Fire Fighting in Canada

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StopBad: December 2018

What makes us firefighters? Well, it is not our cool hats and t-shirts. Nor is it our uniforms, personal protective clothing, fancy rigs or bumper stickers, expensive equipment, or our fire stations and badges. It’s our training.

November 16, 2018 
By Gord Schreiner

Training is what makes us a firefighter. Great training can make us great firefighters. Without training, a firefighter is just another civilian dressed up to look like a firefighter.

It’s important to note that it’s too late to train tomorrow for the incident you are responding to today.

Great firefighters are constantly training. This includes physical training, constantly reading fire service publications and constantly taking on new training.

Great firefighters learn from others, including reviewing recent line-of-duty deaths and injuries.


The fire service is like no other industry. Big changes are happening in the fire service and we cannot always do what we always did. We need to be constantly training for our next incidents, without knowing when, where or what that incident will be.

In all of my travels, I have yet to meet a firefighter who does not agree that training is probably the single most important thing we do. I have met quite a few, though, that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

Those firefighters are quick with lots of excuses as to why they or their departments don’t train much. But, there is no excuse for not training. I’ve heard all the excuses – the budget is small, it’s too cold or too wet, there’s not enough time, or I already know everything. These excuses just do not cut it. Get out and train like lives depend on you getting it right the first time because they do.

Training resources are abundant, you just need to look. The Internet is full of fire service lesson plans, training props and scenarios. Other fire departments will bend over backwards to share with you. There is a lot of great software out there for training, and much of it is inexpensive.

In my department you will find training going on almost every day. We have added some training components to our on-board iPads. Each rig and officer has our latest lesson plans, complete with photos and videos. We have built our own training centre which includes dozens of props.

I challenge my firefighters to keep thinking up new ideas, which are practical yet don’t cost a lot for our training centre. Even if they do not come up with any new ideas, they have probably learned something about fire service training just by looking.

Here is a hot idea. We recently added a sauna for dummies. Using an infrared heater, we heat up our rescue dummies then place them in a cooler room where we can search for them in artificial smoke, using thermal imaging cameras. The hot dummies look real as they provide a great thermal signature.

What’s wrong with hitting a hydrant, stretching a line, donning SCBA and throwing a ladder on a false alarm run? If your firefighters are on the rig, why not ask them to practice one of their common procedures to ensure they are not getting rusty? It only takes a few minutes to stretch that pre-connect, show water and put it back in place for the next call.

Your next run might involve a child trapped where precious seconds will make a difference. Wouldn’t it be great for you to get it right?

Once you have the basics nailed down you can then expand to other techniques such as vent, enter, isolate and search.

Our firefighters love to train and I am proud that they are very well trained. However, we are not stopping and continue to make our team even stronger by providing more great training. I know we can be called upon at any time to deliver an excellent response to an emergency.

Good training pays off in terms of successful incidents. Victims are rescued, fires are extinguished quicker and, most importantly, our firefighters are safer.

After recent fires, some of our firefighters have commented that the incidents were very much like a training scenario. We practice like we play and we train like our lives depend on it because they do

We keep our training challenging and exciting. I find that reminding our firefighters that lives depend on us helps to keep them motivated. So, get out and push your department to train more.

Remember, if it is predictable it should be preventable.

Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire.

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