Training

There are three fundamental questions that affect all people: Is my home safe? Is my community safe? Am I safe?
Like many of my generation, I type using the hunt and peck method (hunt for the letter and peck at it). Since I type with one finger, there are often mistakes, especially if my brain goes faster than my one educated finger.  So, I really appreciate the Fire Fighting in Canada editorial staff – they make me sound and look good. You should never do your own proofreading anyway. I could easily type “Teh” thinking it to read “The.”
Before anyone becomes an emergency-service call taker or dispatcher and fields live emergency calls, you would think there would be a standard level of education, training and certification required. In Ontario, there is not. We are not alone in this situation. There is a movement developing in the United States toward standardized training and certification.
All training officers face the same basic challenge: they have to find a way to actively engage students in the learning process. And since firefighter training is ongoing, training officers constantly have to deal with this particular issue.Take a hard, brutally honest look back at your last year’s training program. Did it go as you expected? Was it successful? Did you get any feedback (good or bad)? Don’t ask yourself if you could you have done better, because we can always do better. But was there something you tried that worked particularly well, or something that you should never do again? The main question is: were your instructing methods and topics effective?Training officers have a great influence (good or bad) on their departments. Being an effective trainer takes real dedication. Even after 20-plus years of instructing, I still average two to three hours of prep time for each training hour I put in on any given practice night.Along with providing a safe and positive training environment, training officers have many training objectives to cover. It is easy to get burned out – even for superhero trainers. My advice is to get some help; find your Robin or Tonto.Get students involvedOver the years I have noticed that people learn more and retain more if they are more actively involved in the learning process. However, getting firefighters – especially veterans – to engage in the training process can be difficult to say the least. We all know of veteran firefighters who step to the back of the classroom (especially during demos) and disengage from the lesson. Worse yet is when two or three firefighters group together to chat it up or critique you as you train.The following are proven engagement techniques. Ask a veteran firefighter to help you prepare and present a training lesson. Be sure to give the veteran a copy of the training objectives or any other relevant material several weeks in advance. (Not everyone is comfortable flying by the seat of his or her pants.) Institute a big-brother system by pairing up a veteran with a younger firefighter, and then divide them into teams to deal with training scenarios. Learning is optimized when students are actively engaged in learning. There is an oft-quoted chart (found through web searches for learning styles) that is cited by learning experts as a solid guide for those who teach. The chart states that we remember: 10 per cent of what we read (taking turns reading training material) 20 per cent of what we hear (lecture) 30 per cent of what we see (video) 50 per cent of what we both see and hear (PowerPoint with a lecture) 70 per cent of what we have discussed with others (brainstorming) 80 per cent of what we have experienced personally (hands on) 95 per cent of what we teach someone else (helping instruct) Keep this in mind as your prepare for training night.Gender can play a part in the learning style. If you listen to parents interact with their children, you are more likely to hear a mom say, “Listen to me, and I will tell you how to do this.” Whereas a dad is more likely to say, “Watch me, and I will show you how to do this.” Find a balance between spoken instructions and demonstration. The three-Ds system (describe, demonstrate, do) seems to work well.PowerPoint can be an effective teaching tool to engage students in learning, if it is used properly. PowerPoint appeals to visual learners and can be a good way to organize a presentation. However, it is easy to misuse PowerPoint. Reading from the slides (especially if you turn your back to the students) is the easiest way to kill students’ attention. With PowerPoint, less is more. Resist the temptation to cram as much information as you can onto one slide. Instead, the words on a slide should be visible from the most distant point in the classroom. Most learning happens during a discussion of the topic, not from reading the words on a slide. Rely on the discussion to flesh out key points. (You can read more tips for classroom instructors in Chris Davison-Vanderburg’s article “Instructions for instructors” in Fire Fighting in Canada’s February issue.)   View the embedded image gallery online at: https://www.firefightingincanada.com/index.php?option=com_k2&Itemid=64&lang=en&layout=latest&view=latest#sigProGalleriac49ae9d3b3 Attitude adjustmentOne area of instructing that is far too often over looked is the teacher’s attitude. As the training officer, you have a great influence over your trainees. They will, in a very short time, reflect your attitude regarding safety, respect, zeal for knowledge and professionalism in the fire service. When you meet the training officer, you meet the department; simple as that.Encourage discussion during training sessions by providing a positive environment for all students who participate. This can be difficult, but remember, nothing shuts down a group discussion like the words, “No that is wrong.” Give firefighters opportunities to correct or add to the information presented. Above all, do not make them look bad in front of their peers. Here are some positive examples: Thanks . . . does anyone want to add to that? Interesting point . . . what do the rest of you think? Good start. Let’s hear some more ideas. Consider using the rule of 10 and two: for every 10 minutes of lecture, students should have at least two minutes to talk to each other about what is being presented. It is important for students to interact with the material in order to retain the information and become engaged in learning.Use incentivesIt is paramount that training officers continually strive for excellence. Set the bar high and your students will reach for it and respect you for thinking highly of them.Look for ways to show you acknowledge students’ positive progress. One way we at Greenwood Fire Rescue do that is by giving in-house certifications. Each Greenwood firefighter receives a department training-program certificate. These are mounted in picture frames and hung on the training-room wall. As candidates successfully complete our training sessions they are awarded a coloured seal, which is affixed over that particular topic.Because this is an ongoing program, each firefighter sees his or her progress within a short time. For example, our first-quarter training session (January to March) covers safety and communications, PPE, SCBA and fire behaviour. Each topic has an exam and evaluation component. In this quarter, there are five basic topics, so in three months firefighters could earn five seals.The potential for a seal every three weeks is a great learning motivator; this simple acknowledgement has a very positive influence. The certification program is also a great asset for when you are making up future training schedules, and aids in your required record keeping.Encouragement goes a long wayEvery once in a while you will meet firefighters who are hungry for knowledge. They are unusually keen about one area of the fire service (fire behaviour, arson investigation, or suppression, for example). What a privilege to be able to nurture interests and mentor those firefighters to reach their full potential. I encourage you to help firefighters discover insight into their key topics. Give your students access to your books, videos and internet resources; sign them up for extra training sessions. Do whatever you can with your budget and resources to satisfy their hunger.Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote, “Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory.” Who knows, you may be training future leaders in the Canadian fire service; or at least your department’s future training officer. Every firefighter has the potential to become an instructor, and the best thing an old firefighter can teach a young firefighter is to become an old firefighter.As always, stay safe and keep training as if lives depend on it, because they do.Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue. He is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor/evaluator and an ordained disaster-response chaplain. Ed has written the Trainers Corner for 13 of his 26 years in the fire service. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Effective radio communication is the most important safety factor on the fire ground.
While developing our department’s standard operational guidelines (SOGs), I was shocked to see the scope of duties performed by the training officer.
Have you thought about live fire training in your department? Today’s fires occur with less frequency, but when they occur the fires are far more dangerous than they were 20 years ago.
Winter can be fun: sliding, skiing, skating, hockey, or just going for a walk in the crisp fresh snow are all great cold weather activities that can put a smile on our faces. These are the happy thoughts of winter most of us would like to envision.
Continuing our look back over the last 10 years of Back to Basics in Fire Fighting in Canada, I’d like to highlight this article, which focuses on the backup person position on the handline. This position used to be simply ignored outside of basic training. Instructors like Aaron Fields, Dave McGrail and many others from across America started to bring the focus back to this important role.
Of all the articles I have written, the one on Call Signs for Life I wrote five years ago continues to garner a lot of inquiries. Dozens of departments have switched to this simple system and most have said that changing their radio call signs has been one of the best decisions they have made.
I have been focusing a lot on fire ground operations lately after witnessing many firefighters completing tasks in a manner that is inconsistent with their training over the last few months. One area where I have noticed inconsistencies is the use of ground ladders. This area is neglected greatly in the fire service because we often consider ground ladders to be bulky, heavy and awkward to handle.
Experienced firefighters and service hopefuls got the chance to learn from industry experts and expand their skillset at a unique educational event.
On March 12 and 13, firefighters from 10 Fraser Valley departments in British Columbia took part in an exercise that will shape the standard by which first responders deal with Class 3 flammable liquids delivered by rail in Canada.
March 2016 - Say the words Lac-Megantic and a flood of images, feelings and thoughts come quickly to mind. The July 2013 train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Que., was a watershed event in Canada, particularly as it relates to the transportation of flammable liquids and the regulations, policies and actions that producers, shippers and consignors must now consider.
As I was doing the final preparations for my course at FDIC Atlantic in June, I realized there was some important information that I had not addressed in my column on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in February, in particular, the incident that occurred on Oct. 2, 1997
For almost two decades, the tragic story of four volunteer firefighters has haunted me. This column is in memory of René Desharnais, Martin Desrochers, Raynald Dion and Raymond Michaud.
If your department deals with hazardous material, a copy of the Emergency Response Guidebook, or ERG, is an invaluable resource.
The growing meth epidemic in Canada’s cities is usually the territory of police, health and social service agencies. In Surrey, B.C., however, members of the fire service have thrown their support – and dollars – into the fight against this scourge in their community.
Acting Capt. Amanda Smyth sits in the front passenger seat, listening to the dispatcher confirm an alarm activation. Quickly and authoritatively, Smyth responds, ticking off boxes in her head.
If a large incident happened in your response area, would you and your officers know what to do? Train on incident management systems and discuss the recommendations from the Elliot Lake mall collapse with Brad Bigrigg, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs program manager – absolutely free! Obtain your IMS-100 certification through this four-hour program with a qualified instructor, plus spend an extra two hours on lessons learned from Elliot Lake. IMS 100 – Introduction to Incident Management Systems, is one of two courses still open for registration at our annual Firefighter Training Day at Toronto’s Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute – FESTI – on Sept. 26. Spots are also running out for our second open course – patient packaging and triage – so don’t wait to register! It’s free training, no strings attached!REGISTER NOW
When tens of thousands of country-music fans descend on Cavendish, P.E.I., every summer, the risk of potential disaster increases – crowds, weather, traffic and over-indulgence can all turn bad quickly.
Firefighters will often part company at the end of a shift by saying, “See you at the big one.” One of the oddities of our subculture is that such a phrase usually is received with a smile. Even as 9-11 begins to fade from our immediate consciousnesses we are willing, and even eager, to face that one career-defining incident that would bring out all hands.
The adage that two heads are better than one has been expanded on at Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear generating station.
The evolution of effective communication puts all responding agencies on same page at major incidents in Canada and U.S.
In Western Canada, the collaboration among industry stakeholders, first responders and government agencies during last summer’s wildfire season was remarkable. Information and resource sharing, situation updates, timely and effective communication, and a lot of plain old hard work provided the necessary tools to get us through a crazy summer. During that time, there were record-sized fires in British Columbia’s Tumbler Ridge and Moberly Lake to Mt. McAllister, and the entire community of Hudson’s Hope, B.C., was evacuated. However, there were also some valuable lessons learned about the hazards first responders typically encounter when responding to emergencies near industrial activities.Pipeline crossings, specifically in rural areas, are one of the most important topics to address for emergency response personnel. Under federal and/or provincial regulations, oil and gas companies that own and operate pipelines are required to monitor, and in many cases prevent, heavy equipment from crossing pipeline right of ways. There are many reasons for this. First, the depth of pipelines varies due to factors including farm activities stripping away layers of soil, hot ground/surface fires, flooding and erosion. And secondly, companies spend a lot of time and resources identifying and mapping pipeline crossings. Nothing is more frustrating to the owner/operator of a high-volume pipeline than seeing that heavy equipment impacted a section of pipe – especially when a designated crossing was close by. Always check with the pipeline company prior to mobilizing heavy equipment.Knowing what the pipelines contain is also critical. Information about the specific products will help determine safe distances for setting up temporary camps, staging areas and incident-command posts. Always verify with the pipeline company what distance should be maintained from the hazard area, which is generally referred to as the emergency planning zone (EPZ). The radius of an EPZ depends on the product being transported, the operating pressure and the liquid/gas volume. Pipeline companies will gladly share product information and emergency protocols with emergency-response personnel. Understanding this information ensures everyone is aware of the potential hazards as well as the do’s and don’ts.The oil and gas industry has numerous sites at which large volumes of hydrocarbons are stored in tank farms. And even though industry works hard to reduce the storage of flammable materials during the fire season, the potential fire/explosive hazard is always present. Tank sizes vary, but it is important that fire departments confirm with the local company the contents of the tanks and the volumes. This information is usually found in the wildfire-mitigation plan for the area.Having up-to-date emergency contact information for industry stakeholders in a given operating area is vital. Company personnel change frequently, which presents communication challenges for everyone. Creating a real-time and accurate list for single points of contact within organizations avoids unnecessary time delays in pushing the critical information to those who need it most. Industry stakeholders also need updated contact information for local emergency services, response agencies and government authorities. A great information-sharing mechanism was created and co-ordinated by Emergency Management BC in Prince George last summer. Interagency and industry conference calls were set up to provide wildfire-situation updates, weather forecasts, fire impacts and much more. Participants were able to get fast, accurate information. By opening up the phone lines, industry stakeholders could then use the most current information to prepare for wildfire threats.Mapping proved to be another challenge with respect to the wildfires. However, industry has many geographic-information-system (GIS) resources available to ensure pipelines, roads, bridges, water sources, work camp locations and other important landmarks are clearly identified on the maps used by response personnel. In fact, most emergency-response plans have updated maps. The maps help responders quickly prioritize their actions and tasks; for example, the structural protection of a large work camp would likely take priority over a pipeline. On the other hand, protecting a bridge may take precedent, depending on the access and egress.Any time we can learn lessons from our past experiences demonstrates a willingness to continually improve response systems, processes, methods and tools.Mike Burzek is the senior HSE co-ordinator for Progress Energy Canada Ltd. He has 26 years of experience in emergency response and public safety. He lives in Fort St. John, B.C., and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
In general terms, pipelines are (mostly) underground conduits used for transporting materials including water, waste products, oil and gas.
In the wake of some very serious industrial accidents around the world, many countries recognized the need for hazard-specific emergency preparedness and response.
Although tactical operations get most of the attention during emergencies, anyone who has been on the front line of emergency response appreciates the ones responsible for the less glamorous task of planning.
The concept of unified command within an incident-management system is often misunderstood during major emergencies or disasters
It is not often that emergency personnel are called to rural farm settings, nor do first responders have the necessary knowledge of agricultural operations
In our look back at the last 10 years, there has been a lot of attention devoted to moving the handline. There has been a paradigm shift in the fire service due to firefighters like Aaron Fields, Andy Fredericks, Dave McGrail and others. This article was written back in 2008 when the paradigm started to take flight.
We are continuing with a look back over the last 10 years with articles that have been a highlight based on the topic or feedback. This article was published in August 2009 and was a highlight because of the topic: not much is discussed about overhaul.  
This year, Back to Basics has reached a milestone. We are entering our 10th year of publication. When I look back on the past 10 years, I am amazed at how much we have covered. I must admit that I never thought this column would last five years, let alone 10. For our 10-year anniversary, I am going to recap some of my favourite articles from over the years that garnered attention within the Canadian fire service.
I recently conducted a structural burn session class for a local fire department, where members had access to a school building for live-fire training. The training day allowed firefighters to refine their skills under realistic conditions.
Oct. 11, 2017 – One single ounce of oxygen. That’s all it would have taken for an explosion to have occurred at Pacific BioEnergy’s Prince George, B.C. facility in August 2017. It was Thursday, Aug. 24 when chairman and chief executive officer Don Steele found out that one of the wood pellet fuel company’s silos began smoldering overnight.Steele was hosting a group of seven guests who had flown from Nagoya, Japan for a tour of the facility. “I advised them," he explained. "I said we could go up and have a look. We might even go on the property and they wouldn’t see much. But, at that point in time we were evacuating,” Steele said.Although reported as a fire in mainstream media, the incident was a smoldering situation. Wood pellet consultancy company FutureMetrics’ John Swaan founded Pacific BioEnergy Corporation in 1994. His direction on-site is one of the main reasons why an explosion didn’t take place.What was the winning solution? Nitrogen injection. In an industry where the potential for explosions is all too common, this was the first time that a North American pellet operation successfully put out a smouldering issue. “We have a number of incidents that have happened in our industry, mostly in Europe, that have not gone successfully,” Swaan said.“There were some references that I shared with Don and his key people on-site,” Swaan recalled from the day. “And then his VP of operations gathered his key people around and took a look at what the options might be and looked at the references,” he explained. “I shared the report about how best to handle these [situations], that was done in a research centre in Sweden.” “So we did some calculations, and based on those calculations, a decision was made with Don and his people to say ‘OK, let’s bring in the nitrogen.’”“A simple reaction would be to try and open [the silo] up to put out the fire, which would have been catastrophic,” Steele said. “Any oxygen entering would have been disastrous. It was a tremendously risky proposition.”The silo holds 3,500 tonnes of pellets. Steele said that’s the energy equivalent of about 10,000 barrels of oil. The incident had the potential to have the entire surrounding city evacuated.The nitrogen injection equipment was brought to the facility from neighbouring Alberta within eight to 10 hours. Alberta’s oil fields have prompted the province’s first responders to be prepared for fire suppression missions to prevent explosions. The smouldering material in the silo was injected with nitrogen for a few days until it was safe enough to remove in small amounts. The nitrogen arrives as a liquid and needs to be turned into a vapour.“I think the first principle of it is, liquid nitrogen is an inert gas,” Steele said. “In other words, it can’t explode or burn. So you use it to push the oxygen out of the container and then try and seal it off. We tried with foam and various things, but once you’ve got the oxygen content below a certain level, [about] 10 per cent, you’ve minimized the risk of an explosion. So then you can start pulling the material out.”“We basically wetted it down, and over a course of seven days eliminated the risk, moved the material out, quenched the fire risk and then stockpiled it over in another part of our property,” Steele said.“I think the key thing is nobody overreacted… I don’t even think there was a Band-Aid.”Swaan and Steele said the cooperation between industry and first responders was what ensured a safe outcome.“This kind of incident has the potential of major, major injury. Our people knew how to safely handle the material and the first responders and fire department knew how to look after our people to keep them out of harm’s way,” Steele said. “They had the respiration equipment, they had the fire hoses, they had the ability and the technique for putting out a fire. Our people knew how to move the material through and safely evacuate the silo.”Half a million dollars-worth of material and product was destroyed and a lot of equipment was damaged, but Steele says everybody’s safety makes the situation a success. “It’s a happy beginning actually, because we’re beginning now to refit and add to our knowledge of our product and how to handle it,” he said. “And I think the whole industry is going to learn something from it too.” “I say anything that can be fixed with money is not a problem. You can’t fix people with money, particularly if they’re severely injured or killed.” “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ [a silo fire could happen] it’s ‘when,’” Swaan said. “But the good news is that we now as an industry have a lot of new learnings. We have experience that we can now share with the industry so that we can make it a safer industry for these types of situations.”Steele said, “The key thing is, think before you act, use other information, use your judgement, move deliberately, keep everybody safe.”This story was originally published in Canadian Biomass.
Many fire-ground tasks can be accomplished by one firefighter during an emergency and in non-emergency situations. One single-firefighter task that is beneficial for small teams to understand is bundling of the standpipe or highrise kit.  
The BC Wildfire Service uses a ranking scale from one to six to quickly describe fire behaviour based on a set of visual indicators.
Wildland urban interface fires can be one of the most dangerous calls we go on, but perhaps not for the reasons you may suspect.   
The use of sprinklers for structural protection from wildfires was heavily employed in British Columbia during the summer of 2017. Crews from Lac La Biche County in northern Alberta spent six weeks there doing structural protection, which involved largely setting up sprinklers.
Increasingly, municipal firefighters are being called to fight wildland fires and fires in the wildland urban interface. Departments should cultivate a good understanding of wildland fire behaviour, suppression techniques, and above all, safety. One less familiar tactic municipal firefighters sometimes face is the use of bulldozers (dozers) in fireline construction. This article will provide an overview of why and how dozers are used to control wildfires.
As I’m writing this column, the news reported that three more deaths have been confirmed in the wildfires burning in northern California’s wine country, which were already the deadliest series of such fires in state history. The death toll had reached 42 by the afternoon of Oct. 20. An estimated 8,400 homes and businesses were destroyed. The photos of the fires, which caused more than US $1 billion in damages, are mind numbing.
The summer’s wildfire season in British Columbia’s Southern Interior was unprecedented: multiple fires started in our drought-ravaged area and kept us busy well into September.
Maybe having more than 800 kilometres of shoreline had something to do with Prince Edward County council’s decision to expand its fire department into ice-water rescue. Until February, the Prince Edward County Fire Department was limited to shore-based rescue, which is not uncommon in rural Ontario today.
Water/ice rescue tips for starting up a program for your coverage area

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