If this life we have
chosen were a submarine movie, I would be advising you to run silent and run
deep. Evade the danger lurking above. I am not making light of this situation,
I am drawing an analogy intended as a lesson in how to avoid the future tragic
death of any of us, maybe you.


As always, comments are invited.

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