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Without actually being there

from the editor

December 13, 2007
By James Haley

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Without actually being there, one can’t really imagine the devastation in New Orleans and other communities in Louisiana and Mississippi wracked by Hurricane Katrina last month.

During the first week in the Big Easy, emergency services personnel had little equipment not under water and virtually no way to help with fires and medical calls as the entire city and area was flooded. Fire burned uncontrollably, until aerial water bombers began to drop their loads, and not one fire station in New Orleans was operational in the first days after Katrina hit – not that much could be done anyway as the city’s water and hydrant system was knocked out. But persevere they did, realizing their homes and property were probably destroyed. One news report I read quoted firefighters saying they had to break into a local store to get food and water supplies as they worked around the clock doing whatever they could to help in the disaster. It was the only way they could survive in the early days after the storm.

It will be months and probably even years before the city and area can be brought back to any sense of normalcy but on the frontlines the emergency services will be there 24/7, helping to rebuild their communities and protecting the citizens in whatever way they physically can. We salute them and pray such a disaster never occurs again.
But it will. Are we ready in our communities? The devastation from the hurricane showed that there were major flaws in the initial response by agencies mandated for just such a disaster. Who can forget the emotional pleas for help by survivors, captured by the news media in New Orleans? It was days before any significant resources arrived. The deployment of the Vancouver USAR team was offered to Louisiana and readily accepted, immediately. Quick to deploy, the team worked hard and fast, rescuing over 100 survivors. Well done, Vancouver. This is the type of response that is necessary in any such event.

None of our communities are immune from the possibility of a major disaster. If your department (and community) does not have a disaster plan in place, it is time to assess the risks and design a plan.

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A special report on assessing the risks in your community, written by Barry Bouwsema, is included this month. He offers excellent advice in preparing a risk analysis, in implementing a plan and practising the plan.

As well as assessing the risks of your community, you must also be cognizant of the risks to yourself and fellow firefighters and how to protect your health on the fireground. While self-contained breathing apparatus has been available for decades and every fire service now makes use of them as part of their standard operating procedures on the fireground during suppression, we still hear of and see news footage of firefighters not masked up when them should be. The airborne toxins from any fire in today’s modern, synthetic world are deadly. You know that. So why do I still see firefighters, for example, operating a master stream on an aerial not using their SCBAs? Why do I see firefighters providing exposure protection not wearing their SCBAs? We had hoped the days of the macho smoke-eater were relegated to history but sadly I do not believe this is the case. Departments should review their SOPs on wearing SCBA and ensure that whenever there is a danger of exposure to toxins, the proper protective gear is worn.

A tip of the fire helmet goes to …
In the July edition, the two photographs of Combat Challenge competitors Sandy and Darlene MacQuarrie, on page 44, were taken by Ottawa firefighter Scott Hepner.

As the end of this year nears, we again solicit from you information regarding emergency services events scheduled for 2006. If your not-for-profit organization or association is hosting a conference, training seminar, workshop or even a muster, please let us know now so we can include the information on our annual wall calendar, to be published with the January 2006 edition of Canadian Firefighter & EMS Quarterly.

Yours in fire service safety and education,
James Haley


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