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Oct. 13, 2015, Prince Albert, Sask. - Generally, after attending a fire conference, I like to write about the theme and speaker topics. One presentation in particular at the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) conference recently in Victoria stuck with me: retired Canadian soldier Lt-Col. Stephane Grenier spoke about how first responders need to experience a paradigm shift about dealing with stress injuries and mental health.

What hit me was when Grenier said we need to acknowledge when we are hurting. I really found myself embracing Grenier's approach to dealing with stress injuries and mental health, because I believe that we do say, "I'm OK" even when we are hurting, just as Grenier pointed out.

In fact, Greiner made it clear very early in his talk that he suffered from PTSD and that peer support programs are key to helping others.

One of the things that I admired most about Grenier was his direct and candid communication style. When Grenier speaks, you can't help but pay attention because he delivers his presentation with experience and evidence-based information to back up his claims.

If you want to understand mental illness and stress injuries, get a front row seat to one of Grenier's presentations.

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I look forward to every speaking opportunity, however, I was even more excited than usual about presenting at the CAFC's Fire-Rescue Canada. Since retiring in 2014, I have not had the opportunity to keep in touch with many of my former colleagues, and I was chomping at the bit to see some of my friends and find out how things are going in their careers and departments.

Before I could socialize, however, I learned that my 90-minute presentation on Seven Guiding Principles for Effective Leadership was set for a 60-minute time slot. Cutting 30 minutes from a presentation is far from easy – one slide or one point leads into another and when you chop half an hour you can really disrupt the flow. I didn't quite hit the panic button, but condensing the program was a challenge. In the end, it all worked out and the feedback was very encouraging.

It was great to see my friend (and fellow blogger) Redwood Meadows Fire Chief Rob Evans and get caught up on his recovery from his recent heart attack. There is no doubt in my mind that the recognition of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack saved Rob's life. It was amazing to chat with him and hear how he is recovering and how he will soon be back at work and also performing his duties as the volunteer fire chief for Redwood Meadows.

How sad is it that a person from Prince Albert has to attend a conference in another province to sit down and visit with a Saskatchewan fire chief? I will take the credit for introducing Swift Current Fire Chief Denis Pilon to the delight of raw oysters in New Brunswick a few years ago, and when he sent me a message that he had found a great spot in Victoria that served oysters – and it was just a five-minute walk from the hotel – I was in.

We had a great visit and I don't know who talked more about his department, him or me. I really like what the SCFD is doing when it comes to technical training and officer development. The SCFD offers fire officer training to firefighters and even though I don't have the official numbers, the SCFD has a high number of firefighters who have completed Fire Officer I through IV. As fate would have it, I am taking an officer course with the Justice Institute of British Columbia and a SCFD member is in the same program. We have had some great discussions and it's evident that the officer development is taken seriously in the SCFD. Keep up the great work SCFD!

It was amazing to see the physical transformation of former Montreal Fire Chief Serge Tremblay, who is now a municipal chief administrative officer. I believe Serge has lost more than 100 pounds and he looks not only great, but also as fit as a fiddle. Being a fire chief can require an individual to put in long hours (an understatement to say the least), which can make it challenging to focus on one's fitness and nutrition. I cannot express how good it was to see Serge in Victoria.

Serge and I keep in touch through social media and I really wanted to attend his presentation that focused on transitioning from a fire chief to a city manager, but my presentation was slotted for the same time so we were jockeying for people to attend our sessions to have bragging rights. We still don't know who won, but it was fun competing with Serge.

I did manage to get a tour of CFB Esquimalt's $35-million fire hall. The features in this station are too numerous to mention, but suffice it to say that the department will have sufficient backup supplies of water and power if an earthquake occurs in the Victoria area. Let's just say that this is the only fire station that I have been in that has an elevator. A big thank you to Wayne Jasper for taking the time to give me a tour of this incredible station.

It was really great to touch base with so many of my former colleagues. I only wish I had more time because in the two days I was at the conference, I seemed to be pulled in 10 different directions and by Wednesday morning I was glad to be headed home.

It was certainly an honour to present at Fire-Rescue Canada in Victoria and a big thank you to the members of Victoria IAFF Local 730 for helping out and providing transportation for the speakers.

One final thought: the fire service uses the term brotherhood/sisterhood and this is certainly true. We have been given a privilege and honour to serve our communities and even though I am no longer in the profession as a chief, I shed a few tears at the conference while talking to a friend about some of our bad calls. I suspect those conversations will be few and far between in the coming years, but the memories will always be real.

Take care of each other folks.

Les Karpluk is the retired 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 and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes

October 13, 2015
By Les Karpluk

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