Where does the time go? Nearly 22 years have passed since I wrote my first Trainer’s Corner column. I am so very grateful to have been allowed this incredible opportunity. Being the training officer for Joe Rich Volunteer FD in B.C., I found it difficult to juggle family, a job and life while having to research, study and prepare 40-some-odd training sessions a year. I approached Jim Hailey, then editor of Fire Fighting in Canada, with the idea of providing help to the nation’s volunteer training officers through the magazine. He agreed to give it a shot, and Trainer’s Corner was birthed. My first column was “Communications”. I had no idea that one column would turn into over 100 contributions and multiple invitations to instruct in person.
In 1998 at age 45, I successfully met the B.C. Fire Fighter Standard (Justice Institute of B.C.). Five years later I achieved NFPA 1001 certification. I am proud of my accreditations, as I am sure you are of yours, but they don’t automatically make you an instructor. The instructor role was a steep learning curve.
We didn’t have the Internet back then, at least not in the same way we have it today. Research for training sessions was done through reading books, making notes, watching VHS tapes, and making more notes. I must take a moment and thank my then Fire Chief Brian Morris (RIP). Chief Morris believed in me and pushed me to excellence. He sent me to every FD instructional course held in B.C.; including the Firefighter Assist and Survival Tactics (F.A.S.T) course put on by North Vancouver FD.
Being part of B.C.’s First Responder Program as an instructor / evaluator was a tremendous help in learning how to instruct. Much of that information was at one time or another shared through this column.
Trainer’s Corner has always been written in the first person. My closing tag line for most of these years has been, “Train like lives depend on it, because they do.” This is referring to you and your members, not the general public. You see, I am passionate (some say driven) about firefighter safety. There is an old saying: “The best thing that an old firefighter can teach a young firefighter is how to become an old firefighter.”
They tell me I can be tough, but to be honest, even as I type this column I’m getting choked up, wondering if I’ve made a difference. I am sadly aware that my circle of concern is bigger than my circle of influence.
Throughout my career as a firefighter, my faith in God has been my strength. I am humbled to think I was given the honour to speak at several 9/11 memorial services. Two years later, in 2003, we (the BC Wildfire Service) lost three firefighters (Ian, Eric and Ben) during an unprecedented urban interface wildfire year. I had the honour of speaking with each of their families and later took part in what I believe was the first LODD ceremony held by B.C. Forestry.
One of my favorite life statements is, “What man is a man who does not make the world he lives in better.” This statement provided guide posts and gave me a sense of purpose. I admit I’m a fixer — I have a “rescue mindset” — that is why I’m a training officer. I would spend multiple hours poring over firefighter fatality reports, trying to see what caused the LODD, and then I would try and “fix it”.
However, I believe the turning point in my training style took place in 2004. It was on March 29 when Clearwater volunteer firefighter, 23-year-old Chad Schapansky, lost his life in an abandoned structure fire.
I have no trouble remembering this date, for it is my birthday, and I will have no trouble remembering this young man because of what I felt at his funeral. Hundreds of firefighters stood outside in formation facing the small chapel where Chad’s body lay, and his grieving family and friends gathered. Right behind us was the burned out long abandoned restaurant he lost his life in.
“We may risk our lives a lot to protect savable lives…We may risk our lives a little to protect savable property …We will not risk our lives at all for lives or property that are already lost,” kept playing through my mind. (Risk Management NFPA 1500).
His tragic death made no sense to me. Why did Chad have the only radio? His partner had to use his cell phone to call 911 to tell the FD that they were in trouble. Why were they in the building in the first place? I vowed to do all I could to ensure firefighters got to go home after each call.
Once the investigation of Chad’s death was published, I studied the reports, giving careful consideration to the floor collapse that trapped Chad, who sadly ran out of air before being rescued. My sons, both firefighters, and I developed a two-story hands-on training prop (complete with collapsing floor) to simulate the conditions of that fatal fire incident. We spent hours running firefighters through the simulator and brainstorming ways a rescue could be made. We came up with some basic rescue tactics and a list of self-rescue tools firefighters needed to carry in their bunker gear pockets.
We brought it to the Oliver FD Spring Training in 2005. When the Clearwater FD members witnessed the rescue of the fallen firefighter in our re-enactment, and they realized Chad had not died in vain there was a spontaneous outburst of applause. It moved more than a few to tears.
There is great value and honour in using LODD events to instruct, whether we learn what to do or what not to do, it doesn’t matter as long as we learn something. May no firefighter’s death be in vain.
It’s been said that there is no greater influence of change in the fire service than a Line Of Duty Death of a firefighter. Yet, there is no greater tragedy than that of a fallen firefighter whose death prompted the passing of a safety policy which may have prevented his or her death!
I have been honoured to speak at several fire chief conferences as well as FDIC Atlantic. One of my main themes was “Calling A Mayday”. I did something one year at the FDIC Atlantic that I wish would become a required component for all Canadian fire conferences. I posted a power point slide in honour of the Maritime’s Line Of Duty Deaths. As the 99 names slowly scrolled up the screen, we honoured them with a moment of silence.
I carry the names of many lost firefighters, afraid to forget them, afraid to dishonour them by not sharing their tragic deaths. I researched what led to their LODD, listened to hundreds of hours of dispatch transmissions, read page after page of transcripts and reports. With information from their fatality reports, I built training mazes and props to teach survival skills.
Although my research started years ago, I still hear firefighter Champaign (46) calling out, “We need help. I can’t find the way out.” I hear him give his last breath. I think I tried to honour him by developing and instructing Mayday protocols. It will be my honour to introduce you to him along with a few more of my influencers next issue. Until then please, stay safe and remember to, “Train like lives depend on it, because they do”. 4-9-4 – Ed.
Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., retired deputy chief training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue, a fire warden, wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor and ordained disaster-response chaplain. Contact email@example.com
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