Volunteer Vision: March 2019

Fire leaders should think outside the box
February 15, 2019
Written by Tom DeSorcy
Following a presentation I did in Ottawa at Fire Rescue Canada last September, I learned a lot about the topic of “out-of-area response,” or the fact that an area without response at all, is something new to many.  

For this session I was honoured to be joined by Mark Miller, executive producer of the television show “Highway Thru Hell” which is filmed in our area.  

The idea for the presentation came following a multi-casualty incident that occurred in February 2018 on the Coquihalla Highway, involving several commercial trucks, private vehicles and two passenger buses. All in all, some 130 patients were extricated, triaged and transported to a warming centre in Hope.  

The idea to bring Mark into the presentation came when we learned that a towing company, along with a camera crew for the show, were among the first on scene.  

Our presentation focused on the highway itself, the origination of the show and the incident itself. Primarily, I spoke on the topic of “out of area response” in that we, along with two neighbouring departments, search and rescue, paramedics and police attended.  

For the fire departments, this was new to us, as we were called into a location that wasn’t ours.

For those that reside next to an unprotected area, how easy is it for you to leave? What would it take for you to actually deploy outside of your boundaries?

In our community back in the day, we had three fire departments a stone’s throw from each other, yet they were very reluctant to take their trucks outside their area.

Today my message is simple. If you have the capacity to protect those you are supposed to, along with the legal authority to do so, is leaving your community an issue? When the incident just outside of town has the potential to move into your town, doesn’t it make sense? I think of the vehicle fire in August that moves into the wildland and then threatens your community as a result, or the commercial vehicle incident that may dump hazardous materials into a river that is upstream from town.  

Most of the reasons for not leaving a jurisdiction are the legal ones – bylaws that say you need permission of your town manager or elected officials. But, to me, those days are gone. Our bylaw gives this authority to the fire chief or designate, enabling decisions to be made in a timely fashion.   

Back to the aforementioned multi-casualty event. We identified, in post-incident debriefs, that there was a lack of Incident Command on scene, a reason I attribute to everyone showing up in an area they didn’t normally respond to and looking for a green vest to report to. Truly, this was a horrendous scene in treacherous conditions that resulted in not one fatality.  

This out-of-area response, however, did soon come into our area, as we dealt with those 130 patients at a local high school where a secondary triage was set up.

Coincidently around all of this, our community was just in the process of planning a “Code Orange” exercise with our local hospital that involved the same scenario.

I suppose what I’m speaking about also centres around change or doing something that isn’t normal. Don’t you think it’s time to consider the “new normal” the fact that building materials today mean house fires burn faster and hotter with more dangerous chemicals being produced, or that weather events have become more extreme?

Expect the unexpected and prepare to adapt. There, in fact, is the key – the ability to adapt and change with the times and also accept that what you’ve seen once is something that you’re likely to see again.

Here in B.C., summer and provincial states of emergency have been the norm the last two years. Are smoke-filled skies going to be a regular part of our summer air from now on?

Creating change is one thing, but reacting or adapting to change is another.

As more and more new members come into your halls, find ways to instill new ideas in them in place of the same old stuff. Don’t just think outside of the box, burn the box and create something new. 


Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. Tom is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C as communications director and conference committee chair. Contact Tom at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept.

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