By Rob Evans
Nov. 29, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Last weekend, there was a lot of action on social media by Canadian fire departments involved in their communities’ kick-offs to the Christmas season. Pictures and comments from Santa Claus parades and light-up ceremonies were not trending quite like the horrible tweets from the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto (I couldn’t even finish watching the Stamps be put to shame), but many departments were busy online.
By Rob Evans
Nov. 29, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Last weekend, there was a lot of
action on social media by Canadian fire departments involved in their
communities’ kick-offs to the Christmas season. Pictures and comments
from Santa Claus parades and light-up ceremonies were not trending quite
like the horrible tweets from the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto (I couldn’t
even finish watching the Stamps be put to shame), but many departments
were busy online.
Unfortunately, not only were departments plugging in light displays and using aerials to decorate town trees and buildings, but many were also busy responding to fires. In Summerside, P.E.I., Fire Chief Jim Peters was doing his best to let residents know that his department was disappointed after finding that just 22 per cent of homes checked by firefighters had operating smoke alarms. I am willing to bet that this number would be similar in other areas of the country. Peters also noted that while many homes did have smoke alarms, a fair number of them had exceeded their 10-year lifespan.
We all know that smoke alarms save lives and that we must continue to deliver that message. Some departments have moved away from soft, low-key television commercials warning people of the dangers during the holiday season. Is it time for us all to move to the hard-hitting, graphic displays that show people what happens when there is a fire? People die, possessions are lost, and lives are torn apart. We all know that. Are Canadians ready to hear it, though? In the last weekend in November, fires forced people from a homes in Lethbridge, Alta.; people in Halifax lost their pets in a fire; and in Hamilton, Ont., three people were treated after food left on the stove caused a fire. A comment on the Hamilton story on the CBC website said that the people were thrilled to be getting a “fresh” start. I truly hope this is not how they are looking at this, when they should be learning about the dangers of an unattended stove.
Cooking is a major cause of residential fires but other sources of heat can change a homeowner’s life very quickly. As the temperatures drop in the coming days and weeks, convenient portable heaters will undoubtedly cause some residential fires. Heat guns, or torches, used to thaw frozen pipes, are another common cause of fire about which people need to be educated; these devices are especially common around mobile homes.
And, believe it or not, there are still people in our communities who think a Christmas tree isn’t complete without actual burning candles. The message about the danger of candles on trees has not gotten through.
While delivering messages to the public about fire safety is important, we also need to make sure crews are watching out for our own. Although everyone should be doing this year-round, the emotional toll of bad calls can really be exacerbated at this time of year. Nobody wants to see people suffer, but fatal fires can be particularly hard to deal with at this time of year. Let’s remember to keep our families close, both at the hall and at home. There will be many more parades and ceremonies to attend. Make sure you do not miss any, for any reason.
Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a firefighter/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof.