Written by Ed Brouwer
Training in the fire services is not for the faint of heart. The time, energy and plain old hard work can be overwhelming at times. However, every now and then, a young firefighter looks at you and says, “I get it.”  
Written by Mark van der Feyst
Learning the basics isn’t always by the book. It takes practice to get things right and a page is no match for practical application.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
I recently taught a recruit class about foam. Given the few opportunities that today’s firefighters have to do actual fire fighting, it is always good idea to revisit the topic.
Written by Len Garis and Karin Mark
When assistant deputy fire chief Ray Bryant heard about construction of the tallest wood building in the world in Vancouver, his reaction was predictable.
Written by Ed Brouwer
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Horticultural Technologies fire in Kitchener, Ont. (March 1987). It is in memory of the emergency responders who lost their health and later their lives in this horrific industrial fire incident I present this month’s column. First, a word of thanks to a young Kitchener firefighter, Timothy Ritchie, who reminded me of the anniversary.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
We have come to the fifth part of our series on standpipes. So far, we have looked at using standpipes within buildings, either wet or dry standpipes. But what happens when the provided standpipe will not or does not work when we need it?
Written by Don Jolley
My November column outlined the key decisions and components in the development of the BC Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook, particularly the decision to focus on competencies rather than certification. Now let’s focus on the standard itself and what makes it work.
Written by Jason Benn
August 2016 - On Jan. 4, at approximately 11 p.m., Puslinch Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to a barn fire at Classy Lane Stables boarding and training centre located on Concession 1 in Puslinch, Ont.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
We have been exploring the topic of standpipe-equipped buildings and highrise operations. In November, we looked at the equipment needed to conduct standpipe operations, and I mentioned that firefighters can carry only so much, which leads to the next topic: how many firefighters are needed for this type of operation?
Written by Mark van der Feyst
In my August and September columns we looked at options for securing the standpipe – on the fire floor or the floor below the fire.
Written by Ed Brouwer
At the 2016 British Columbia annual volunteer firefighter training seminar, hosted this year by Osoyoos Fire Department, I witnessed far too many firefighters struggle with their SCBA packs while trying to manoeuvre through tight and narrow openings. Some firefighters spent valuable airtime going low profile, while others took their BA packs right off. Both these methods of manoeuvring through wall breaches or narrow openings have been taught to firefighters for decades and for the most part they are safe and will work. However, there is a third method that our SOO HOT (Saving Our Own Hands-On Training) crew uses that is just too good to not share – we call it the cross-under technique.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
There are debates among fire service personnel about where firefighters should secure the standpipe in high-rise buildings. Some firefighters propose that the standpipe be secured on the fire floor while others advocate that crews hit the standpipe on the floor below the fire floor. There are considerations for both options that fire services need to understand before choosing one or the other.
Written by Neil Campbell
When I started working in the fire service in 1995, much of a new recruit’s training was based on knowledge passed down from senior members to rookies.
Written by Ian Bolton
From the Vandalia Avenue fire in New York City in December 1998, in which three FDNY firefighters died, to the Forward Avenue fire in Ottawa in February 2007
Written by Ed Brouwer
If the effects of the approaching cooler weather stay true to our country’s history, there will soon be an increase in fire calls. Most residential fires in Canada occur during the winter. This is also true of fire fatalities. Sadly, more people are likely to perish due to an accidental home fire during the holiday season than any other time of the year.

There are three major causes of residential fires during the winter. Two of the three will come as no surprise: chimneys and candles. The third cause is clogged dryer vents. In fact, according to the NFPA, the number of dryer-vent fires has exceeded chimney fires since 2005, and most dryer-vent fires occur in January. Some researchers list dryer-vent fires as the No. 1 cause of residential fires.

As for candles, we all love the warmth and ambiance they provide, but it is easy to forget that a candle is an open flame that can reach 1400 C. Most candle-caused fires start in the bedroom, except during the holidays when decorative candles are involved.  

The most common cause of chimney fires is the ignition of creosote in the flue. Creosote forms primarily due to the use of unseasoned or green wood in the fireplace. There are other factors that can lead to creosote buildup, such as failure to maintain a proper temperature inside the flue, burning wet wood, or failure to clean the chimney regularly.

Fires in masonry chimneys can burn to a temperature of 1093 C. These fires can damage the masonry material, which can then provide an opening for fire to escape into voids of combustible components such as the inner walls or attic space.

There are several indicators of a working chimney fire:
  • Sparks or flames exiting the top of the chimney
  • A whistling or buzzing sound in the chimney
  • A back flow of smoke through the heating device into the structure
  • Discoloration on the walls adjacent to the chimney
  • Smoke emanating from the cracks in the wall or electrical outlets near the chimney
The minimum response to a chimney fire should be one engine company, one ladder company and an EMS unit. The engine company is required for fire extinguishment and the ladder company is required to supply tarps, ventilation fans, overhaul tools and ladders. Smaller volunteer departments may have all of this equipment on the engine, however, they still need EMS on site due to the fact that firefighters are working on the roof, often in freezing or otherwise inclement weather.

The potential for injuries at a chimney fire may be greater than previously thought. NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program requires an EMS unit on fire responses.

The following tactics should be considered when establishing standard operating guidelines for chimney fires:
  • Establish command upon arrival; safety officer and RIT should be assigned.
  • Conduct an exterior size-up and look for signs of a chimney fire.
  • Call for resources to ensure safe operations.
  • Gain entry; search for and remove victims; wear full PPE and SCBA; monitor oxygen levels and ensure adequate ventilation. Consistently monitor oxygen levels for carbon monoxide (CO). Chimney fires can cause the flue to fail allowing CO to escape into the walls, ceilings, attics and other voids.
  • Perform horizontal ventilation if needed. Positive-pressure ventilation is the method of choice in these situations. The ventilation exit point should be as close to the heating device as possible, thereby minimizing the spread of smoke within the structure.
  • Advance a hoseline to the front door as a precaution.
  • Spread a runner or salvage cover on route to the stove or fireplace. Not only does a salvage cover catch any ashes or embers that may fall, when and if the wood is removed from the firebox it also keeps bunker boots from tracking dirt onto the carpet. Plastic tarps fail quickly when they come in contact with fire embers, so consider fire-resistant cloth tarps.
  • Stop the flow of oxygen to the flue. Reducing the oxygen flow to the flue decreases the intensity of the fire in the flue and in some cases will extinguish it completely. This step may not be possible on open fireplaces.
  • Extinguish the fire in the firebox. Before you put the fire out, consider using the fire in the firebox to your advantage. Sometimes a mere cup of water applied onto the burning fuel will cause the resulting steam to travel up the chimney and extinguish the flue fire. Multipurpose dry-chemical agents will put out the fire in the firebox, but will not usually extinguish anything further up. Only remove fuel from the firebox if it has been extinguished and if absolutely necessary (there are very few good reasons to take this step).
  • Ladder the roof. If an aerial device is used, it should be extended to the chimney opening. If ground ladders are used, a wall or extension ladder should be placed at a good roof entry point, and a roof ladder should be extended to the roofline adjacent to the chimney. If the roof is covered with combustible material, a charged hoseline should be advanced onto the roof as soon as the ladders are in place. Do not place the ladder or secure the ladder to the chimney. Cautiously remove the chimney cap, bird screens, or spark arrestors with a hand tool. All firefighters on the roof should be wearing full PPE, including SCBA.
  • Each of our trucks has a chimney kit consisting of a mirror, a length of chain (4.5 metres), and a chimney bomb (zipper-seal bags containing dry-chemical powder), and a small fire-place shovel, all placed inside a metal bucket.
  • Inspect the chimney using the mirror. If there is fire, drop the chimney bombs down. When the chimney bomb reaches the firebox, the bag will burst and the normal draft will carry the powder up to extinguish the creosote. (Be sure to communicate your actions to the interior team).
  • Slowly lower the chimney chain from the top of the flue to the firebox. Spin the chain to knock the creosote from the walls onto the firebox where it can be extinguished with water or a dry-chemical extinguisher. There is some opposition to putting water down the chimney based on the fear that the water may rapidly cool the flue causing it to fracture. These fractures may then go undetected and future use of the chimney may result in products of combustion being released into the walls or attic. The key is in the amount of water used and how it is applied. There are special nozzles (six liters per minute) designed to apply water inside the chimney.
  • Check the clean-out box. This is perhaps the most over-looked step. Clean-out boxes can be found both inside and outside the house. The boxes are usually covered by a 20-by-20-centimetre metal plate with two handle tabs on it, mounted on the wall in line with the chimney. There may be more than one – I once found three. After locating the box, use a small shovel and a metal pail to clean out the burning embers. Once this is done, you can place a small, handled mirror into the box to look up into the flue. You should be able to see if there is still a fire in the flue.  
  • Check for fire extension. Look for obvious signs of fire extension beyond the chimney. All roof, attic and wall areas near the chimney and heating devices should be checked for the following signs of fire extension: discoloration or blistering of surface materials; hot-to-touch areas; smoke coming from cracks, electrical outlets, light fixtures, eaves or roof coverings; visible glowing embers. This is a great time to use a thermal imaging camera or heat sensors if your department has them. Be sure to check each floor. If the fire extends beyond the chimney, treat it as a structure fire.
  • Before leaving the scene, inform the resident that the chimney must be inspected by a certified chimney inspector before it is used again. Our department has forms made up that clearly lay this out for the resident. We get them to sign and date it and leave them with a copy. We also inform our dispatch that the resident has been advised.  
  • Check the CO levels one more time before terminating the incident.
The previous tactics can be customized for use with a dryer-vent fire.

Thank you for your continued efforts to make sure all our firefighters get home safely after each call. Please drop me a line if your department has any hints for dealing with dryer-vent fires. There is very little information available in print, so your input would be invaluable.

Stay safe and remember to train as if their lives depend on it.

Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and Greenwood Fire and Rescue. The 25-year veteran of the fire service 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. Contact Ed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Written by Dave Balding
Change is something progressive fire-service leaders must embrace to help keep firefighters safe and do the best job they can to protect their communities. It’s time; time to change the strategies and tactics used to fight fires in today’s buildings, loaded with highly combustible content.

We know that fires are hotter and burn faster than ever before. So why do we use techniques taught 25 years ago to fight fires in buildings made of – and full of – different and more combustible materials?

Furnishings made of composite materials, coupled with elements of modern, lightweight building construction are game changers. Response times were once predicated on the estimated burn time a compartment could withstand before the effects of fire made it untenable for occupants and the building’s structural integrity. Today’s quicker, hotter fires have an enormous impact on responders.

Using yesterday’s response tactics on today’s buildings – according to significant research and field trials from organizations such as the National Institute for Science and Technology and Underwriters’ Laboratories – is not only ineffective, it is also dangerous.

The standard approach of entering through the front door using an offensive (interior) attack is a perfect example: buildings and contents now reach flashover potential much faster than they did a generation ago – up to eight times faster. When firefighters arrive at what was once considered a routine fire, they now see a lot of black smoke – flammable products of combustion. This fire may well be vent driven by the time firefighters are on scene. Firefighters must now be aware of the combustion air that’s allowed into the structure, which may come from uncontrolled venting due to broken windows, or failure to manage entry points after the suppression crew gained entry.

Perhaps the biggest change in the way firefighters think of and manage structure fires is awareness and management of flow path. Simply put, the flow path is the movement of heat, smoke and fire gasses to areas of lower pressure. Knowing and controlling the flow path accomplishes two goals; it improves occupant survivability and it helps direct the fire away from unaffected parts of the structure.

We now know the old belief that an exterior attack pushes fire further into a building isn’t true. In fact, a transitional attack has been proven to be a great way to buy a little time for interior-suppression crews in this hostile environment. Essentially, a transitional attack is early application of water through an existing opening using a straight stream into the fire compartment. This cools flammable products of combustion in the room, buying a little time for the attack crew, and avoiding flashover as responders introduce air to the fire upon entry.

The pneumonic SLICE-RS has been coined to provide some guidance with these concepts.

Size-up: this starts pre-incident and during an alarm includes, as always, the establishment of incident command, a 360-degree scene assessment, and much more.

Locate the fire: determine exactly where in the building the fire is located. This information will drive decisions made in the next step.

Isolate and control the flow path: restricting openings such as doors to unaffected areas is the simplest way to manage the flow path.

Cool the fire: direct a straight or solid stream into the fire compartment for a few seconds from the exterior of the building before crews enter. This cools the superheated fire gasses.

Extinguish the fire: a well-co-ordinated attack with ventilation is critical as the time between ventilation and flashover in today’s fires is much shorter than in older buildings with familiar fuels.

Rescue: information gathered during size-up will determine where rescue fits into the process; confirmed or possible occupants makes rescue a higher priority.

Salvage: this step, like rescue, occurs at anytime during the response. It can be achieved with salvage covers or simply by closing doors during operations.

As fuel loads, structures and the fires within them have changed, so must we in the fire service. The adage “we’ve always done it that way” has no place in fire fighting. I am not suggesting that everything the fire service knew and practised has gone by the wayside; in fact, many aspects of SLICE-RS should be very familiar to firefighters. This is simply a guide for first-in engine companies that reflects today’s techniques for today’s fires. Firefighters must keep doing what works, discard what doesn’t work, and be prepared to embrace new practices that are backed up by fire science and research.

Dave Balding, a 29-year veteran of the fire service, is the fire chief and emergency co-ordinator for the Village of Fraser Lake in British Columbia’s Central Interior. Contact Dave at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @FraserLakeFire

Written by Ed Brouwer
Yes, we are still talking about giving firefighters the training and permission to call a mayday.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
One of the major job functions of a truck company is to perform a search of a structure.  A search produces positive results when firefighters confirm that there is no one inside or when an occupant is safely rescued. Negative results occur when an occupant is found to have succumbed to the products of combustion.
Written by Ed Brouwer
I am grateful for the positive response to my call in my June column for a greater mayday awareness. However we are far from the mark. Lately, we’ve been pushing mayday awareness training in our department.
Written by Gord Schreiner
The fire service is like no other industry. We need to be constantly training for our next incident, without knowing what it will be, when it will occur or where it will happen.
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