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Oct. 1, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – It has been one year since I was elected second vice-president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC). I thought it might be prudent to blog about my experience at the Fire-Rescue Canada conference last week in Regina in my role as the second vice-president.

October 1, 2013 
By Les Karpluk

Oct. 1, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – It has been one year since I was elected second vice-president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC). I thought it might be prudent to blog about my experience at the Fire-Rescue Canada conference last week in Regina in my role as the second vice-president.

For me, the conference started on Friday, Sept. 20, with a CAFC executive meeting to discuss the opening ceremonies and business issues related to the CAFC.

Saturday, Sept. 21, was a full day of CAFC board meetings with representation from all of the provinces and territories. Leaders from across Canada shared and discussed great ideas. As a newbie executive member, I had no idea of the amount of information that would be exchanged and discussed during these pre-conference meetings, and it was not only exciting to be a part of this meeting, it was energizing.

On Sunday, Sept. 22, I participated in a joint meeting between the CAFC board and the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals. It was a very productive meeting, but somebody forgot to ask if there were any CFL fans in the room. The meeting ended and I was able to catch the second half of the Saskatchewan Roughriders versus BC Lions game on TV. I lost a bet with my British Columbia friends, but little did they know that we wanted them to feel welcome at the conference so a few strings were pulled to give the Lions the game.


The game ended and 30 minutes later, the bus was leaving for the opening ceremony at the RCMP Depot. There is something to be said for the sound of bagpipes, the attending RCMP officers and the atmosphere of Depot: it was absolutely incredible.

The walk past the RCMP memorial and watching the officers salute as they escorted us past the memorial was emotional for me. It was humbling and a real privilege to experience the sense of pride and honour demonstrated by the RCMP.

Monday, Sept. 23, marked the first day of the Fire-Rescue Canada conference, which started at 8 a.m. sharp with our first business meeting. The keynote presentation, Pushing the Boundaries of Fire Fighting, by Chief Fire Officer Vij Randeniya of the West Midlands Fire Service in Birmingham, England, followed. What was particularly interesting in this presentation was the fact that the fire service in England faces the same challenges that we do, and it has come up with some very unique service delivery models.
I was impressed with the attention given to the physical fitness programs for firefighters in the West Midlands Fire Service. Not only are firefighters expected to be fit, their physical fitness program is uniquely related to the skills expected from a firefighter. I always like to take away at least one quote from speakers and CFO Randeniya said, “If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough.” The point he was trying to make was that you will make mistakes when you try new things, but you need to learn and continue to push forward.

Our second general presentation was by Kitchener, Ont., Fire Chief Tim Beckett – Are you Mentally and Physically Prepared for the Leadership Challenge? Tim gave an excellent presentation on how stress affects the body. He provided examples of medical conditions, including cancer, that can be caused by prolonged stress. After sitting in on Tim’s presentation and listening to his suggestion to change our diets, I vowed to drink more water every day and to back off on my coffee intake. Hmm. . . I’m crossing my fingers because I know I will struggle with this one. The quote I took away from Tim’s presentation is from an ancient Ayurvedic proverb: “If diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. If diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

After lunch, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, presented “Who’s on first. . . Does it Matter?” This talk focused on partnerships, the way we do business and pushed us to question why we are performing certain duties. We need to look at what we are doing because, over time and in many cases, it’s not sustainable. We need to build relationships and partnerships, find new delivery models and keep the safety of our staff as the key priority. My take-away quote from this presentation was, “Is there another way of doing business?”

My first official duty of the day was to introduce Fire Chief Rob Evans for his Volunteer Challenges presentation. Rob presented issues facing the volunteer sector and gave examples of how Redwood Meadows Emergency Services in Alberta addresses recruitment and retention, equipment acquisitions, firefighter health and safety, and government relations. I was very impressed by the fundraising and recruitment programs of Rob’s department. The take-away quote from Rob’s discussion was, “We need to build relationships at the local and national level.”

First up on Tuesday, Sept. 24, was the presentation by Calgary Fire Chief Bruce Burrell and Deputy Chief Len MacCharles, titled Responding to and Dealing with Auto Fluff Fires. This presentation was about the strategies of the Calgary Fire Department during a recent auto fluff fire. I have to confess that I really didn’t know what auto fluff was about, but by the end of the presentation there was little doubt about the dangers of auto fluff fires. If you do not know what constitutes auto fluff, just Google it and make note of all the by-products that should cause concern for the fire service. The quote I took away from this presentation: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Next was Gordon Graham’s keynote presentation, called The Seven Rules of Admiral Hyman Rickover and How They Apply to the Fire Service. Graham, the president of risk-management firm Lexipol and Billy Goldfeder’s partner in, clearly demonstrated the passion he has for firefighter safety, and he cleverly used humour to make his points on some very serious safety issues. The rule that sticks in my mind is Rule No. 5: The training has to be constant and rigorous. Graham provided several examples of the constant training of U.S. Navy submariners and connected it to the fire service. If I had the opportunity to sit in on his session again, I would jump at the opportunity and bring every member of my department. This quote stuck out from Graham’s presentation: “Most of our problems occur when our good people get involved in low-frequency/high-risk events.”

The last presentation of the morning was Calgary Floods: Balancing Response and Recovery by Chief Burrell and DC MacCharles. This presentation was particularly interesting because I was glued to my TV and to Twitter following the floods as they unfolded in June. In 60 minutes, Burrell and MacCharles provided pictures and a great overview of the flood, as well as the response and recovery efforts by the city of Calgary. “When the media helps,” Burrell said, “thank them.”

My second official duty was to introduce assistant chiefs Ken McMullen and Tyler Pelke of the Calgary Fire Department in, 2nd in Command: How to be Successful in the Position of 2IC. I was able to sit in on only a portion of this presentation as I wanted to hear what Michael Currie of the Fire Underwrites Survey had to say in, Connecting Fire Protection to Insurance: The Cost Benefit Feedback Loop. While jumping back and forth between these two presentations, I was feeling somewhat stressed as I was scheduled to attend two more meetings; the first, a CAFC committee meeting and the second, a meeting with Fire Fighting in Canada (FFIC) editor Laura King and the rest of the FFIC writers who were at the conference.

At this time, I was trying to figure out when I would have some spare time. My answer: after attending the trade show, carrying out another official duty by welcoming the vendors and thanking them for their continued support, then skipping supper, I retreated to my hotel room for the rest of the night. Who would have thought that, at a national conference, I would lock myself in my room at 7:30 p.m.? Yup, I did it, and I needed it.

Another of my official duties was to chair the business session for the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 25, and to ensure that the meeting did not creep into the time allocated for the keynote speaker, Saskatchewan Roughriders CEO and president Jim Hopson. Hopson’s presentation – Connecting to Community: Community relationships and value – was informative, very personal and, when he concluded, he opened the floor to questions. Interestingly, every person who asked a question was given a gift – a Riders cap or T-shirt. I’m glad those guys will be wearing the Rider Green with pride. The take-away quote from that presentation: “It's about teamwork – and you have to have fun.”

Next up was Randeniya for his second presentation of the conference, titled Fire Service Leadership in a Non-operational Crisis. I stepped out to meet with three separate vendors to discuss products and educational programs. My intention of returning to catch the last 30 minutes of Randeniya’s presentation didn’t happen as my meetings with the vendors ran into overtime. Mental note: I need to stop asking so many questions!

After chowing down on lunch, I attended a quick meeting with another vendor to discuss an anhydrous ammonia training program.

The last keynote of the day and of the conference was former Washington, D.C., Chief Dennis Rubin and his Rube’s Rules of Leadership. As Rubin took the audience through his 11 rules of leadership, I realized that my fingers aren’t designed to type quickly on an iPad. Still, I took away the following quote: “As leaders, you need to show up, you need to be a cheerleader, you need to lead by example.”

A quick glance at my watch indicated that we had three hours before the closing ceremony. Oops. . . another meeting with FFIC writers and editor Laura King and then the closing ceremonies.

The closing ceremony was full of the regular speeches, but this was a particularly special evening for me as I was able to be present when a friend was receiving his CFO designation. From 2010 to 2012 I was privileged to chair the CAFC’s Chief Fire Officer council and for three years, I was honored to present the CFO designation to fire chiefs from across Canada. There is something to be said about receiving a designation in front of a packed banquet room full of your peers. To say that it is a special moment would be an understatement.

This year, the honour was bestowed on the present CFO chair, Fire Chief Jim Regimbal of Dawson City, Yukon. However, when Fire Chief Jamie Svendsen of Big White, B.C., was called up before his peers to receive his CFO designation, Regimbal asked if I would present it to him. I was caught off guard by this incredible gesture and am really at a loss for words by the honour given to me to present a friend with his CFO designation.

During the closing ceremony, Fire Chief Ken Block of the Edmonton Fire Rescue Service was named Canada’s full-time fire chief of the year and Fire Chief Jerrold Lemko of the Vegreville Fire Department, also in Alberta, was named the volunteer fire chief of the year. When I listened to Block’s and Lemko’s career achievements, I could only think how lucky we are as a profession to have such visionary leaders.

I was up bright and early Thursday, Sept. 26, for our last CAFC board meeting and final thoughts. After checking out of my room and waiting in the hotel lobby for my ride, a captain from the Regina Fire Department asked me if I needed a lift to the airport. Our conversation was quickly diverted to the very unique Saskatchewan Roughriders firefighting helmet in my possession. Mental note: it’s great being a part of the Green Machine!

Sitting down and reflecting upon my first Fire-Rescue Canada conference as the CAFC second vice president, I found there was very little spare time during the conference to network, socialize, or follow up with presenters. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s much easier just being a delegate attending the conference than being a CAFC executive member, but my new role is equally as satisfying. My last take-away quote is from CAFC president Steve Gamble: “There’s incredible talent and professionalism in the CAFC membership and we are excited about the direction we are going.”

In short, my summary of Fire-Rescue Canada 2013 in Regina – I wouldn’t change a thing.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes.

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