Co-operation crucial to knock down

Co-operation crucial to knock down

There is a fine line between being at the tipping point and going over.

Respecting tradition

Respecting tradition

The phone rings in your fire chief’s office with news that one of the department’s members has passed away suddenly.

Burn protocol

Burn protocol

Much work has been done over the last three decades to improve the quality of firefighter personal protective equipment

Front Seat: October 2016

Front Seat: October 2016

Most firefighters, officers, or chief officers strive for perfection on the job.

Guest blog

Guest blog

Assistant editor Beth McKay learns some fire fighting survival skills during Training Day at FESTI

Sweat runs down my back and my face is clammy with condensation inside my mask. My jeans stick to my legs, and I’m pretty sure the curls I had put in my hair (only an hour before) have melted into slick strands from the heat. No, I’m nowhere near a fire. Rather, I’m literally lying motionless on a floor in full PPE simulating a dummy while the real pros run through extrication techniques. As I watch them, I also fixate on something making a short-winded Darth Vader sound – and I soon realize that the familiar villain’s trademark is actually coming out of my own air mask. I then become increasingly aware of just how much gear is strapped to me, restricting my movements, and I turn my attention to how I’m going to stand up. My typical Saturday morning does not usually begin this way, but this isn’t just any Saturday. It’s Training Day at FESTI, and even with rain in the forecast nearly a hundred participants have arrived before the sun is even up. I was placed in the firefighter survival course for a full day of training, and I am still blown away at the disposition of both volunteer and career firefighters. Though these training drills are likely routine, they are not easy, especially for a rookie like myself. I followed one firefighter into a two level follow-the-hose simulation. Both of us on oxygen and his face covered with a balaclava to replicate black-out conditions. I declined this added effect, but still crawled on hands and knees behind him as he swept around the low-ceilinged room, manoeuvred down a ladder (gracefully I might add) and still continued to ask me, the one who could see, if I was alright. Later, I crawled through a wooden box with hundreds of wires and cords draped through it designed to snag participants. Trying not to look in any direction but the box’s exit, I distracted myself by thinking that this box of cords might make a great game – something along the lines of an amped up Twister that you could play with friends (I host great parties…). Then I got a little tangled, and it hit me; this type of seriously sticky situation can actually happen, but with fire and smoke looming around the corner. Throw in the possibility that the firefighter may also be low on oxygen, injured or unable to get free and it’s enough to send anyone into a panic. Ditching my interactive game making goals, I pulled myself out of the box and emerged with a heightened awareness of what these people may endure on any given day. I watched as my group blindly crawled through a maze blockaded with furniture, a trap door and low hanging wires. I observed teams of two calmly working together to find their oxygen packs inside a series of metal cages. Drenched in sweat, these guys did not run to the exit to breath fresh air when the task was complete, and instead were eager to review what they could improve upon in the future. I’ve found that completing detailed work in heavy gear by coupling patience with brute force is a far from glamorous job, and not something that everyone is able to do. I quickly learned that a willing personality will only get you so far in this business, especially if you’re a lanky writer, with minor claustrophobia, who’s idea of exercise is a walk around the block. Appreciation is an understatement, but also a word I didn’t realize could mean so much. 
Sept. 13, 2016, Thunder Bay, Ont. – What always strikes me at firefighter training weekends is the desire of the participants to learn – for the most part, they are volunteers who take vacation days, cover their own registration and drive for hours, no expenses paid. But while the focus at FireCon Friday and Saturday was hands-on-training for firefighters, talk in meeting rooms and hallways was equally enlightening. Mentions of training to the “gold standard,” a now ubiquitous phrase used by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association in a battle over staffing in Sault Ste. Marie; the absence of the fire marshal at the premier training event in the northwest; the lack of action by the OFM on recommendations from a fire-fatalities inquest; the OPFFA’s firefighter-paramedic proposal, and an upcoming “minister’s table” consultation process; adequacy standards; the separation (after only a brief union) of the offices of the fire marshal and emergency management – all fodder for discussion and debate. While Fire Marshal Ross Nichols’ absence due to the Canadian Fallen Firefighter Foundation memorial in Ottawa was excused by some (the OFMEM hosted the weekend), the span between Thursday’s FireCon opening and weekend events in Ottawa was noted by others. That the OFMEM sent Al Suleman, director/deputy of prevention and risk management, was nice – Suleman is personable and extremely knowledgeable – but the decision was perceived by some of the 250 FireCon participants to mean that the needs and concerns of the northwest’s fire services are secondary. Suleman’s presentation Friday morning to delegates in the FireCon leadership track was thorough. Among other things, Suleman outlined inquest recommendations from May that have yet to be considered (there will be more information in a month or so, he said); and he explained the rationale for the short-lived marriage of the offices of the fire marshal and emergency management that occurred with considerable bureaucratic fanfare in 2013. “It ended up diluting both the fire side and the EMO side,” Suleman said. “Emergency management and fire are distinct.” Hence the ongoing reorganization – the reorganization of the reorganization – at the OFMEM that has seemingly been the focus of the office rather than the provision of “leadership and expertise in the reduction and elimination” of hazards to public safety, as is its mandate. “We’ve made some adjustments to the org[anizational] chart,” Suleman said, “with dedicated business lines for emergency management and for fire.” Suleman noted that Fire Marshal Nichols, who has been seconded from the Ontario Provincial Police and who declared in May that he would happily continue for another year as interim fire marshal, has had his contract extended for six months while the province looks for a full-time replacement – which makes one wonder what the powers that be have been doing about that for last year. While the politics of fire-service delivery in Ontario was the topic of much after-hours discussion in Thunder Bay, there’s no doubt many FireCon delegates were oblivious to the banter, focused instead on training in public ed, auto and big-rig extrication, firefighter survival, search and rescue, propane fires, training-officer development and SCBA/PPE proficiency. Their frustration is more likely to be founded in the lack of available and accessible funding, training and testing – mind you there are ongoing efforts by several agencies and others to improve all of those. Still, it’s rather a bitter pill to swallow for volunteers who take vacation days, cover their own registration and drive for hours, no expenses paid.
Aug. 30 2016, Toronto – Talk about a hornet’s nest. If you haven’t been following, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) is upset about a plan in Sault Ste. Marie to reduce the number of front-line, municipal firefighters by 20 over three years (that’s 25 per cent), through attrition, and increase the number of paramedics, given the volume of medical calls.
July 5, 2015, Toronto – Finally! After nine years of attending conferences from coast to coast, members of the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association (MFCA) meet next week . . . in my home town, Sydney, N.S.It's a semi family affair: my cousin is the deputy chief of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Fire Service, my sister's brother in law (or my brother in law's brother) is the chief of the neighbouring volunteer Glace Bay Fire Department; the deputy fire marshal (who is also the parade marshal for Sunday's memorial march) learned fire investigating from . . . my dad, who, through his lengthy insurance-adjusting career, knows pretty much everyone who has anything to do with fire.What's more, the late Edna DeSanctis – an amazing and extremely smart woman who was the longtime secretary for the Fire Services Association of Nova Scotia, also helped the MFCA; and she worked at D.M. King Adjusters Ltd. for a very long time.It's a family affair in another way, too. Fire Fighting in Canada writers Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy and I are presenting Volunteer Vision-Live! next Wednesday, and Steve Kraft (a former FFIC columnist) and Bob Kissner, chiefs in Richmond Hill and Kingsville, Ont., respectively, are speaking. If the speakers flop, it's all on me. Yikes! (They won't!)The conference committee is small but mighty – led by Ian McVicar, volunteer deputy chief in Coxheath, whose infectious energy has inspired his team to embrace some extraordinary ideas; I'm sworn to secrecy so you'll have to watch Twitter to find out what Ian has up his sleeve.The MFCA is a regional association (covering the four Atlantic provinces) so it doesn't lobby government, therefore, conferences focus on training and networking rather than political issues.More than 150 delegates are registered, and more than 100 spouses – which makes the conference unique in that the atmosphere is more family vacation with some built-in learning – most chief officers in the region are, of course, volunteers, so the format works. The conference is also open to firefighters.The MFCA conference was last held in Sydney long before I became editor (this is my ninth MFCA conference – Summerside x 3, Lunenburg, Pictou x 2, Fredericton, Yarmouth – I missed Gander in 2012). Having worked closely with the conference committee to add some Cape Breton colour – we've got pipers and musicians lined up, as expected – we also set out early on to focus on quality, all-Canadian education programming. A highlight will be our MFCA Unplugged roundtable/bear-pit session Monday afternoon, on the trade show floor – five panelists and a moderator (yours truly) broadcast onto the big screens in the arena at Centre 200 – the former Sydney Forum, where I spent more hours skating and watching hockey games than I did at school – packed (we hope!) with vendors and delegates.Sydney lacks the beauty of, say, Baddeck or Ingonish – key tourism points on Cape Breton Island – but it has character. The former toxic tar ponds – from years of coal-based runoff from long decommissioned Sydney Steel Corp. – have been transformed into the fabulous and appropriately named Open Hearth Park, where the Kinsmen RibFest happens next weekend; the harbourfront has been rebuilt, with a well-used boardwalk that runs behind Sydney Station 1 and the former Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club, which fell to an arson fire in May 2013. Cruise ships are scheduled into Sydney Harbour every day of the conference, docking near the famous world's largest fiddle (like Sudbury's nickel or Duncan, B.C.'s, big hockey stick), adding a bit of a buzz to the week.The weather, on the other hand, according to Environment Canada's 14-day outlook, is as expected in early July: high teens, a mix of sun and cloud (quite a contrast to this week's heat wave in Toronto).It doesn't matter – a well planned conference (by a great team of Type-A fire-service personalities) with great food, great music, and great speakers (if I do say so myself), in my home town. The trade show opens Sunday afternoon. My long-suppressed Cape Breton accent will be back by supper time.
June 24, 2016, Toronto – I was taken aback yesterday when a builder at the back of the room at the OAFC Home Fire Sprinkler Summit said the information being presented was all new to him – that he'd never heard of NFPA 13D, the standard for sprinklering residential buildings.Residential sprinklers are, of course, optional, so I guess there's some logic to the fact that the gentleman had no clue – to put it bluntly: he had no need to know. Or so I thought.Turns out the gentleman is the CEO of the Ontario Home Builders' Association, so given what I perceived (until yesterday) to have been fairly widespread and consistent fire-service messaging about sprinklers saving lives, it's clear that's not the case.The point of the summit – the first in Canada – was simple: to start a conversation with the people who plan, design and build homes, and, ultimately, to improve life safety.Analogies abounded – seat belts, hockey helmets, and, in particular, air bags, demanded by consumers to keep them safe, and, therefore, embraced by the vehicle industry: safety does sell. The challenge: how to translate that desire for safety on highways to safety at home?Cost, or perceived cost, is a sticking point: NFPA sprinkler guru and myth buster Matt Klaus cited a mere $1.35 a square foot for residential sprinklers but ceded that's in U.S. dollars ($1.72 Canadian), and for multi-unit installations rather than single dwellings or retrofitting. Still, it's affordable – even the builders agreed with that.More myth busting: NFPA 13D is a life-safety standard, not a property-loss standard; and residential sprinklers are different from commercial units – specifically designed to hit walls and drip down onto the myriad combustibles pushed against the four sides of any given room in a typical home, and douse a fire. Sprinklers put out fires, use far less water than a fire hose, and do much less damage.With 100 fire deaths annually in Ontario – a recent inquest examined seven fire fatalities and recommended consultation on sprinklers – what's the hook for the builders?Trade off. In Huntsville, for example, Fire Chief Steve Hernen – the OAFC president – said builders are buying-in, partly because they're getting something in return: higher density housing, waiving of local development charges, more appealing sub-division designs.The key, according to Don Jolley, the fire chief in Pitt Meadows, B.C., is to normalize sprinklers as a critical part of a broader fire-protection system. A Pitt Meadows bylaw passed in 2005 requires sprinklers in most new residential construction – at an average cost, Jolley said, of $1.07 a square foot. Since then, no fire in a residential or commercial building with sprinklers in Pitt Meadows has burned beyond the object of origin; more importantly, there have been no fire deaths in any of those buildings.No one yesterday advocated sprinklers as a replacement for efficient fire-department response. But for developers who hadn't previously seen videos of side-by-side burns or understood 15-minute rural response times, a collective light bulb seemingly came on.There's no need, builders were told, for sprinklers in attics or garages – most fatalities happen in kitchens, family rooms and bedrooms.But to save more lives given factors such as response times and lightweight construction, sprinklers are a necessity."The best builders in the world are not going to stop a smoking fire, or a fire caused by a candle or an arcing wire," Klaus said."I don't care how good you build the home, all I need are oxygen and an ignition source and I have a fire."Smoke alarms work – but children, teenagers, and intoxicated adults sleep through them (builders learned this through videos yesterday), and people take out the batteries. Sprinklers, said Cynthia Ross Tustin, the fire chief in Essa Township and summit chair, are simply plumbing – nothing for builders to fear.Still, as Fire Marshal Ross Nichols told summit participants first thing yesterday morning, change does not come easily.So, then, how to sell safety, and sprinklers, and how to get consumers to buy-in?Ask media strategist Jay Acunzo. Facts and stats are fine, Acunzo said in a presentation about effective messaging, but neither resonates emotionally with homeowners.Essentially, Acunzo said, stop selling sprinklers and sell life safety: hit home buyers in the heart. Be creative.That's a leap for fire-service personnel used to neat stats and facts. But it's clearly necessary, given the wide-eyed builders in the room yesterday.Not to give away Acunzo's shtick, but if you haven't seen it (and need a distraction on a Friday!), Google "Dumb Ways to Die" and watch the YouTube video (or click here). The award-winning Australian public-service announcement for Metro Trains Melbourne is brilliant, different, memorable, and unexpected (apologies – you'll be humming the tune all day!).As Chief Jolley said after the summit wrapped up Thursday afternoon, it'll take time for a para-military organization that generally suppresses creativity to embrace new ideas.Maybe so, but a preventable house fire is, indeed, a dumb way to die.
June 14, 2016, Toronto – The news out of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) conference in Collingwood yesterday – that the province will review the union’s firefighter/primary-care paramedic proposal – is not surprising to those who’ve been paying attention. But it sure hit a nerve.
June 9, 2016, Prince Albert, Sask. – My first experience of FDIC Atlantic – held in Wolfville, N.S., on the weekend – is complete and I think my body is beginning to adjust back to the time zone to which it is accustomed.A couple of days before I left home, I booked a rental car so I could drive to Wolfville from Halifax. Shortly after I posted my plans, firefighter Chris Kerr sent me a message and offered to drive me to Wolfville and drive me back to the airport on Sunday. We follow each other on Facebook and I thought it would be great to meet Kerr, so I cancelled my rental.As fate would have it, Kerr is also an instructor at the Nova Scotia Firefighters School in Waverley, N.S., near the airport, and he made a point to stop to give me a tour of the facility. The school has a new state-of-the-art, multi-million-dollar burn building with helicopter and car props, which is impressive to say the least. The best part of the school is that it focuses on multiple partnerships so industry and local firefighters have a place to train and become certified.Upon arrival at Acadia University where the training conference was held, I really didn't know what to expect. I was given a quick tour of the trade show and classroom locations and then basically left to network and meet new friends until my sessions on Saturday.I told almost all the firefighters I met that this was my first time presenting at FDIC Atlantic, and many responded by saying I would love the experience and hospitality.I can only communicate what I saw in Wolfville during the conference, and what I saw was an ocean of blue fire-department T-shirts; I guess that is what happens when more than 400 firefighters come to town to train and be educated.I'm a big fan of the trade show and always look forward to walking around and seeing the latest gadgets, tools and resources. What I didn't expect to see was the volume of firefighters checking out and purchasing products. The last time I experience such a crowd was going for a beer during half time at a Saskatchewan Roughriders game.I wanted to do something to contribute to the rebuilding process in Fort McMurray, Alta., so I brought with me 25 challenge coins that I could sell and then give the proceeds to the Red Cross. I wasn't really sure how that would go over, but I know firefighters and they always step up to the plate to help others. The challenge coins were quickly purchased and I'm excited to be taking $500 to the Red Cross on behalf of the firefighters who attended my sessions at FDIC Atlantic.As always, one of the amazing benefits of of being able to speak to firefighters is building of relationships. The firefighters who attended FDIC Atlantic are truly passionate and care about serving. I continue to meet firefighters who are shakers and movers in their communities, and who give up weekends to learn and grow for the benefit of their professions and their communities.The experience at FDIC Atlantic was incredible and the firefighters were right when they said that I would love the experience and hospitality.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
May 19, 2016, Toronto – First responders in all provinces except Ontario will have access to an NFPA training package to help them handle collisions and extrications involving alternatively fuelled vehicles, under a partnership with fire marshals' offices across the country.The NFPA announced the partnership May 10, a week before the Ontario government on Tuesday committed $7 billion for a climate-change plan that includes rebates for drivers of electric vehicles.The Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) confirmed Wednesday that it does not have the necessary funding to buy the licence to sign on to the NFPA program. All other provinces and territories are contributing up to $100,000 each and providing the training free of charge to firefighters and other responders."The OFMEM is currently looking at other options, including potential partnerships, in furtherance of funding for the NFPA program," said the OFMEM's Tony Pacheco, assistant deputy fire marshal and executive officer, in an email.If my understanding is correct, the partnership had been in the works for a considerable time, and, in fact, had been supported by the OFMEM and previous Ontario fire marshal Ted Wieclawek.That the country's most populous province, with, logically, the highest volume of alternatively fuelled vehicles, found $7 billion to fund its 57-page Climate Change Action Plan but failed to ante up $100,000 to teach responders to safely rescue motorists from collisions is vexing, yet typical.Firefighter training, it seems, is low on the province's priority list, the government seemingly more interested in investigations and enforcing its rules and regulations than ensuring responder safety by developing solid and affordable programming at the Ontario Fire College.Which is rather incongruous given that under provincial occupational health and safety legislation, firefighters and others are prohibited from responding to incidents for which they have not been properly trained.Already some fire departments are reviewing auto-ex responses on provincial highways given the imbalance between the cost of sending firefighters to the scene, and the reimbursement from the government.(Not to mention the state of flux at the OFMEM: as interim Fire Marshal Ross Nichols told fire chiefs in Toronto two weeks ago, frustration with government inaction on long-promised fire-service initiatives – changes to the provincial incident management system, more public education, improved standards – is mounting.)While Pacheco said dangers and common principles of electric vehicles are discussed in other training – NFPA 1001 and 1033, the fire investigator course –there is no dedicated program.Indeed, the NFPA and the council of fire marshals noted in their press release that the federal-government co-ordinated document, Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap for Canada, highlights the necessity for training."Emergency responders need training on EVs to ensure they execute their duties in a safe and timely manner," the report says. "They need to know how to deal with high-voltage batteries and flows of electricity within vehicles in order to safely extricate victims at times of collisions."Nova Scotia Fire Marshal Harold Pothier, who is the president of the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners, said in an interview Wednesday the electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicle safety program should roll out in most regions at the end of the summer or in early fall.According to the release, career and volunteer firefighters, police, emergency medical services, tow truck operators and other first responders will have access to train-the-trainer and in-classroom sessions, resources, and emergency field guides that explain how to handle AFV incidents on-scene.Except those in Ontario.
May 11, 2016, Winnipeg - The Toronto Star published an editorial cartoon yesterday of a group of superheroes standing together in solidarity in front of a Fort McMurray firefighter – Superman, Batman, and other comic-book icons looking stoic and in appreciation of a humble firefighter who was covered in soot from protecting his community; the image has appeared all over social media.
May 10, 2016, Port Severn, Ont. - The devastating pictures and videos coming out of Fort McMurray, Alta., over the past week have struck a chord in everyone. Fire and its consumable nature is something that people don’t often think about until it hits close to home.Many people enjoy the sights and sounds (and even the distinct smell) of sitting by a campfire, but even the most innocent campfire can become out of control and damage property and structures. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have campfires, but we should enjoy them responsibly, use well-maintained fire pits, and respect the power that fires yield. It’s great to roast marshmallows but we don’t want to be roasting our lawn, trees, or home.Many homeowners use fire as a cost-effective and, for the most part, environmentally friendly way to clear brush, leaves and dead tree branches. Yet most of us have responded to a brush fire that was caused by an embarrassed homeowner who lost control of the blaze.Don’t get me wrong, responding to, controlling and extinguishing fire is one of our many duties and the reason we’re here, but we still need to educate and encourage people to take the necessary precautions so that we don’t need to respond in the first place. The fire department is a reactive measure; educating people about fire safety in all forms is a proactive measure.Those of us who join the fire department do so with different career paths and goals in mind, but we all joined for the same reason: to help our communities. If your fire department has a fire-prevention officer and/or a public-education officer, that’s fantastic, but educating the public is every firefighter’s job.Whether you are on a call or filling up the trucks at the local gas station after the call, share fire-safety information with the public. Never miss out on an opportunity to raise awareness about the services we offer and the knowledge we can share with others. We have a ton of training in so many different aspects of fire suppression, prevention, rescue, medical, hazardous materials, and so on, so why wouldn’t we share what we know? Why would we wait to help others?I haven’t heard how the fire in Fort McMurray was started, but clearly something got out of control – intentionally or accidently. More than 80,000 people were forced to leave their homes, their belongings and their lives behind, with no idea of what they’ll be returning to when it’s all over. To the firefighters continuing to battle the blaze, be safe, we’re praying for you.As for all the other firefighters out there who are reading these words, educate, educate, educate! Share your passion with others. Your words could be the ones that keep someone safe.Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it @georgianbayjen
May 9, 2016, Grande Prairie, Alta. – It was remarkably fitting that as we approached the fire hall in Sexsmith, Alta., Saturday afternoon, our last stop before our departure point in Grande Prairie after three days at Northern HEAT in Peace River, the Answer the Call recruitment logo appeared, prominently placed on the east side of the building.Because that's what's happening here in Wild Rose Country: firefighters, mostly volunteers, are being dispatched to Fort McMurray and other burning areas of the province, answering the call to help fight a seemingly unstoppable blaze.Our driver, Sexsmith Capt. Chris Welsh, had the Answer the Call logo – the province-wide campaign that goes national in September through the CAFC – made into an outdoor sign for a recruitment drive a year ago and opted to keep it up, despite a waiting list to get on the department, a reminder of the role volunteers play in the community of just 2,400.The three-bay hall, a decades old white, wooden building that's being replaced next year at a site a couple of blocks away, sits on a corner by a blacksmith museum, dwarfed by the town's grain elevator out back.To say that Welsh, who drove fellow Northern HEAT speaker Peter Van Dorpe, the chief in Algonquin-Lake in the Hills, Illinois, and me to and from Peace River, are proud of their department is an understatement: all 20-plus volunteers – average age around 25 – are NFPA 1001 certified.Sexsmith is part of the County of Grande Prairie; firefighters from these parts and elsewhere in the province have shuttled back and forth to Fort Mac over the last several days; others were dispatched to High Level, where Fire Chief Rodney Schmidt needed reinforcements to battle a massive lumber-mill fire, the burning wood piles 80 feet high, 60 feet wide and a mile long and threatening to spread (the massive Norbord building saved by firefighters.)Schmidt, the president of the Peace Regional Fire Chiefs Association, arrived back at Northern HEAT Saturday afternoon, having been called home on Wednesday in the middle of flashover training, the mill fire still burning but in good hands under incident commander Trevor Grant, High Level's former deputy, now a deputy with the County of Grande Prairie.At that point Saturday, 70 firefighters from 12 departments – Grande Prairie city and county, Grande Cache, Slave Lake and others – worked the mill blaze, all brought in under the Northwest Alberta emergency resourcing agreement drawn up by area chiefs and, so far, including 27 municipalities.The agreement was born of a wildfire that threatened High Level last year, to simplify the process of requesting resources from other departments while ensuring that all municipalities remain properly staffed, costs are properly (and fairly) allocated and personnel are properly rotated.Even after the Slave Lake fire in 2011, the province has yet to develop a municipal resourcing inventory, Schmitdt explained, although the Calgary Emergency Management Agency recently set up a portal for that purpose. Peace region chiefs, however, have established their own system along with the resourcing agreement, relying on each for support, equipment and manpower, keenly aware of the need to access additional trucks and personnel during emergencies and having the necessary legalities in place to do so quickly and efficiently.The run to High Level – not far from the Northwest Territories border – from Peace River is 300 kilometres. Grande Prairie is 200 kilometres south, Slave Lake 240 kilometres. Fort McMurray is almost 700 kilometres away.The more than 100 firefighters here, from the likes of Loon River, High Prairie, Fort Vermillion, Fairview, Nampa, Wembley, Whitecourt, Peerless Trout First Nation, St. Isador Three Creeks, High Level, La Crete and Grande Prairie, think no more of hopping in their pickups – or driving aerial trucks hundreds of kilometres – to help a fellow department than they do of going to practice on Tuesday nights or spending vacation time training at Northern HEAT.They have answered the call.View a Facebook gallery of photos from Northern HEAT.
May 6, 2016, Peace River, Alta. - The Northern HEAT – (Hands-on Education Awareness Training) conference here is a wonderful event – and this year held coincidental to a horrific backdrop of the carnage of wildfire.This is my second conference in less than a week and the contrasts are stark and illuminating.Twenty-four hours ago I could see the CN Tower. This morning I smell wildfires in northern Alberta – the other side of fire fighting. We may be a country of densely populated urban centres, but Mother Nature can still deliver cruel reminders about who is really in charge.The deputy chief for the County of Grande Prairie Regional Fire Service, Dan Verdun, was to pick up some of the conference speakers at the airport yesterday. He is in Fort McMurray.The president of the Peace Regional Fire Chiefs Association, High Level Chief Rodney Schmidt, was instructing flashover training earlier this week when he got a call, jumped in his truck and headed north, lights and sirens flashing – an industrial/wildfire threatening his community.Handfuls of firefighters from departments in the region have been dispatched to Fort MacMurray or High Level, everyone being careful to ensure there are enough resources left at home to provide proper coverage in this volatile, tinder-dry province.Driving north to Peace River from Grande Prairie last evening, up Highway 2 and through the stunning river valley with Capt. Chris Welsh and firefighter Craig Rees from Sexmith, smoke from a fire in Fort St. John, B.C., blanketed the setting sun, ash in the air when we got out of the Tahoe.There may, depending how things go today, be more conference speakers here than delegates. But as Schmidt said when I emailed him to check on the conference status, the show must go on.And for good reason.Conferences and trade shows like this are the venue for the intellectual cross pollination that educates and informs the fire service.My email in box is full of notes from the likes of Jamie Coutts, chief for the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Fire Service, who, needless to say, was in Fort Mac helping out earlier this week. He has seen this movie and his institutional knowledge from his community's experience in invaluable. He has spent a lot of nights in bad hotels travelling Canada and sharing his story since 2011.Lou Wilde, assistant chief in Kelowna who fought the devastating wildfires there in 2003 and 2009, messaged me last night, asking to give Fort McMurray Chief Darby Allen his best.Coutts and Wilde know the horror that Allen is living; everyone here is praising the chief's leadership, calm, and authority.The magnitude of the blaze enveloping Fort McMurray is mindboggling. Reading story after story about the fire while waiting for the flight to Grande Prairie, a Canadian Press report put things in perspective: at 850 square kilometres – and having grown nine times in size since Wednesday – the flames have consumed an area the size of Calgary, where I happened to be sitting in the airport.This is not new for Alberta. Three years ago when I was in Peace River, a handful of chief officers met to develop a response team similar to those south of the border that deploy to fires too big for local agencies to handle. There was talk of cross training more municipal/structural firefighters and wildland teams to better understand the urban interface, and subject-matter experts (logistics, for example) who could descend on a stricken community and relieve local fire personnel so they could look after their families with clear heads, knowing others were handling the incident.What struck me, at the time, was the commitment of the group of chief officers in the room – at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night – and their knowledge that the likes of Slave Lake, or worse, was not a possibility, but a given. The institutional memory and the transfer of knowledge among those involved is deep and deliberate: most had been to Slave Lake and were keenly aware that their communities are vulnerable to the winds and climate conditions that whipped the 2011 fire into a frightening frenzy.After consecutive record wildfire seasons in western Canada, a significant portion of Alberta is burning, so early in the year – 49 separate wildfires as of Thursday night – and BMO Capital Markets says the Fort McMurray blaze alone is "by far the largest potential catastrophe loss in Canadian history."Having lived in Edmonton in the early 1990s, smoke wafting south from wildfires in the north was common, just rarely in May.But as fire-and-weather specialist David Moseley, explained in Fire Fighting in Canada in April 2015, May is the most dangerous month."There are two weather conditions that are part of the equation," Moseley wrote. "The first is crossover, when the temperature in degrees Celsius is more than the relative humidity expressed as a percentage. The second weather condition is high wind." All that, and the perfect storm of El Nino, a mild winter and little snow.And as Chief Coutts said in our Fire Fighting in Canada This Week newscast two weeks ago, watch the conditions, not the calendar.That's why conferences like this matter. As sure as Slave Lake learned from Kelowna and Fort McMurray from Slave Lake, so, too, Fort Mac will build become template for success in the face of horror somewhere else.Writing last night from 15,000 feet up, on a northbound Air Canada Bombardier Dash 8-300, it was difficult to fathom that the snowcapped Rockies to the west glistening in the evening sun, and the spectacular river valleys below, are complicit in Mother Nature's caldron of disaster.Conferences like this are the connective tissue of the Canadian fire service. This is where people learn and share and prepare for a day they hope never comes.The backdrop is smokey and real. If that lends an urgency to the learning in the next 48 hours, so much the better.But the show must go on.
There is a fine line between being at the tipping point and going over. Firefighters in North Vancouver recently found themselves on the line. The first of many 911 calls came in shortly before 05:00 on Monday, July 18. The alarm had been activated at 357 East 2nd Street in the City of North Vancouver, with callers inside the building reporting a  smell of smoke, while neighbours reported visible flames. First alarm assignment was City of North Vancouver Engine 9, Engine 10 and Ladder 10 from the City fire hall as well as District of North Vancouver Engine 6 (spare replacing Quint 2) from District Hall 2. The fire was visible against the pre-dawn sky to the City fire crews responding. Based on what could be seen and with dispatch advising reports of people trapped, Capt. Paul Granger on Engine 9 called for a second alarm while en route. The second alarm would bring District of North Vancouver Engine 1, Rescue 1, Engine 3 and Quint 5 along with West Vancouver Tower 1 (District Tower 1 out of service). Granger established command upon arrival. Built in 1971, 357 East 2nd Street is a wood-frame building with 29 suites on three floors; there are no sprinklers or standpipe, however the fire alarm was upgraded in 2014 and is monitored by a central station. While the building is three storeys at the front, the land drops away to the rear, where the building is five stories high. Lane access to the rear is from the east side only, extending to the parking lot entrance. The rest of the Charlie and Delta sides are city park, with mature trees growing close to the building. Access to the rear is made more challenging by the presence of hydro lines and transformers.City of North Van Chief Dan Pastilli and Assistant Chief Bob Poole were paged out with the initial dispatch as the on-call chief officers. Pastilli quickly realized from the  radio traffic that this was the real deal. Granger had established command upon arrival and he remained as incident commander throughout, with Pastilli assisting him and Poole taking the Charlie side in the lane. The District of North Van Duty chief was the safety officer. RCMP officers on patrol had seen the flames and were working through the lower floors of the building, alerting residents and assisting with the evacuation. Third-floor residents were reporting by phone that they were trapped by heat and smoke. First-arriving firefighters laddered the upper balconies on the street side of the building to remove residents, while flames were pouring out of one suite at the rear of the third floor.  Capt. Kit Little of District E6 and another firefighter attempted to reach residents at the rear of the third floor from an interior stairwell, but upon cracking open the door on the third floor, were driven back by extreme heat. Hydro wires precluded the use of an aerial. A 35-foot ground ladder barely reached the top-floor balcony where an 88-year old woman was trapped by flames. The first firefighter was unable to get high enough on the ladder to safely grab the woman. The six-foot, four-inch Little waved the firefighter down the ladder. Discarding his SCBA and helmet to minimize his weight and maximize his balance, Little still had to balance on the second rung from the top, as four Mounties on the ground steadied the ladder; he was able to stretch out enough to grab the woman and bring her out over the railing and then get down the ladder far enough to pass her off to firefighters on the balcony below. Not done, he went back up the ladder and scooped her little dog to safety. By this time, BC Hydro had arrived and de-energized the lines at the rear of the building.  While the City’s Ladder 10 and West Van’s Tower 1 poured water down from the street side, in the rear District Engine 6 unleashed its deck gun in tandem with Quint 5’s 55-foot ladder pipe. In an interview later, Chief Pistilli described “a very labour-intensive fire” with manpower the key to fighting the fire. Pistilli credits Granger’s quick decision to call the second alarm with getting that manpower in play as soon as possible. The first alarm assignment with three engines and an aerial put 14 firefighters at the scene initially, with the second alarm of two engines, a quint and a rescue from the District along with West Van’s tower adding another 17 personnel on scene in short order. “Enough resources,” said Chief Pistilli, “to allow suppression and rescue operations at the same time.”While the building didn’t have sprinklers or standpipes it did have a firewall that cut the building in half, from east to west. The fire had started on the top floor in the rear on the east side.  A two-and-a-half was run in the front door and two inch-and-a-halves were run off in a garden lay to support for interior operations. A team from the District was able to access the third floor from the west side through a fire door and gained a foothold; then it was a matter of doggedly tearing down ceilings. “It was knocked down in about two and a half hours,” said Pistilli, “and we were at a comfortable spot after about four hours.” Manpower was a consideration as the shift change approached. The decision was made to hold over the City night shift of 10 firefighters as the day shift arrived. With the District holding over some of its firefighters, more than 40 personnel were working on the site. Coverage for the City and District of North Vancouver was left to Engine 4 from the District of North Vancouver and West Vancouver’s four engine companies. Nightshift firefighters were released starting from about 11:00. “It was their first night shift and we had to give them time to rest before coming back to work that night,” said Pistillli. The decision to hold over the night shift was  based on the time; earlier in the shift, it would have required an overtime callback to build up the required personnel. There was one fatality in the fire. Later in the day, as firefighters were working through the suite in which the fire started, a badly burned body was discovered. Information provided to firefighters at the time of their arrival had been that the resident of the suite was out of town.  Preliminary investigation suggests that the door to the fire suite may have been opened, accounting for the rapid buildup of smoke and heat through the east half of the third floor, which in turn forced residents to their balconies. Again, Chief Pistilli points out, there were a number of residents who heard the fire alarm, but chose to ignore it. Many who delayed had to be rescued. The firewall not only saved the building, but also saved lives. The upper floors of the Charlie and Delta sides of the west half of the building would have been beyond the reach of ground ladders, and rescuers would have been hindered by trees. The roof design worked in firefighters’ favour: the closed construction prevented the horizontal extension of fire.The fire could have been catastrophic, but several factors worked to prevent that: the firewall was critically important; the role of the RCMP officers in alerting and evacuating residents; the decision to quickly call a second alarm was enabled simultaneous suppression and rescue operations; the decision to hold over the night shift, building up resources and then being able to sustain a concentrated effort to track extensions and hot spots. It’s the little things that keep you from going over the edge.ResponseCity of North Vancouver Fire Rescue Engine 9 Engine 10 Ladder 10 Rescue 10 District of North Vancouver Fire Rescue Hall 1 – Engine 1, Tower 1 (out of service), Rescue 1 Hall 2 – Engine 6 (spare replacing Quint 2) Hall 3 – Engine 3 Hall 4 – Engine 4 Hall 5 – Quint 5 District of West Vancouver Fire Rescue Hall 1 – Engine 1, Tower 1, Rescue 1 Hall 2 – Quint 2 Hall 3 – Engine 3 Hall 4 – Engine 4 357 East 2nd Street – First Alarm City E9, E10, L10, District E6, City duty chief 2nd Alarm District E1, E3, Q5, R1 District duty chief, West Van T1 Firewatch City E11
The phone rings in your fire chief’s office with news that  one of the department’s members has passed away suddenly; it is a line of duty death (LODD). With a sinking heart and eyes full of tears, the chief mourns the loss of one of his firefighters. After getting a grip on emotions, the chief’s mind races frantically over the details that will have to be organized over the next 48 hours.The chief needs to inform the department, contact the family, the funeral home and fire-department chaplain (if the department has one) and make various other arrangements. Depending on the circumstances, the media might also have to be informed. Visitation, funeral and reception details need to be sorted. City police might be enlisted to assist with road closures. Arrangements will have to be made with local hotels to accommodate firefighters from other departments who may want to pay their respects. The overwhelming number of details for which the department is responsible causes the chief to realize how truly unprepared everyone is to effectively handle this situation. Was there a way to reduce this stress and anxiety ahead of time? Can departments be better prepared for such a daunting task? Absolutely. The addition of an honour-guard division to a department puts into place the tools to assist members, and to support each other and the grieving family. The creed of the honour guard is to honour the fallen, remember the traditions and support the families of those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their communities. An honour guard provides stability and guidance, and maintains meaningful practices in the fire service.Components of an honour-guard divisionIn order for an honour-guard division to run smoothly, the following team positions should be in place:A co-ordinator, who is responsible for overseeing all facets of the division and provides guidance and direction to the participating members. The co-ordinator also maintains all communication with the fire chief and relevant parties. This person should be proficient in all elements of communication, including social media.An assistant co-ordinator, who supports the co-ordinator in all duties and responsibilities and acts as acting co-ordinator in the co-ordinator’s absence.A drill commander, who leads marching drills with a powerful voice and has knowledge of marching commands. The Canadian Forces Drill Manual outlines movements that can be altered to suit individual situations.) Pipes and drums; any members with these musical skills can play for your department or join in with other departments at appropriate opportunities.The colour party generally consists of flags, but axes, pike poles and other firefighting tools can also be used if available.The marching unit comprises members who will march in parades or other special events; it is generally made up of two or more members. All these components come together to create a formal and complete honour-guard division, however, not all of these components are necessary to begin building your team. With just the class-A dress uniform, some strong leadership and commitment, any department can start an honour-guard unit. The Brampton Fire & Emergency Services honour guard began in 1974, wearing simple shirts and ties; don’t be intimidated – you have to start somewhere.Choosing membersThe type of person who will best represent what the honour-guard division is all about is one who carries himself or herself respectfully and demonstrates an appreciation for appearance, etiquette, values and professionalism. These members should go through a probationary period to make sure that they are worthy of the honour of being part of the honour guard. Members of the honour guard should be cognizant of the fact that they represent not only their departments, but also their chiefs, their cities and their country while on duty in their uniforms. These recommendations are guidelines drawn from personal experience; in the end, whether a member becomes part of the honour guard is at the discretion of the co-ordinator.Drills and equipmentDrills, or marching practices, are necessary to maintain precision, unison and cohesiveness in the marching unit. Once a location has been finalized, drills should occur a minimum of once a month. The co-ordinator may determine that more practices are prudent, especially during the building phases of a department’s honour guard. It should be noted that even veteran honour-guard teams meet once a month to maintain their skills. While a gymnasium works perfectly as a practice venue, the apparatus floor can always be used as a parade square. While attendance at practices should not be mandatory, members should be encouraged to attend to achieve consistency and so everyone is well prepared if called to duty. Dividing drills into workshops works well when teaching isolated skills such as  funeral details, visitation and casket details, carrying flags, carrying axes and pike poles,  marching rhythms, patterns and commands, and details pertaining to other special events.It’s important to have certain props on hand so that the honour guard is ready when called upon; these include flags, flag stands, flag holsters, axes, pike poles, white gloves, pipes and drums, and, hopefully, at some point, a special honour-guard uniform separate from the fire-department uniform. The honour-guard co-ordinator should establish a routine for maintenance and safe and accessible storage of these items. There are numerous Canadian websites that sell honour-guard equipment.Events and financesAn established and active honour guard will attend events other than funerals, such as:  City parades Retirement parties Firefighter last-day-at-work march-out Weddings Recruit graduations Local sporting events Mayoral inaugurations Award banquets Charity events Fire-station openings Canada Day celebrations Participating in community events will epitomize your department as an active, contributing and relevant part of your municipality. An honour guard can also participate in funerals outside its own city, province and country. Protocols for attendance at such events need to be established  upon development of an honour-guard team in order to be prepared when a situation arises. These protocols should be created by the co-ordinator and the fire chief.The co-ordinator and the fire chief should also discuss financial support for the honour-guard division and determine the level of funding available from the department. There are, of course, other funding options, including the firefighters association and the municipality. Monies can be used to purchase and maintain equipment, for travel and accommodation at events, and to buy uniforms. However, it should be noted that members might have to pay for room and board when attending events out of town. While this is not ideal, this might be the norm at the building stages of your honour-guard unit.An honour guard can be started without financial support from outside units, simply by wearing a dress uniform and making a commitment to attend local events and firefighter funerals; doing so will promote that idea that the honour guard is an active division in the fire department and within the community, and this visibility may lead to future financial support.In addition to the honour-guard co-ordinators, it is a good idea to have a responsible and trustworthy member act as treasurer.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria507e536756 Uniforms and rulesA standard class-A tunic provided to firefighters at graduation can be worn as an honour-guard uniform. The addition of white gloves, a rope lanyard placed on the left shoulder, and perhaps a polished boot or tuxedo shoe will enhance the look and distinguish honour-guard members from other firefighters. Purchasing a custom uniform comes with time and money. Rules, while in uniform, are different then when not in uniform. Once the uniform is on, members should not chew gum or monitor cell phone use; hat protocols should be practiced (indoors and outdoors). In addition, members should maintain a clean, tidy appearance, and carry themselves professionally as representatives of their professions, cities and departments.For more information and direction about establishing an honour-guard division, look to a neighbouring department that has an active honour guard. There is also an opportunity to gather information at the third annual Canadian honour-guard convention in Niagara Falls this spring (http://www.hgconvention.com).The traditions of the fire service are maintained through an honour guard. The Latin phrase Semper paratus means always ready. The responsibility of an honour guard to its department is to continue to practise and maintain fire-service traditions and to represent the department with honour, integrity, pride and professionalism at all events and opportunities.  Being ready when duty calls, and being able to adapt quickly, are key characteristics of a polished honour guard. When you have an active and present honour guard, all who come in contact with its members will appreciate the dignified and professional presence.Charlie Martin, who founded Brampton’s honour guard, said, “Never let our honour guard die.” I am doing my best to fulfill his request and inspire others to do the same.Components   of an honour-guard division Co-ordinator – overseees all facets of the divison; provides guidance and direction to members . Assistant co-ordinator – supports the co-ordinator in all duties and responsibiities; becomes acting co-ordinator when necessary. Pipes and drums – any member with these musical skills can play for your department Colour party – consists of flags, axes, pike pokes and other fire fighting tools Marching unit – all interested department members can participate through this unit Jordan Paris has been a full-time firefighter for 18 years a proud member of the Brampton Fire & Emergency Services ceremonial honour guard for 12 years, serving the last two as co-ordinator and commander. He can be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
All the negative stories regarding fire departments providing first and co-response EMS services have led me to wonder who is being served by not playing nicely in the sandbox. Certainly these us-versus-them situations fail to put the customer. or patient, first. Members of the High Level Fire Department (HLFD) are part of the patient-care process, even when EMS is on scene first. Our system is based on a patient-first philosophy and it works; perhaps other regions can learn from us.High Level, located in northwest Alberta, is a community of just under 4,000 people. With an initial response area including a 40-kilometre  radius of the town as well as highway response 200 kilometres to the north, 100  kilometres to the south, 40  kilometres east and 70 kilometres to the west, the HLFD has a large responsibility. One of those services is medical co-response.The HLFD is part of the Alberta Medical First Response Program, which was developed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) when it took over responsibility for EMS in 2009.  The program has grown and the HLFD is growing along with it. The EMS service in High Level is provided by a contracted service to AHS.  The company, Aeromedical Emergency Services, has a longstanding, great working relationship with the HLFD. The HLFD is a volunteer service with three staff (two full-time equivalents) providing administrative direction and command capability to the more than 35 volunteers. The HLFD has always provided assistance to EMS at a first-response level, but since the development of the Medical First Response (MFR) Program, the working relationship has grown with the service level. Approximately half of the HLFD staff have medical training above first aid; this includes four staff trained as emergency response technicians (EMTs) who are primary-care paramedics, and eight emergency medical responders (EMRs), all of whom are registered with the Alberta College of Paramedics. Another six staff members are trained as first medical responders (FMR), which is similar to an EMR, with 80-hours of classroom training. The majority of the volunteers all have standard first-aid with additional training on spinal immobilization, stretcher operation and oxygen administration, as well the ability to operate the department’s monitors/defibrillators (LP12s). Firefighters have medical training built into weekly training nights, and dedicated medical training nights are scheduled every six weeks for currency training. The HLFD also uses an online learning-management system for additional training. Staff from Aeromedical regularly attend training nights. All new Aeromedical staff meet senior HLFD staff and tour HLFD facilities.The HLFD provides up to basic life support care to first-response calls and carries advanced airways, as well as epinephrine for allergic reactions, ASA for heart attacks, instant glucose, D50W and Glucagon for diabetic emergencies, and Atrovent and Ventolin for respiratory distress. Some medications are approved for use by FMR/EMR staff and the rest are reserved for use by EMT staff.  The department is adding Narcan – an opiate antidote – once training is complete.The HLFD responds to all Delta- and Echo-level calls (potentially life threatening) as well as any call with an ambulance delay of 15 minutes or more. In 2015, EMS calls comprised about 56 per cent of the HLFD call volume (178 calls). This percentage is not uncommon in Alberta, where the majority of MFR programs utilize similar parameters; the difference lies in the proud and seamless working relationship between the two agencies.  When HLFD staff arrive, usually with a crew of between four and six personnel, some firefighters are assigned to assist with patient care with the paramedics, and some ready the stretcher or start preparing whatever device is  required for patient transport. Once on-scene treatment is complete, HLFD members assist with the patient in the ambulance. This may involve starting IVs, taking vitals, assisting with patient airway or anything else that is within the scope of training. HLFD members attend in the back of the ambulance on approximately 75 per cent of co-response calls; this improves patient care and helps firefighters stay current on skills. Once at the hospital, firefighters assist with patient transfer and, when requested, even assist nursing staff. If firefighters are not required to assist at the hospital, the fire crew that follows the ambulance to the hospital will help to ready the ambulance for the next call by preparing the stretcher, cleaning the ambulance interior or assisting where needed to ensure that the EMS crew can have a quick turnaround.  When not training or responding, both services attend social events together and co-operate on joint public presentations. It is this type of community effort and co-operation that shows what can be accomplished when services set aside differences and do what is best for the community.Rodney Schmidt is the fire chief and director of protective services for the Town of High Level, responsible for fire protection in an area spanning more than 37,000 square kilometers in Alberta’s northwest.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Most firefighters, officers, or chief officers strive for perfection on the job. Every run that I am on, in whatever role I find myself, I try to perform to the best of my abilities and rely on my training and lessons learned from past experiences. Some of those experiences are mistakes I’ve made. We all slip up now and then, whether we choose to admit it or not. I believe a good leader admits those mistakes, learns from them and moves on.In my first year as an acting captain I made a few funny blunders that prove I’m human. None of those mistakes caused any harm to my crew or myself and really only bruised my new red-helmet ego. When I took the front seat I was aware of my new responsibilities and I knew the time would come when I would serve as an incident commander (IC). The opportunity arrived when my crew was called to a single car motor-vehicle collision with air-bag deployment. I took the IC role and climbed in the first-responding truck with a crew of three. Upon arrival I announced our situation to dispatch and jumped off the truck onto the highway. My second-due apparatus blocked off the north-bound lanes and I called for the same on the south-bound lanes. My crew performed patient care and I obtained information from bystanders. I kept fidgeting with my traffic vest, which read INCIDENT COMMAND on the back in big letters on a reflective background. I couldn’t get the vest to stay latched in the front (I was thinking it was time for a diet plan). One of my firefighters came up and offered to help. Without making too much of a scene he gave me the heads up that my vest was on upside down. We all get a chuckle out of small, funny mistakes that happen during calls. My chiefs said something like: “If that is the worst thing that happened on the scene, we’ll take it.” It takes time to adjust to the role of captain and to feel comfortable riding up front on the first truck. During my first response as IC, the biggest challenge was being hands off. I wanted to grab a hose or the extrication tools and get involved with the tactical operations. Becoming a captain doesn’t mean my hands-on days are over, but it does mean I will sometimes take on the command role. An IC needs to be available to the crews on scene, dispatchers and incoming trucks in order to manage the scene and keep everyone safe. It’s tough to stay separated from the tasks that need to be done, which depend on the type of incident and number of staff. A captain needs to trust his or her crews and to supervise them in a non-micromanaging fashion. You’ve trained alongside your crew members and you know their abilities. Your job is to keep your firefighters safe, to save saveable lives and to stabilize the incident. Sometimes you need to take a couple of deep, calming breaths to keep yourself in the right mind frame to accomplish your priorities. I’m proud to work with the members on my department. I know that even though I am still learning how to lead a scene or supervise at the task level, those members will help me with what needs to be done. If I’m backing up one of my other crew members or chief officers at a scene, I’ll do the same for them. Egos and personalities are set aside during these operations as we all focus on the common goal of resolving the scene.New captains in fire services, don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake. Acknowledgment allows you to learn from that mistake and become a better leader. Your crews should respect your humility and you will, hopefully, not make the same mistake twice. As firefighters, we train as best as we can to make our emergency responses perfect, but we all know the real world throws us curves. We may not obtain perfection on all our calls, but if we aim to be perfect, we should at least come very close and be more than satisfied with our crews’ performance as well as our own.Jason Clark has been a volunteer firefighter in southwestern Ontario since 2007. Having recently made the transition to captain from firefighter, Jason has had a new perspective on roles in the fire service and riding in the front seat.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it    @jacejclark
One has only to consider pop culture to conclude that the thin line of appropriateness has changed significantly in the past 20 years – from movies such as Deadpool and The Hangover, to Cards Against Humanity, to the acceptable words allowed on mainstream television.A single episode of Game of Thrones raises (or lowers?) the benchmark of graphic violence on screen. Fifty Shades of Grey floated topics to the pop-culture surface that were previously considered downright deviant. It’s no wonder that the fire service struggles to balance its feet on that fine line between what grabs people’s attention and what puts them off. As we yearn to adopt the approach of corporations that have successfully lured audiences with racy, sexy, raunchy and borderline offensive campaigns, our mindful gaze also recognizes that the red tape of municipal professionalism demands a high level of G-rated, approved-for-all-audiences messaging. This precariously thin line is also the difference between messaging that is skipped over by the people we are trying to reach, and campaigns or promotions that prompt behaviour changes. In case you’re asking, “Why does it matter?” look no further than movements such as the ALS ice-bucket challenge or the recent Pokemon Go craze to see that when something is new and cool, it prompts people to act. In our case, we want to prompt mom or dad to insist on a home-escape plan, Sally to check her smoke alarm or Tom to replace his expired CO alarm.  How does a fire department balance on that line? Good news: there are companies that do this with everything they produce; they create G-rated products that kids go crazy about, and cleverly insert just the right dash of adult-oriented content; they have names such as Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks. You can sit with the whole family to watch Shrek, Finding Nemo and Toy Story; the kids will laugh at the characters’ antics, but the parents will catch the clever adult-humour insertions that have become a go-to ingredient for production companies. Toy Story is one of the most successful family movie franchises and is also brimming with parent-geared messaging. When Bo Peep says to Woody, “Whadda ya say I get someone else to watch the sheep tonight?” we all know what Bo Peep means. In the mutant-toys scene, when they come alive in front of toy-bully Sid, Woody turns his head 360 degrees, a comical tribute to the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Family movies today are packed with adult-oriented punchlines and references in disguise (in Despicable Me, under the sign identifying the Bank of Evil, it states “Formerly Lehman Brothers”). Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks realized a long time ago that while the target audience for their movies is primary-school-aged children, those audience members don’t go to theatres by themselves – they are always accompanied by parents or older siblings.  Movie studios also realized during the VHS and DVD eras that if they had any hope of parents wanting to bring those movies into their homes, the parents must not mind watching. Lessons I have learned: Messaging approved for all audiences does not have to be boring, nor does it have to appeal only to toddlers Public-education programs and events need to offer something for everyone We can balance on the line by being creative and clever in our messaging Stale, generic messaging will not prompt anyone to act; we have to present stuff that is new and cool We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; there are plenty of ways to piggyback on pop culture and still get the message across Applying the lessonsIt seems unattended cooking is still a big problem. Unfortunately, the generic “Watch what you heat” messaging doesn’t seem to capture people’s attention. So, using a little creativity-and-clever-humour disguise, maybe we can twist the message into something that elicits a response. Post a tweet featuring a photo of a romantic dinner for two, a second photo of a pot on a stove, and a third of a house on fire, accompanied by the message “There are great ways to heat up a romance. Unattended cooking isn’t one of them.” Chances are good that the message will be retweeted by people other than just fire-service colleagues. Post a similar message about flameless candles.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriaf287e15266 Pop culture offers so many funny examples of events gone wrong. For example, instead of issuing the same old water-your-Christmas-tree message, insert an image from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie and tease people about ensuring they have a Griswold-free holiday season (and add the watering tree tip afterward). Or say something about making sure cousin Eddie is the only unwanted guest this holiday season by ensuring you have working CO and smoke alarms. Humour is the quickest and most powerful way to engage an audience. Production companies such as Disney have proven that there are ways to produce a message approved for all audiences but that captures the attention of those who are responsible for taking action, such as buying a DVD or changing a smoke alarm battery. While fire services many never experience their own super-cool movements, there are plenty of opportunities to capitalize on fads and crazes and twist our messages into something new and cool.If only Nintendo had included “Carry Pikachu home and test your smoke alarms” in its Pokemon Go game.
The best thing fire-service members can do once they have solid foundations of fire fighting is to pass on their skills; we owe it to those who taught us, and to our future firefighters. Our job as senior firefighters is to move from the student to teacher.When I first joined the fire service, I didn’t consider at the time that I would one day be teaching recruits and other firefighters, or that it would be so rewarding. The ultimate gift we can give back to the fire service is to share our knowledge and mould our future firefighters.Fire services provide some training on instructing, but for the volume of teaching we actually do, the training is pretty basic. Some firefighters might have taken a fire-service instructor course, some may have post-secondary training, but most learn to teach by doing. When it comes to teaching methods, some firefighters are better in classrooms, some are better on the training ground, but both are needed and vastly important. Just as you can lead from the middle, you can also instruct from the middle. All forms of instruction are needed, including lead instructors, company officers and fellow firefighter mentors. All are important and required for a fire service’s future.Recruitment and retention are continuing problems for many volunteer departments, and that means teachers are even more valuable. With more and more junior members in our departments and fewer seasoned veterans, passing on our knowledge is paramount. So how do we get these skills needed to teach without going to university for four years? To me, teaching comes down to passion, drive and commitment. If you dedicate the time to learn the skill and have the passion to share it, you will be a great teacher. Being a teacher makes you a better firefighter; the more you teach, the better you become. A firefighter preparing to teach something is forced to learn everything he or she can about the subject. Teaching requires time spent digging deeper to find all the information, which results in the teacher becoming more knowledgeable. It’s a win-win – your department gains a teacher and you become a valued mentor to your brothers and sisters, while at the same time enhancing your personal development.Being a teacher takes certain skills, but they can be learned. Consider the following ideas that might help you hone your teaching skills.Teachers should commit to learning continually, staying current with techniques and trends, and dedicating the time to know the material inside and out. Don’t just put in time learning, put in quality, deliberate time in order to excel to expert level.As teachers and mentors of our craft we must be patient, allowing the adult learners to absorb the information. It is crucial to find a balance of encouragement and toughness. Adult learners like to be treated with respect, but also need to be pushed to get the most out of them. No one wants it too easy, or too hard that they fail over and over again. We must help learners feel successful and that they are progressing.Make the learning environment fun, interesting, challenging and worth their time. Instructors should be respectful of their students’ time by managing their drills. Time management is a skill that takes lots of practice to master. Stay on track, follow your lesson plan and keep the drill focused and on topic. Share what you have. Share your presentations, your videos, your stories, your pictures, and most of all share your knowledge. It is our job!Always be flexible and willing to adjust your plans. I can guarantee that sometimes your well-planned drill will go awry and you will need to think fast, and switch things up. Have a Plan B and even C. Be open. Fire services are evolving businesses and our jobs, tactics and methods, are continually changing thanks to new science, testing, technology and practices. An excellent instructor needs to be able to be open to and adapt to new methods, new techniques and new equipment. Know thy stuff. Teachers should know their equipment, environment, people, props, and their own skills. Don’t pretend you know things you don’t – it should be OK to say I don’t know. In the book Turn your ship around!, author David Marquet writes: “All learning starts with the assumption of I don’t know. If the leader/instructor says I don’t know, it makes it safe for the whole team to say I don’t know.”Share your knowledge in a number of ways. Mix things up with classroom sessions and hands on.Become a student of teaching and you will find it to be the most rewarding job. Thank you to all my instructors, teachers, and mentors who have helped me love the fire service and to be the best firefighter and instructor I can be. Arjuna George is the acting fire chief of operations on Salt Spring Island, B.C., and has served on the department since 1997.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it    @AJGeorgefire
Life is all about making decisions and as I write this column, I find myself in between the last big decision I made, and the one I’m about to make. I decided in March to leave my full-time job in the planning department with the municipality for which I am a volunteer firefighter. I knew unequivocally at that point that it was time for me to go. My heart wasn’t in it and my spirit had dwindled.Some in my inner circle (OK, my mother) expressed surprise and dismay at me walking away from a secure job with good benefits. No surprise really – I’m 44 and she’s 82 and she still mothers me, but that’s what mothers do, and I’m OK with that. I’m thankful that she’s still here to do it. I knew leaving my job was the right move for me, but what we know in our hearts to be true is sometimes called into question by those we love.Other people assumed that my husband and I were well enough off that I didn’t have to work. After hearing that comment for the second or third time, I matter-of-factly pointed out that we weren’t any better off than anyone else, that this was something I had prepared for financially, and that I would be getting another job at some point. One co-worker in particular gave me all of the support and encouragement she could muster, in spite of losing one of her closest work buddies.So what does my last career decision have to do with fire fighting? I believe that we are all put here for a reason, and that reason is unique for each of us. We all have gifts buried deep within, and it’s our mission to unveil these gifts and offer them to the world. For many of you, the gift that you share found its wings through the serving of others in the role of firefighter, fire-prevention officer, public-information officer, public-education officer, inspector, lieutenant, captain, chief, dispatcher, or any other fire-service role conceivable. You love what you do. You find your work inspiring, motivating and rewarding. You feel it in your soul that it’s what you are called to do, especially when you’ve come to the aid of someone in their time of need, and witnessed the positive effect you’ve had on the lives of – in most cases – strangers.It’s an honour and a privilege to serve in such a way, and it’s an integral part of restoring our faith in humanity. When there is tragedy, we’re told to look for the helpers. As I write this, the wildfire in Fort McMurray is devastating the lives of Albertans – but we bear witness to acts of courage, bravery, love, determination and humanity. On the very worst days of peoples’ lives, they received the very best that people have to offer of themselves – their gifts. Whether it’s a bottle of water, a kind word, or a hug, people gave humanity back to humanity. Tragedies are just that, tragic, but they also provide us with opportunities to bare our souls to others in their times of need. I’ve often struggled with the notion that so many people live their lives in shrouds, behind facades. Why are we so afraid to drop the bravado and just be who we really, truly are? We are vulnerable, honest, caring, compassionate, loving human beings. At our core, we all want the same things: to be loved, acknowledged and accepted for who we are. I believe that we in the fire service do just that when we’re called upon to help others. When firefighters are putting out flames, we are working together as a team with a common goal of stopping the loss. We come together, whether it’s multiple stations, departments, provinces, or entire countries. When we’re performing a rescue, we’re present in the moment, focused on the task at hand; we’re genuine in the words we use with patients and the actions we take to get them to safety. That is what I’m on a mission to do and that’s why I left my job at the township. I am on a mission to live a more authentic, honest, heartfelt life of service. No, I’m not joining a convent, I am simply following my heart and doing the best I can with what I’ve been given – to help humanity in whatever way I’m called to do.I will always be in the fire service, because the love runs far too deeply for me to ever not be, and because I’ve always found a fulfilling connection to the act of helping others. Where life takes me next is anyone’s guess, but as long as I’m using my life as a vehicle for positive intention and sharing my gifts with others for the greater good, I’m OK not knowing.Update: It turns out that my leap of faith led me to a new way of sharing my passion for the fire service – as an instructor at the Ontario Fire College. I’m blessed to be working with a fantastic team of dedicated individuals and grateful to be in a position through which I’m fortunate to meet so many members from throughout the fire service. Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  @georgianbayjen
When I was in university, a professor gave me feedback on a research paper I wrote and said that I had to balance my opinions with fact. The prof explained that the facts that I believed to be relevant also needed to be from sources that were credible; and further, the credibility of the sources had to meet university academic guidelines for referencing, or else I might be considered a plagiarizer.Plagiarizing is really, really bad – like, getting-caught-eating-another-shift’s-ice-cream bad, but worse. At one point I wanted to tell the professor he doesn’t know what I know, because he’s never seen what I’ve seen – sound familiar? Why is this research stuff important? Because a bunch of lab-coat firefighter scientists working out of a high-end research facility have continually been publishing game-changing science that is telling fire services what we think we know, we don’t actually know, and what we think we know that is actually correct, is correct for a whole bunch of different reasons. Basically, scientists are throwing a huge wrench into  the this-is-the-way-we-do-this-around-here philosophy. These researchers understand that the messages they are preaching to fire services in North America are hard pills to swallow. How do you tell a tremendously proud group of professionals that the Earth is in fact round? You do it the way these researchers have: very carefully and with respect. Scientists let the data speak for itself by breaking it down into digestible chunks that are easy to explain. Most of us know and have seen throughout our whole careers as firefighters that our water stream pushes fire, and that our Z- and O-pattern straight stream applied correctly is the best way to fight fire. I mean, we’ve seen it with your own eyes; we’ve been there and done that. Now imagine that the whole time, what we have actually seen is something entirely different. Could we change our thinking? Could we believe something even if we might not fully understand? The group of firefighters working for Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) burn stuff – lots of stuff – in a facility that I can only describe as the Disney World for live fire training. Now, I’ve seen only the dozens of videos online, but the math all adds up. Astrophysicist Neil deGrass says, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”Now this new crazy math that the kids are learning these days is not that new after all. In fact, evidence-based methods have been the standard of practice for many professions, including some close to home; our paramedics have been basing patient decisions on evidence-based research that is driven by outcomes for, like, forever. In fact, this kind of paramedic thinking –  asking why, in a controlled environment, before the heat of battle – is very refreshing for a profession that is so steeped in history that in some departments the routine day-to-day functions are done because, well, because they’ve always been done this way. The best part about this new modern fire behaviour is that I’ve seen so many veteran officer firefighters soak up the findings and believe in the science. But there are many more who will not believe. In fact, the director and humble leader of the UL Firefighter Safety Institute, Stephen Kerber, who is a firefighter himself, has become a bit of a firefighter rock star. At one of his recent sessions at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, immediately following the final word from Kerber, the stage was rushed. I will admit, I was right there in the front row and shook the hand of the man who, along with his team of researchers, saves firefighters’ lives through science. Kerber told me that those who struggle with and cannot believe in the research are those who take one side, one angle, one statement and compare it to their complete body of firefighting experience. Kerber admits it is a huge challenge. “We are trying to make up for 200 years of fire-service experience without much research to validate or refute what is actually happening on the fire ground, and we’re doing it one fire at a time.” What the university professor was trying to tell me all along was that, my opinion matters, and what I’ve seen or what I know does too; but it matters more what I can logically conclude and express, from a consistent baseline of evidence. I think Kerber is saying the same thing; he’s just way cooler when he does it. Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   @firecollege
I was in Alberta the week wildfire decimated parts of Fort McMurray. A handful of firefighters and officers who were supposed to be at the Northern HEAT conference in Peace River had been dispatched to Fort Mac, packing pick-up trucks and answering the call.
While tens of thousands of Albertans continue the recovery process, amazing stories are emerging about the heroic, selfless actions of citizens, responders and civic leaders who all pulled together to save Fort McMurray.
Training officer Gary Mosburger’s job is to make sure everyone goes home, and that means keeping up with technology that can potentially save firefighter lives.
We’ve all said it – we’ve said it to new recruits and to our buddies on the job as we exchange stories and revel in the amazement of a great call: this job is like winning the lottery!
Any quality fitness and wellness coach knows there is both an art and a science to guiding the wellness of others. The science is extensive and includes nutritional concepts or exercise physiology, but the art, that’s the human side.As important as the science is, the art entails possibly the most challenging elements of long-term wellness: adherence and compliance. Compliance is properly following the steps of a good wellness plan and adherence is sticking with it over time. These elements are absent either because the person is unaware he or she is making poor wellness choices, or, in most cases, the person knows what he or she should be doing, but is simply unable to see it through. In addition, those who are already fit may have an it-won’t-happen-to-me attitude about wellness deterioration. The reality is that life is an evolution with many hurdles and a decline can happen to many unsuspecting and well-intended firefighters. The difference between a lack of adherence and compliance for civilians and firefighters is the consequences. For firefighters, wellness affects performance and is truly life or death, impacting both their crews and their families.So how do firefighters improve or maintain adherence and compliance? First, we need to understand the depth of firefighter wellness, which is multifaceted and interwoven. Wellness includes fitness, nutrition, sleep, injury prevention, rest and recovery, stress management, flexibility, cardio and cancer prevention. Next, look at the aim and magnitude of personal effort, which is represented as motivation. There are both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to wellness. Intrinsic motivators come from within the individual and for a firefighter can be health, family, performance for crew, performance for customers, life safety and professionalism. Setting an example by modelling for newer firefighters while inspiring others can also motivate. Extrinsic motivators generally come from outside the individual and can include praise or financial rewards, which may not always be as realistic in the public sector. My advice to any firefighter is to make wellness a career-long personal expectation and commitment while continually developing positive and successful habits. You would, of course, keep up your medical or extrication skills, so why not everyday fitness and wellness?There are many possible strategies when it comes to adherence. A wellness plan, especially for firefighters, needs to be meaningful as well as balanced. An unhealthy level of rigidity can prevent long-term success, and dwelling on small setbacks is never helpful. One strategy is creating extrinsic motivators in the form of rewards, which should not always be food. Social support can also increase adherence. Create a team of advocates by speaking with those in your life about the importance of wellness for firefighters and your strategies. Pre-planning can be as important in firefighter wellness as it is in fire fighting. Plan workouts in advance, prepare food and fit sleep into your schedule. Documenting and journaling have been shown to improve adherence and play an active role in systematic progression. Firefighters should use fire-hall downtime effectively by exercising or enacting other wellness concepts at the appropriate level, and balance their wellness during off time; remember that being active is not the same as exercising. Developing a personal ethos can be a constant reminder of individual values, which are your choices that guide your day-to-day actions and influence decisions. Follow and embrace wellness initiatives in your municipality, whether they are employer driven or self-directed. Buy-in was the action step in my first column of this series in the April issue of Canadian Firefighter, which involved understanding the importance of different facets of firefighter wellness and performing a personal inventory on each. The action step for this column is considering compliance strategies as well as goal setting. Set timeframes for both short- and long-term goals, and be sure to look at the different facets of wellness beyond just aesthetics or fitness. It is important, however, not to set too many goals at once. Goals need to be written down and verbalized to a few friends, colleagues or family members in order to improve their effectiveness. In selecting goals make sure you are focused on the specific scope of each element and determine a metric for success; consider your role as a firefighter and as an individual and be sure the goals are reasonable. The greatest firefighting strategies are only effective if executed properly at the task level. The same applies to firefighter wellness; a plan is needed but equally important is that it is effectively followed and maintained. The difference is that a fire may be out in minutes or hours while the passion for firefighter wellness should burn for a whole career.Sean Kingswell is an experienced professional firefighter, personal trainer, fitness coach and the creator of the FIRESAFECADETS program.   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   @firesafecadets
Firefighters’ legs carry them everywhere and do an overwhelming amount of work on fire grounds. Anyone who has hauled larger-diameter hose any distance or climbed any number of stairs is familiar with the burn in the legs and lungs. Having good leg strength and fitness is a huge help to maintaining movement at work. Watch out for the many myths and misconceptions about leg workouts, which can get in the way of improving.Activating your support muscle groups is essential to a well-performed leg exercise. Always practise good form, which will eventually become a natural movement with far lower risk of injury. As with everything we do, our cores fire first. Fitness progress is difficult without a strong core as a foundation. If your back bothers you when you do leg movements it can mean poor core strength or poor positioning. While improving core strength is straightforward, improving form can be a little more difficult or frustrating. It is crucial you do not increase the weight you lift before you overcome the obstacle. Begin every exercise by maintaining a neutral spine (rounding your back increases the likelihood of injury) – this means activating your core and glutes, as well as tracking your knees properly during the entire movement. Some people start with excellent form, but lose control as they move through an exercise, especially when lifting something heavy. If you find yourself rounding your back at the bottom of a squat, lower the weight and/or limit the range of motion until you are able to perform the exercise properly. When it comes to knee angles, the biggest myth is that you should not go below 90 degrees. Knees are designed to go beyond 90 degrees, and studies show there can be far more stress on knees and hips at lower angles than at higher angles. Do you bend your knees more than 90 degrees on the fire ground? Yes. So doesn’t it make sense to work in a safe environment beyond 90 degrees to ensure better form and strength when you are in a riskier situation? The important thing to remember is to work within your capabilities and practice. If you have a pre-existing condition you must work around it safely, but try not to use it as an excuse not to improve. As always, speaking with your physician is a good start, just remember to say you are a firefighter, not a desk worker. You should be prepared for physical work with risk. First, warm up – three to five minutes of your choice, but get warm. Next, do three to five rounds with one-minute intervals for each movement. If you need to rest during any exercise, rest only long enough to get going again. It’s better to keep moving at a slower pace rather than to stop, but if you have to stop, don’t worry, just get right back in as soon as possible.  Run – 200 metres (approximately one minute). Adjust the distance accordingly. If you are not a runner substitute with cardio movement such as skipping, stair climbing (quickly), jumping jacks or running on the spot. Air squats – Keep feet shoulder width apart and aim to get the crease of your hip below your knees. Activate your glutes and keep your knees pushed to the outside. Keep your weight on your heels. Add a light weight or jump to increase intensity. If you jump, soft, cat-like landings only. Side speed skating – Start with your weight on your left leg, lunge hop in the opposite direction, landing on your right leg and bringing the original leg swinging in behind as far as is comfortable (left foot swings in behind right leg and out to right side). Continue side-to-side movement maintaining a low, stable position, which keeps legs activated during the whole exercise. Run – 200 metres. Alternate jumping lunges – Start with one leg in front of the other, knees bent and hands on hips. Jump in the air and switch legs, lowering back knee to just above the ground. Repeat. To increase intensity, raise arms over head and jump a little higher or more quickly. Step/jump-ups (box jumps) – Use hi-vol, stairs or a box. Step from the ground and fully extend hips at the top. Increase intensity by height, weight and speed. Try using one leg for 30 seconds and switching for the last 30 seconds. Run – 200 metres. Deadlift – A minute can be a long time, so use a fairly light weight. Water jugs and hoses work fine. Start with feet shoulder width apart, a neutral spine is imperative (no rounding) and shins as vertical as possible. Activate your glutes and keep knees pressed outward as you did with your squat. Stand and return to starting position. Glute bridge – Lay on your back with one leg bent and one straight. Squeeze your glutes and press your foot on the floor, forcing the body into a raised straight bridge. Return to the ground, but don’t relax fully. Repeat one side for 30 seconds and switch legs. Run 200 metres. Sherry Dean is a career firefighter/engineer with Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency. She has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and training.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
We have all heard the adage: a family that cooks together, stays together. As a firehouse chef for 16 years, an avid cook at home and a lover of all things food, I couldn’t agree more with this motto.There is something about meal time that brings people together. At home, meals are opportunities for family members to catch up with each other during busy days, to sit and talk without distraction and to reconnect. My wife Andrea and I value every opportunity and make it a priority to sit and enjoy meal time with our children. We love to cook together and we love to eat our creations together. This simple philosophy has built a strong and very happy family, and the reward is evident in our family’s bond. The same philosophy holds true in our fire houses. In the fire service, we pride ourselves on teamwork and unity, whether it is at an emergency scene, community event or in and around our stations. Eating and cooking is part of our firefighter culture and I have seen the immense team-building benefits that result from a platoon cooking together. When all hands are involved in the preparation of a meal, members can easily bond and feel as though they are part of a team. As with a family at home, taking the time to cook, eat and reconnect over a good meal will do your platoon a world of good.To get the biggest rewards out of cooking together you need to get your family or platoon present and involved in the kitchen, whether it is in the prep, chopping or dicing, standing by a pot stirring or mixing, or even on clean-up duty. My most-requested recipes at the fire house and at home all have one common ingredient: they are dishes that are made together. At my fire house perhaps the most-requested meal is my jalapeño kettle chip fish tacos (see recipe). This is one of my favourite meals to make and eat as well. What makes these tacos so special is, of course, the super flavourful crispy-coated fish, but now, after years of making this dish, everyone on my platoon has a hand in making a component. One member makes the pico de gallo, one makes the avocado lime crema, another makes the slaw and Sriracha aioli while a few of us coat and cook the fish. With everyone in the kitchen, we talk, laugh, joke and create something special together, and every member appreciates the process and the final product. My platoon cooks and eats together at every opportunity and I know this, in part, contributes to our strong team bond. At home the same benefits apply. During busy weeknights, my family keeps things simple, yet still takes the time to cook and eat together. Our recipe for mushroom and burrata lasagnette is well worth the minimal effort required. As I prepare the lasagnette, my wife is by my side helping to chop and prep a simple salad. Our children share our passion for cooking and are learning as I did as a boy, watching and helping my family cook. Even the smallest kitchen tasks, such as cracking eggs, measuring flour, mixing and stirring, are exciting and fun for children. Weekends and breakfast are perfect opportunities to create something special with the kids. My recipe for cheesecake pancakes is just right for young chefs in the family to lend a hand and make something they will love to eat.I encourage everyone to embrace the philosophy of families that cook together, stay together, both in your homes and fire houses. Soon the philosophy becomes habit and a way of life.Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He was recently featured in Food Network’s Chopped Canada.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   @StationHouseCCo Jalapeño kettle chip fish tacos Jalapeño kettle chip fish tacos Mushroom and burrata lasagnette Mushroom and burrata lasagnette Cheesecake pancakes with maple peppered bacon Cheesecake pancakes with maple peppered bacon   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria2e99a9c6f3 Jalapeño kettle chip fish tacosIngredients 1 kg (2 lbs) fresh haddock fillets or any mild whitefish 1 cup flour, seasoned with Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and Old Bay seasoning 2 eggs beaten 2 bags jalapeño kettle chips, crushed Canola or peanut oil Corn tortillas Spicy avocado lime crema Pico de gallo Sriracha aioli  - (See recipes at www.cdnfirefighter.com / health and wellness / nutrition) 1/4 head of cabbage, finely shredded Instructions Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a large deep skillet to 350 F. Set up a breading station by having a bowl for each the seasoned flour, beaten eggs and crushed kettle chips. Dust the fish pieces lightly with seasoned flour. Then dip fish into beaten eggs, then toss in the crushed kettle chips pushing down on them to make them stick. Repeat the process with the remaining fish. When your oil is hot enough, fry fish for a couple of minutes per side or until crispy and golden brown. Drain on paper towel and season with salt and pepper. When ready to serve heat the corn tortillas as per package directions. Spread the avocado lime crema on a tortilla and place fried fish on top. Add shredded cabbage and garnish with pico de gallo and Sriracha aioli. Enjoy! Cheesecake pancakes with maple peppered baconIngredients 1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced 2 tbsp strawberry jam 2 tbsp maple syrup 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cup buttermilk 1/4 cup vegetable oil + 1 tbsp for cooking 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp baking soda Pinch of kosher salt 2 cups chopped frozen cheesecake 1 tbsp butter Butter, confectioners’ sugar or whipped cream, for topping (optional) Maple peppered bacon (directions below) 1 large egg Instructions Mix the strawberries, jam and maple syrup in a small pot and simmer over low heat as you prepare the pancakes. Preheat the oven to 200 F. Pulse the flour, buttermilk, egg, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheesecake pieces, keeping them whole. Melt the butter and the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, pour about 1/4 cup batter into the skillet for each pancake. Cook until bubbly, about four minutes, then flip and cook until the other side is golden brown. Transfer pancakes to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Serve topped with the strawberry sauce, and top with butter, confectioners sugar or whipped cream. Maple peppered bacon: Position wire racks on two rimmed baking sheets. Lay one pound bacon in a single layer on the racks and bake seven minutes at 375 F. Brushing bacon with maple syrup and continue baking until caramelized, about 25 minutes, flipping, brushing with syrup and seasoning with pepper every five minutes. Let cool. Enjoy with the pancakes! Mushroom and burrata lasagnetteIngredients 3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided 2 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing 1½ pounds mixed mushrooms (such as chanterelle, crimini, and oyster), cut into bite-size pieces Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper 1 large shallot, finely chopped ⅓ cup dry white wine 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves 1 cup ricotta ¼ cup heavy cream 1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped 6 fresh pasta sheets (about 7x5 inches) or 12 dried lasagna noodles 8 ounces burrata or fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4-inch thick 1 cup finely grated Parmesan 6 large fresh basil leaves Instructions Preheat oven to 425 F. Heat two tablespoons of the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and starting to crisp, about eight to 10 minutes. Add shallots, wine, thyme and remaining one tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the skillet is dry, about five minutes. Scoop mushrooms into a bowl and set aside. Combine ricotta, cream and oregano in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Working in batches, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 30 seconds. (If using dried noodles, cook until al dente.) Transfer noodles to a large-rimmed baking sheet as you go, brushing with oil and overlapping as needed. Spread a thin layer of ricotta mixture in a small coquette or ramekin and top with a pasta sheet (if using dried, use two noodles side by side). Spread a large spoonful of ricotta mixture over pasta, scatter some mushrooms over, then add a piece of burrata. Top evenly with some Parmesan and one basil leaf. Repeat layering process (starting with noodles and ending with basil) a few more times; finish with the last of the Parmesan and a grind or two of pepper. Cover lasagnette with foil and bake until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool at least five minutes before serving. Enjoy! Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He was recently featured in Food Network’s Chopped Canada.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   @StationHouseCCo
We have all heard the adage: a family that cooks together, stays together. As a firehouse chef for 16 years, an avid cook at home and a lover of all things food, I couldn’t agree more with this motto. There is something about meal time that brings people together. At home, meals are opportunities for family members to catch up with each other during busy days, to sit and talk without distraction and to reconnect. My wife Andrea and I value every opportunity and make it a priority to sit and enjoy meal time with our children. We love to cook together and we love to eat our creations together. This simple philosophy has built a strong and very happy family, and the reward is evident in our family’s bond.The same philosophy holds true in our fire houses. In the fire service, we pride ourselves on teamwork and unity, whether it is at an emergency scene, community event or in and around our stations. Eating and cooking is part of our firefighter culture and I have seen the immense team-building benefits that result from a platoon cooking together. When all hands are involved in the preparation of a meal, members can easily bond and feel as though they are part of a team. As with a family at home, taking the time to cook, eat and reconnect over a good meal will do your platoon a world of good.To get the biggest rewards out of cooking together you need to get your family or platoon present and involved in the kitchen, whether it is in the prep, chopping or dicing, standing by a pot stirring or mixing, or even on clean-up duty. My most-requested recipes at the fire house and at home all have one common ingredient: they are dishes that are made together. At my fire house perhaps the most-requested meal is my jalapeño kettle chip fish tacos (see recipe). This is one of my favourite meals to make and eat as well. What makes these tacos so special is, of course, the super flavourful crispy-coated fish, but now, after years of making this dish, everyone on my platoon has a hand in making a component. One member makes the pico de gallo, one makes the avocado lime crema, another makes the slaw and Sriracha aioli while a few of us coat and cook the fish. With everyone in the kitchen, we talk, laugh, joke and create something special together, and every member appreciates the process and the final product.My platoon cooks and eats together at every opportunity on shift and I know this, in part, contributes to our strong team bond. At home the same benefits apply. During busy weeknights, my family keeps things simple, yet still takes the time to cook and eat together. Our recipe for mushroom and burrata lasagnette (see recipe) is well worth the minimal effort required. As I prepare the lasagnette, my wife is by my side helping to chop and prep a simple salad (see recipe). Our children share our passion for cooking and are learning as I did as a young boy, watching and helping my family cook. Even the smallest kitchen tasks, such as cracking eggs, measuring flour, mixing and stirring, are exciting and fun for children. Weekends and breakfast are perfect opportunities to create something special with the kids. Be patient, be prepared for a little more of a mess and guide them along the way and you will find kids make excellent sous chefs. My recipe for cheesecake pancakes is just right for the little chefs of the family to lend a hand and make something they will love to eat.I encourage everyone to embrace the philosophy of families that cook together, stay together, both in your homes and fire houses. Soon the philosophy becomes habit and a way of life. Building and strengthening relationships and growing a solid family and team has never been easier, or more delicious! Cheesecake pancakes with maple peppered bacon Cheesecake pancakes with maple peppered bacon Mushroom and burrata lasagnette with a fall harvest salad Mushroom and burrata lasagnette with a fall harvest salad   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria2912eee1cb Jalapeño kettle chip fish tacos 1 kg (2 lbs) fresh haddock fillets or any mild whitefish 1 cup flour, seasoned with Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and Old Bay seasoning 2 eggs beaten 2 bags jalapeño kettle chips, crushed Canola or peanut oil Corn tortillas Spicy avocado lime crema (recipe follows) Pico de gallo (recipe follows) Sriracha aioli (recipe follows) 1/4 head of cabbage, finely shredded 1. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a large deep skillet to 350 F.2. Set up a breading station by having a bowl for each the seasoned flour, beaten eggs and crushed kettle chips. Dust the fish pieces lightly with seasoned flour. Then dip fish into beaten eggs, then toss in the crushed kettle chips pushing down on them to make them stick. Repeat with process with the remaining fish. When your oil is hot enough, fry fish for a couple of minutes per side or until crispy and golden brown. Drain on paper towel and season with salt and pepper.3. When ready to serve heat the corn tortillas as per package directions. Spread the avocado lime crema on a tortilla and place fried fish on top. Add shredded cabbage and garnish with pico de gallo and Sriracha aioli. Enjoy!Spicy avocado lime crema 4 avocados, peeled, pitted and chopped 2 cups sour cream 1 lime and zest 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, chopped A few drops of green Tabasco sauce A handful of cilantro, chopped Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper Using a food processor, mix all the ingredients together. Keep in the refrigerator.Pico de gallo 2 tomatoes, seeded, chopped 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped 1 jalapeño, seeded, chopped 1 garlic clove, minced 1 red onion, minced 1 lime, juiced A handful of cilantro, chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper In a bowl mix together all the ingredients. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.Sriracha aioli 1 cup good-quality mayonnaise 3 tbsp Sriracha hot sauce 1 tbsp grated garlic Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste In a bowl mix together all the ingredients. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.Mushroom and burrata lasagnette 3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided 2 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing 1½ pounds mixed mushrooms (such as chanterelle, crimini, and oyster), cut into bite-size pieces Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper 1 large shallot, finely chopped ⅓ cup dry white wine 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves 1 cup ricotta ¼ cup heavy cream 1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped 6 fresh pasta sheets (about 7x5 inches) or 12 dried lasagna noodles 8 ounces burrata or fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4-inch thick 1 cup finely grated Parmesan 6 large fresh basil leaves 1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Heat two tablespoons of the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and starting to crisp, about eight to 10 minutes. Add shallots, wine, thyme and remaining one tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the skillet is dry, about five minutes. Scoop mushrooms into a bowl and set aside.2. Combine ricotta, cream and oregano in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.3. Working in batches, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 30 seconds. (If using dried noodles, cook until al dente.) Transfer noodles to a large-rimmed baking sheet as you go, brushing with oil and overlapping as needed.4. Spread a thin layer of ricotta mixture in a small coquette or ramekin and top with a pasta sheet (if using dried, use two noodles side by side). Spread a large spoonful of ricotta mixture over pasta, scatter some mushrooms over, then add a piece of burrata. Top evenly with some Parmesan and one basil leaf.5. Repeat layering process (starting with noodles and ending with basil) a few more times; finish with the last of the Parmesan and a grind or two of pepper.6. Cover lasagnette with foil and bake until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool at least five minutes before serving. Enjoy!Sweet and salty fall harvest saladFor the salad: 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced ½ cup chopped pecans 1 tbsp unsalted butter 2 tbsp brown sugar 1 bunch of kale or other dark leafy greens, washed, stems removed, and roughly chopped (about 8 cups) 1 cup blue cheese, cubed 1 large apple, cored and roughly chopped ½ cup dried cherries For the maple vinaigrette: 2 tbsp pure maple syrup 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp Dijon mustard 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar Pinch kosher salt 1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Spread the squash out on a large baking sheet and drizzle with two tablespoons of olive oil, then sprinkle with some salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. Roast for 35 minutes, toss the squash, and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, tossing periodically until the squash is browned and softened.2. While the squash roasts, make the candied pecan clusters. Have a baking sheet with parchment paper ready and set aside. Heat the butter and brown sugar over medium heat in a medium non-stick pan until bubbling. Toss the pecans into the butter-sugar mixture until coated. Cook, stirring occasionally until the sugar turns a dark amber colour. Pour the pecans out onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet and spread them out with a rubber spatula. Allow them to cool completely before breaking them up into clusters.3. Make the vinaigrette by whisking the maple syrup, 1/4 cup olive oil, mustard, vinegar and salt together in a medium bowl or shake it all together in a mason jar. Whisk in additional olive oil in small increments up to 1/3 cup total until you reach your desired dressing consistency.4. In a large bowl, toss the kale with the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil until the kale turns bright green and glossy, about two to three minutes.5. Top the kale with the squash, blue cheese, apples, cranberries, and pecan clusters. Drizzle the maple vinaigrette over the top of the salad before serving while the squash is still warm. Enjoy!Cheesecake pancakes with maple peppered bacon 1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced 2 tbsp strawberry jam 2 tbsp maple syrup 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cup buttermilk 1 large egg 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus 1 tbsp for cooking 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp baking soda Pinch of kosher salt 2 cups chopped frozen cheesecake 1 tbsp butter Butter, confectioners' sugar or whipped cream, for topping (optional) Maple peppered bacon (directions below) 1. Mix the strawberries, jam and maple syrup in a small pot and simmer over low heat as you prepare the pancakes. Preheat the oven to 200 F.2. Pulse the flour, buttermilk, egg, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheesecake pieces, keeping them whole.3. Melt the butter and the oil in a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Working in batches, pour about 1/4 cup batter into the skillet for each pancake. Cook until bubbly on top, about four minutes, then flip and cook until the other side is golden brown, about two more minutes. Transfer the finished pancakes to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Serve the pancakes topped with the strawberry sauce, and top with butter, confectioners' sugar or whipped cream, if you wish.4. Maple peppered bacon: Position wire racks on two rimmed baking sheets. Lay one pound bacon in a single layer on the racks and bake seven minutes at 375 F. Brushing bacon with maple syrup and continue baking until caramelized, about 25 minutes, flipping, brushing with syrup and seasoning with pepper every five minutes. Let cool five minutes on the racks. Enjoy with the pancakes!Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He was recently featured in Food Network’s Chopped Canada. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it @StationHouseCCo
In early February I took the Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) train-the-trainer course in Mississauga, Ont., and it changed me, challenged me, and at the same time gave me hope. My own experiences with mental-health issues were precisely what attracted me to the course, and I was glad to have been chosen as one of the first 40 fire-service members in Ontario to be accepted into the program.
All firefighters should be physically ready for duty. Most departments, career and volunteer, require recruits to pass a physical test. This column is directed at those who are preparing for recruitment, but the content also applies to firefighters who wish to remain prepared for the physical demands of their jobs.
A structure fire. Adrenaline-filled fire crews work the irons and power tools as their SCBAs supply much-needed air. Hand lamps provide a dim glow as the light reflects off the blinding, acrid smoke. Over deafening noises, radios attempt to keep crews in constant contact. A centrifugal pump whines as it pushes water through a hoseline and out the open nozzle. Diligent personnel and their important tools work in unison until their properly applied extinguishing agent attains the benchmark, “loss stopped.”  
Anyone who has spent any amount of time working out has experienced boredom or lack of motivation. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. The good news is that we benefit from variety. Your body is very smart and adapts by finding easier ways to complete routine tasks. Mixing things up is ultimately an advantage and should improve your results.
There are very few ingredients in the cooking world that have the versatility, mass appeal, and recipe variation as the incredible edible egg (thanks for that one, Canadian Egg Farmers!).
My wife and I celebrated our recent wedding with a two-week honeymoon adventure in Thailand. One of the main reasons we chose this beautiful country (which we would highly recommend to anyone!) and travelled halfway around the world was, of course, the food!
Have you ever tested the amount of heavy metal you have in your body? Do you know which toxic elements are stored deep inside your tissues? These are very important questions all people should ask themselves, but it’s even more important that firefighters do so.
How do I start lifting weights? What are the best exercises to learn? How do I know if I am doing things properly? These are questions that everyone who works out had to learn at one time. Some folks had a friend or professional help them at the beginning, but for many people a strength program is daunting and frustrating, and often leads to quitting.
Much work has been done over the last three decades to improve the quality of firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE). We are long removed from the minimal protection provided by hip waders and rain coats that were used by some of Canada’s largest fire departments up to the early 1990s.Today’s PPE ensemble, combined with the latest in respiratory-protection devices, affords firefighters the best available opportunity to survive the hazards in a modern-construction dwelling containing materials that burn much more quickly and hotter than they did just 30 years ago. Even with the latest and greatest in available technology, there are situations in which firefighters are seriously injured or killed as a result of acute exposure to the intense heat associated with hotter and faster-developing structure fires.I first heard Winnipeg firefighter Lionel Crowther’s story at the 2015 Canadian Burn Symposium in Toronto. While working an overtime shift on the evening of Feb. 4, 2007, a response to a house fire produced results that have changed Crowther’s life. We now know Crowther and his crew likely encountered a change in fire conditions as a result of flow-path dynamics. Crowther suffered burns to 70 per cent of his body, 30 per cent of which were full-thickness burns. Captains Harold Lessard and Thomas Nichols died on scene and firefighter Ed Wiebe suffered injuries that put him in critical, but survivable, condition. Firefighters Darcy Funk and Scott Atchison sustained minor injuries.Crowther was exposed to extreme heat levels for an extended period of time as he was unable to make an exit when fire conditions changed; he sustained burns that may have been caused by the compression of superheated gasses trapped in his bunker gear. (For more about Crowther go to https://afterthecocoon.com/burn-survivors/lionel-crowther/)NFPA 1971 sets the minimum performance requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) and also specifies the test methods by which the PPE is measured. The newest test is the stored energy test, which was added in 2013. Industry experts recognized the thermal protection offered by bunker gear also results in heat being stored in bunker gear. The trapped, superheated gas, when compressed at pinch points in the suit at the knees and the elbows, causes burns. Another common place where superheated gases are trapped is behind the backplate of the SCBA. Crowther’s story closely resembles that of Winnipeg firefighter Barry Borkowski, who suffered significant injuries on Oct. 9, 1994. Since retiring as a captain in 2005, Borkowski has worked to implement design changes to bunker gear.The evolution of engineering of bunker gear has resulted in significant improvements in protection of firefighters; NFPA 1971 has evolved as a result of different types of firefighter injuries, and now measures more factors. But with the improvements have come some challenges: the retention of superheated gasses inside the PPE envelope has resulted in burns during the handling of firefighters who have been removed from fires. ***Representatives from the International Association of Fire Fighters were invited to attend the 2015 Toronto burn symposium and participate as presenters. At the 2014 symposium, much of the information presented contained American-specific details. In 2015, I was asked to co-present – from a Canadian perspective – with Judy Knighton, a registered nurse and burn specialist at the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Knighton and I were tasked to identify best practices in handling and managing the care of responders who sustained burns. Knighton handled to the transport and treatment priorities in her presentation titled Emergency Management and Outpatient Care of the Person with Burns. I addressed management of the patient immediately following removal from the hazardous environment in my presentation, Managing the Handling of the Rescued Firefighter.Emotions among fellow firefighters run high when a firefighter is rescued from a fire. As with all hazardous situations in which patients are involved, the primary concern should be rescuer safety. It is important that the rescuers wear full PPE when managing care for a rescued firefighter, and be purposeful and careful when handling the super-heated firefighter. The rescuers need to: Avoid off-gassing from firefighter; Avoid skin contact with hot bunker gear. Considerations and steps to safely remove the PPE ensemble: Have the firefighter remain standing• Allow some time for the PPE envelope to passively cool and off-gas or use a positive-pressure ventilation fan to speed up the process• Do not use a hose line to cool the firefighter while he or she is in the PPE ensemble.• Use two rescuers to facilitate the removal of the PPE ensemble• Protect the rescued firefighter from the stored heat in the bunker gear• Avoid sitting, laying down, bending limbs prior to dissipating stored heat Loosen the SCBA shoulder straps; communicate your planned actions and co-ordinate the loosenin Disconnect the chest strap Loosen and unbuckle the waist belt Remove and replace the neck flap Open the front jacket flap while unclasping/unzipping the coat Open the jacket Remove the stage 2 regulator Roll the coat and the SCBA over the shoulders Remove gloves and the remainder of the coat Unclasp the pants, and remove the suspenders, letting the pants fall Roll the pants over the boots, and assist in removal of boots. Remove helmet, balaclava and mask. Initial burn treatment: Rapid access to definitive care ASAP Use water to cool small minor local burns Cut away clothing if necessary to avoid debriding when fabric remains in the burned tissue Protect open burn wound with dry sterile burn dressings Facilitate rapid transport to definitive care Initial assessment of burns on scene are quite often not overly reliable; some burns that appear to be minor end up being severe while some burns that seem to be significant end up being less severe.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria0ee56f199f All regions in the country have burn centers associated with leading-edge hospitals that are best suited to manage the care of burn patients. It is worthwhile to ascertain where your firefighter will go when they sustain significant burn injuries. Our partners in emergency medical services will facilitate movement of firefighters to these facilities.  Fire services are very good at preplanning occupancies so they are aware of the different hazards. Situational awareness training is also helping firefighters recognize and react when fire conditions are about to change. These are initiatives designed to limit the risk to firefighters when emergencies occur. Through articles like this and presentations at conferences such as the Canadian Burn Symposium, we hope to spread the word about how to manage the superheated firefighter to limit injuries to the rescuer and the rescuee. These are low-incidence, high-risk situations that need to be planned for before they happen.  Ken Webb is a 22-year career fire fighter at Toronto Fire Services who is also paramedic trained. Ken served 15 years as a captain in the professional development and training division. For the last eight years, Ken has been the manager of the firefighter pre-hospital care program at the Sunnybrook Centre for Pre-hospital Medicine in Toronto.
As the first-due engine company responds swiftly to a confirmed bedroom fire, the company officer in the right, front seat scans the GIS map on the engine’s iPad for locations of nearby fire hydrants. The company officer finds that the best hydrant is six houses past the incident address, and the second-best hydrant is a block before the incident, but is on the opposite side of the street.The company officer knows that a charged, large-diameter supply hose snaking up the street will likely block access to the next-arriving companies, so she ranked that hydrant second. As the engine approaches the second-ranked hydrant, the officer shouts to the emergency-vehicle operator: “You’re going to hit the hydrant up there, past the address. Stop in front of the house, we’ll drop our leader line and two attack bundles. Reverse lay the leader line to the hydrant. Send water as soon as you get it, don’t wait for us to call for it!” The operator nods and sails past the first-encountered hydrant. As soon as the air brakes are set in front of the burning house, the company officer and her two firefighters disembark the engine, retrieve their assigned hand tools and both ladders and drop them all in the front yard. The officer heads to the rear hose bed and pulls the leader-line bundle down to the street, while each firefighter shoulders and disconnects the top two sections of both of the engine’s mid-mount minuteman, crosslay hose loads. Once the  firefighters are clear of the engine, the company offer kneels on the leader-line bundle and shouts for her driver to begin the reverse lay toward the hydrant. The situation in this story occurs all too often, but based on my knowledge gained from instructing locally and internationally, the decisions made and the actions performed by the company officer are rare. Firefighters, as creatures of habit, think securing a water supply means laying our supply hose from the hydrant and driving the fire engine toward the fire – a forward lay. Leader-line reverse lays are taught in recruit academies, but are rarely put to use and seldom trained on (and only if the fire engine is equipped to perform them). I’ve even witnessed a well-equipped fire engine drive past the fire, perform no fewer than six three-point turns on a single-lane road, just to turn around and perform a forward lay from the hydrant to the fire. A reverse lay with a leader line would have sent water to the fire much faster.A leader line is a dead load of 77-millimetre (three-inch) hose packed flat-load style in a hose bed from the female coupling. Typically, the hose in the bed will be no less than six lengths, and will terminate on top at the last male coupling with a water thief or other gated, reducing wye. A leader line’s function is to extend a larger diameter hoseline further than would be practical to stretch smaller lines, and then attach smaller attack lines to the appliance on the end. As much hose as needed is removed, and the line is then broken and attached to a side or rear discharge for supply. We have devised a unique way of packing our leader lines that enable an effective reverse-lay operation, or simply extend our attack lines further from the truck than our pre-connected hoses will allow. The idea is to form a bundle of 77-mm hose that contains one length and a water thief. Our members use a 1.8-metre (six-foot) piece of old large-diameter supply hose to form the base of the bundle; we purchased some cheap utility straps and pass them through the width of the large-diameter hose at several spots to hold the bundled section of hose and the appliance. The purpose of the large-diameter hose base is to ensure the bundle stays packed together neatly and to enable an easier removal from the hose bed with less friction. We also attach a rope pull handle on the bed end to make retrieval easier. Our district has a lot of properties with deep setbacks, so it is imperative that the water thief makes it well into the front yard, if not just short of the front door. Our practice of removing the top sections of our minuteman pre-connects gives us just 30 metres (100 feet) of working hose length and the nozzle – a water thief in the street is useless as the majority of our attack hose will be laying in the yard. The one-section leader-line bundle can be dropped and unstrapped in the street, and advanced one full length toward the structure; this helps to ensure that the firefighters will have almost all of the attack hose length at their disposal for use inside the structure. Our version of the leader-line bundle works well for our department and has proven to be a versatile tool. Give it a try – it might be a fit for your department. Now get out there and practise with your leader lines!Tim Llewellyn is a firefighter for the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, Pa., and an instructor for a number of fire academies and training faculties.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Some questions are being asked in the fire-rescue community about the use of carbon-fiber material in new vehicle construction. Although carbon fiber has been in the aircraft industry for many years, it is now being used in many late-model vehicles coming off the assembly line. It’s important that rescuers understand how carbon fiber is made and its properties in order to safely and efficiently predict and deal with this materialCarbon fiber is a lightweight, strong alternative to common steel. It is used in everything from an airliner fuselages to racing-bike frames and protective cell-phone cases. Carbon fiber was invented in the United States in the late 1950s but it wasn’t until a new manufacturing process was developed at a British research center in early ’60s that carbon fiber’s strength and lightweight potential was truly realized. Carbon fiber reinforced polymer, or CFRP, is a process of combining strands of acrylic yarn together and baking the material to 1,400 F, which activates the carbonation of the yarn, hence the term carbon fiber. Each carbon fiber has roughly 10 layers of fabric; it is  placed in a heavy press, air is extracted, a chemical resin is injected under high pressure and heated again for a specific time; then the fiber is cooled and the part is formed. When the part is removed from the press, the edges are very jagged so they are trimmed and sanded. The outer layer is the product’s final color and finish, which is a dark grey or black; the parts can be painted any colour, but are often left in the original colour, which has a unique, professional high-tech look. One of the main advantages of this material is the strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber after the above process is completed; the actual weight of the component is a fraction of that of the same part made of steel. This transmits into reduced weight of vehicle parts which, in turn, can result in an overall increase in fuel economy of 20 to 30 per cent; that saving really motivates the auto industry to include carbon fiber in production lines. As a result, there will be a big push in the next few years of carbon fiber and aluminum combinations mated with other lightweight materials in modern vehicles. Anywhere the manufacture can reduce weight results in better fuel economy. Another area that has undergone change is inside the vehicle passenger compartment, where structural strength is not important but cosmetic appeal is desired. Carbon fiber, with its sleek, stylish, eye-catching look really complements the interior of even the entry-level vehicle and is well suited for door panels and handles, outer seat contours and dash parts. These components do not have to conform to structural standards and can be made slimmer, quicker and cheaper for this reason.On the structural side of things, auto manufacturers have established methods to give carbon-fiber parts more strength in a specific direction, for example, increasing strength in a load-bearing direction, but not doing so in areas that bear less load. Developments are underway that allow for omni-directional carbon-fiber construction, which applies strength in all directions. This version of carbon-fiber association is mostly being used in the safety cell unibody chassis assembly. Another advantage as time has passed; carbon fiber reinforced polymer has proven to be very corrosion resistant; this is a very important characteristic in both the outer body panels of the vehicle and the structural makeup of the framework or safety cell. Let’s look at one popular vehicle that uses versions of CFRP and aluminum that’s cutting edge technology. According to the engineers and stakeholders at the Beamer camp, “The new 2016 BMW fifth-generation 7 Series uses a passenger cell called a ‘Carbon Core’ to improve performance and fuel economy, which cuts the weight by 86.kilos (or 190 pounds.)”While the BMW carbon core is not a complete carbon-fiber, reinforced plastic tub or a series of panels as is used in racecars or hybrid supercars, the BMW efficient lightweight technology combines carbon fiber with lightweight, high-strength steel, and aluminum body panels. There are some carbon-fiber brackets and stiffeners, such as the cross-member at the top of the windshield. CFRP is inside the steel roof pillars to keep the cabin intact in a rollover or severe side impact. More 7 Series body panels are now aluminum, including doors and the trunk lid. The brakes, wheels, and suspension have lightened by 15 per cent, BMW says; savings to the so-called un-sprung weight parts have a much greater effect on performance than taking the same weight out of the gearbox or seats. BMW liberally reinforces the already strong metal/aluminum passenger cell with CFRP in critical places. The 15 CFRP reinforcements include the header above the windshield, door sills, transmission tunnel, front-to-back and left-to-right roof reinforcement tubes and bows, the B-pillar between front and rear doors, the C-pillar, and rear parcel shelf. Most of the discussion around CFRP from a rescuer’s perspective concerns actual tool use and the dust that is created when breaching or cutting into the material. Testing done by rescuers has shown that there can be a fair amount of CFRP dust when using  tools such as a fine tooth reciprocating saw blade. Although each CFRP manufacturer uses different chemicals and resins to make its product, most of the material safety data  sheets call to protect your airway with either a respirator or N95 particulate mask when working around CFRP airborne dust. In discussions with the companies that make or work with CFRP, all workers have stated that when cutting, sanding or in any situation in which they are creating dust particles, they have either worn the proper PPE as mentioned above or if operating in a close environment, have done the work under a ventilation hood fan. It is my belief that rescuers should adopt these same protocols, err on the side of caution and wear N95 masks when working around the CFRP dust.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriad1a2697574  Another challenge worthy of mention is the fact that manufacturers may paint over the carbon-fiber components and thus give rescuers no indication whether the component it is steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber. The 2016 BMW7 series upper A-pillar is an example of this; the indicator in this case is the carbon-core stamp on the top of the B-pillar.One method firefighters in the United Kingdom use to determine if a component is made of carbon-fiber material is to place a small, pocket-sized magnet on the suspected component; if the magnet doesn’t stick, the component is most likely carbon fiber or possibly aluminum, and therefore rescuers know to protect their airways accordingly with approved respiratory measures.    In terms of hydraulic rescue tools breaching CRFP material – the material is not a challenge to sever as it simply crushes the part, such as a B-pillar, with relative ease. When cutting or spreading, the material simply breaks apart into small fragments. Rescuers will have no problem cutting the material with hand tools such as reciprocating saws and air chisels; doing so would be similar to cutting fiberglass.Most vehicle manufacturers are investigating, testing and using carbon fiber in some form or another. Ultimately, use of carbon fiber will help manufacturers meet stricter fuel-economy and crash-safety standards. The use of carbon fiber in a vehicle can significantly reduce the weight and size of the framework; this will allow engineers to design and create more passenger compartment space. Using more carbon fiber in the manufacturing process also reduces the volume of water and electricity used to build vehicle components and chassis. Advancements in carbon-fiber technology will trickle down to the mainstream, just as airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control have done. Staying abreast of the changes to vehicles will allow first responders to stay on the top of their game. Randy Schmitz is a Calgary firefighter extensively involved in the extrication field. He is the education chair for the Transport Emergency Rescue Committee in Canada.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   @firedog7
Firefighters need survival skills, but they also need to understand how correcting certain behaviours can help prevent dangerous situations. In the last two issues of Canadian Firefighter, this column explained how peer pressure and complacency can contribute to dangerous environments for firefighters. Two more reasons for concern are inexperience and good ol’ Murphy’s Law.Inadequate fire ground experienceThrough the efforts of fire-prevention officers and campaigns, the number of structural fires to which firefighters respond has decreased. Better building codes, better education, better and more frequent inspections, and better construction methods have resulted in fewer fires than there were 20 years ago. With the decrease in structural-fire response comes a decrease in firefighters’ exposure to high-risk events. In the world of risk management, there are categories of risk that can be used to rank certain actions or operations based upon severity and frequency. Structural fire fighting fits into the category of high risk, low frequency: this means that fire services are responding to events that are high risk, but that are infrequent, therefore firefighters are more susceptible to the outcomes of that risk. At these events, there are injuries, critical mistakes, line-of-duty deaths and the wrong sequence of actions taking place on the fire ground, all the result of the low frequency of response. When firefighters are caught off guard at one of these high-risk, low-frequency events, they need to be able to get out by any means necessary. Murphy’s LawA final reason for having a firefighter survival program is Murphy’s Law – what can go wrong will go wrong. No matter how well prepared firefighters are, there is still the chance that something dangerous will happen on the fire ground. Whenever firefighters face a dilemma or a problem on the fire ground, their survival skills allow them to process the problem, determine the viable solution to the problem, and then enact the solution to overcome the situation. Firefighters need to be able to adapt and overcome – that is firefighter survival. Murphy’s Law requires a firefighter to be prepared for the unexpected by being able to adapt and to overcome that which is thrown at them. So why learn firefighter survival? How do survival skills benefit the firefighter and others? These skills give firefighters the ability to rescue themselves. When crew members face a life-or-death situation, they need to be able to save themselves. A firefighter may have called for a mayday and the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) might be on the way, but the member in danger cannot just sit there and wait – he or she needs to do something to get out and away from the problem and into safety. The firefighter should be prepared to do something unorthodox – not found in a textbook – but effective to escape safely and quickly.The rapid intervention team will not arrive as quickly as you may think; depending on the situation, it may take team members a little while to get to a firefighter. The average time for a RIT to rescue a downed firefighter is about 21 minutes, with about 12 firefighters needed to complete the job. In 21 minutes, a single firefighter can do something to self rescue.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriafc31d0e586 Firefighter survival skills also form the basis of rescuing other firefighters. The Phoenix Fire Department tested its rapid intervention crews after firefighter Bret Tarver died in the line of duty in 2001. The testing found that one in five RIT members found himself in trouble, requiring assistance by another rapid intervention team. You can see how quickly this situation escalates, with more firefighters needed to rescue one, two or perhaps three downed firefighters. Firefighters who have the survival skills to save or rescue themselves can help de-escalate the situation. Houston Station 8 fire Capt. Eric Joel Abbt’s story is a good example of the importance of firefighter survival skills. On March 28, 2007, Abbt responded to a highrise fire that was started by arson. Abbt was working on the fifth floor trying to rescue an occupant when he declared a mayday due to low air. Abbt waited for the RIT  for 18 minutes before he was plucked from a window on an aerial ladder and brought down to an awaiting EMS crew. Abbt told the story of his ordeal and said: “A lot of guys think that this won’t happen to them – it can happen to you.” Fighting fires is a high risk, low-frequency job, and that is why firefighters need survival skills. All structural firefighters should have the skills needed to rescue themselves when they are faced with dangerous situations similar to Capt. Abbt’s.Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. He teaches in Canada, the United States and India and is the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue.   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Editor’s note: Chief Jamie Coutts’ perspective on the fire that ravaged Fort McMurray, burning 10 per cent of the city, is unique. Coutts, chief of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service, took his experience from the 2011 fire that decimated 40 per cent of his community to Fort Mac on May 3, with firefighters Ryan Coutts and Patrick McConnell, part of the department’s FireSmart team that was developed post-2011 and is trained in wildland and structural fire fighting, structural protection, ICS 200, emergency preparedness and other disciplines (see Tackling the interface). Coutts provides a first-hand account of his first 24 hours in Fort McMurray.We had been watching the Fort McMurray updates on our Alberta Wildfire app for a couple days, keenly aware of the fire’s proximity to the City of Fort McMurray. As the fire grew we started to wonder if anyone would call for our structure-protection trailers or crews.  Monday evening, May 2, at 10 p.m., we received a call: “Do you have a structure-protection trailer? How much do you charge per day?” And so the conversation went for about an hour back and forth. I could tell at this point there didn’t seem to be much of a worry; people in Fort McMurray were just trying to look ahead. I called in a couple of the FireSmart crew guys and we got a trailer ready, and rigged up a one-ton with a tank and pump. The call came that the Regional Emergency Operations Centre (REOC) would decide at 7 a.m., and let us know.At 7 a.m. exactly on May 3 we received a call. The REOC would like us to deliver a trailer to Fort McMurray and drop it off. After that, we would be released to head home. Patrick McConnell, Ryan Coutts and I decided we would pack a bag and take our wildfire gear; we had been down this road before and decided better safe than sorry. We were on the road by 8 a.m. and drove straight to Fort McMurray, listening to broadcasts about the fire and changes from the previous night as we went. There were so many similarities to the Slave Lake fire in 2011 that we started to talk about what deploying the gear would look like, and what challenges we would face from all the people and organizations involved. We discussed the fact that we would be heading into a situation that people still felt was under control and that we would have to sell our way in.We arrived at 12:30 p.m. and headed into the REOC: it was like walking into an ant hill – people were everywhere, maps, updates, Smart Boards. We were asked to drop off the trailer and lock it up. Keys would be given to operations and we could go. We went out to the trailer and turned our radios to the Fort McMurray frequency for agriculture and forestry and started listening to the reports.  Things were definitely heating up. We went back in and asked to do an orientation with the crews that would be using this equipment. The ops manager said he would call them all up, and we could do the orientation right in the parking lot. Shortly after 1 p.m., about 40 people showed up; we talked briefly about being prepared, having LACES (lookouts, anchors, communications, escape routes, and safety zones), talked about what could be saved and what couldn’t if the fire hit the city, and what the conditions might be like. From there Patrick and Ryan did a quick orientation on equipment, setup, and systems. I saw Fort McMurray Chief Darby Allen walking back into the REOC from outside, caught up to him, introduced myself and said, “You will be under immense political pressure during this event – evacuate, don’t evacuate, priorities will be shifting. Follow your heart, follow your gut and do what you know is right.” We left it there and he went back inside. The media was humming around, and you could tell from the smoke column and radio traffic that things were going sideways. The projected wind at the morning briefing was out of the south east, switching to a stronger wind out of the south west. We could see outside that the wind would push the fire past the city limits and then slam the whole side of the fire into the southern neighbourhoods.We went back into the REOC and told Assistant Deputy Chief Jody Butz at operations that orientation was done and that the Fort McMurray firefighters were taking the trailer. He thanked us and then Chief Allen asked if we would stick around and discuss some of what Slave Lake had been through and look at some operations with the team. (I didn’t tell him at the time but Patrick, Ryan, and I had talked about this outside, and with conditions the way they were, there was absolutely no way we were going anywhere. We had even put our wildfire gear on already.) We waited inside with one of the deputies for a chance to talk to Chief Allen. The forestry manager, Bernie Schmitte, and the operations chief, Butz, were having a briefing meeting while the deputy chief talked about the layout of the city and the neighbourhoods in front of the fire. As we looked out the second storey window at the fire, I excused myself and headed to the operations briefing. I excused myself again and asked the gentlemen if I could interrupt. I had been watching the conditions and hearing the radio chatter and said that I knew we needed to hurry with structure protection; they handed me a map, listened to the plan, immediately endorsed it, and told us where to go to get more help. We left immediately and headed to Station 1 downtown.At Station 1, fire-service personnel were trying to get organized and keep a helicopter pad free. Firefighters from the city and region were assembling, and gear was being organized. We dumped overnight bags from our one ton, grabbed cases of water (we knew we would need lots) and were assigned another seven firefighters to go with us to meet other firefighters and our structure-protection trailer in Beacon Hill (the first area to be slammed by fire front). Evacuated people were streaming down all lanes as we tried to slowly creep to Beacon Hill. Once we were on Beacon Hill Drive, we tried to find our structure-protection trailer, which was with our friend Dave Tovey from Fort McMurray Fire. We stopped by a park that would provide some distance from where the fire would hit and, along with dozens of Fort Mac firefighters, we started evacuating people (some were still in their houses, others were trying to load motorcycles and campers). The Fort Mac firefighters with us quickly rounded up animals that had been left behind or had been trapped with no owners able to get to them. Then, the set up and fire fight started. The wind picked up, and the sparks started landing. This was the point at which our experience in Slave Lake started to come through for us. It was simple: save the houses that aren’t on fire yet. Hit the spot fires, but once a house goes up, move on – there are just too many to fight. This is an impossible thought to process when you are a firefighter: we put house fires out, period; so when we are asked or told to let some homes burn so others can be saved, it’s tough to absorb and accept. Patrick and Ryan left and hooked up with the Fort McMurray crews that had our structure-protection trailer. It was too late to deploy in that area so they fought the fires they could, set up hoses where they could and worked with the Fort Mac crews. I didn’t want to be separated from my guys, but I knew their training and experience was needed where they were. I was lucky to be with a large group of volunteers called in from smaller Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo halls – the new recruit class (five weeks in, I was told) and a few captains and training officers. It was all a little overwhelming and I remember thinking “Were these the looks on our faces when Slave Lake burned?” I just kept telling them, “Keep up the good work, fight the fires that need to be fought, what you are doing is saving lives and houses; just keep going.” At one point there was an evacuation and we had to work through that; it was very stressful working through the fact that we were safe, yet surrounded by dozens of burning homes. We worked it through command, and were able to stay in the area. (When I went back days later there were houses left right where this group of firefighters had been fighting fires. It was nice to know we won the battle for a few dozen homes.)After a couple of hours of working in Beacon Hill, I called Patrick and Ryan and we headed up to the REOC. We talked briefly with Chief Allen and Chief Butz about critical infrastructure and what has to be left for a city to survive. Somehow, through all of this, the city crews had kept the water going to most of the hydrants, and dozens of fire departments were on the way to help. We were tasked with protecting the hospital. We went back to Station 1, grabbed a few guys from Albian Sands Fire and headed to the hospital. Short on gear, we talked with people from the hospital, and received help from the security and maintenance staff. We were able to use a small amount of equipment that Albian had brought and hoses from the hospital to get good coverage of the entire roof of the hospital. You could hear, and see, that just like in Slave Lake, this fire had turned into dozens of small battles across a rather huge battlefield.Just as we finished getting the roof covered, Capt. Pat Duggan of the Fort McMurray Fire Department came up to the hospital to take command of this area. (Duggan had been married to my cousin, and quickly recognized Ryan and me; funny how small the fire world is. We talked about whether all his family members were out, and they were.) Duggan spotted smoke and fire in a nearby neighbourhood and left with Ryan and Patrick in our one-ton truck: the three of them started that fire fight with a garden hose and a booster reel off the small tank in that one-ton. Duggan quickly called in reinforcements and within minutes had started a fire fight that would last hours and save an entire downtown neighbourhood. From there, we went to a backyard fire with another Fort Mac officer and knocked that down with a garden hose and booster reel again. I was so impressed with the Fort Mac utilities people – all that water being used and yet they somehow kept it going. We went back to the hospital where ash was falling constantly now while the Abasand neighbourhood burned. (Along with half our structure-protection equipment – we didn’t find that out until later). It sounded like a war zone – fireworks from the store going off, propane tanks, oxygen/acetylene torch tanks going off. The smoke was thick and the ash was intense. Duggan called me right then; we talked about the area he was in and hung up. I didn’t get a chance to see him or talk to him again during our time in Fort Mac, but I’m proud to say we worked together.   View the embedded image gallery online at: http://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleria0a3963a83b While we waited for trucks to arrive from Slave Lake, we stopped at Station 1 for some water and a bite to eat. As I was walking to the washroom I almost ran smack into a horse.  That’s right – a horse. The owners could not get to their trailer so they evacuated with their two horses to the hall. Add that to the list of things I’ve never seen before. At about 11 p.m. our two trucks arrived from Slave Lake. We checked in at Station 1, picked up firefighter Chad Grunow with Fort McMurray Fire, and headed up into Thickwood for our next assignment. (Grunow stayed with our crews through our entire time in Fort Mac, guiding us, saving his beloved city, even letting our firefighters stay with him in his home; a true friend and a heck of a firefighter.) This assignment was to assist with putting out some wildland fires that kept sneaking up to fence lines and starting structural fires. That completed, we assisted in a neighbourhood where about 10 trailers were on fire. From memory, I believe there were crews from Fort Mac and its new recruit class, Syncrude, Albian Sands, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Slave Lake and Anzac, and I’ve probably missed a few. It was amazing to see all of these people working together trying to save this neighbourhood. This went on until 4 a.m. ,when we finally headed down to MacDonald Island. We parked our trucks, found cots, and stayed there breathing in thick smoke for a couple hours.  I never thought I’d see something like Slave Lake again – we trained hard, shared the lessons learned and participated in every after-action review we could find to make sure an it wouldn’t happen again. I believe the days, weeks, months and years ahead will be even tougher on the people of Fort McMurray than they were here in Slave Lake (it’s hard to believe but I’m sad to say I’m sure of it), and that the after-action reviews will be gruelling, but always remember this: no one died in Fort McMurray (although there was a tragic loss during the evacuation and those young adults will never be forgotten) and 90 per cent of the city was saved, including all critical infrastructure. The people of Fort McMurray will rebuild. A small piece of my heart will always be with them. As terrible as it was, as scary as it was, there is nowhere on Earth I would rather have been that day than in Fort McMurray, trying to help save a city with my brothers and sisters of the Fort McMurray Fire Department. Chief Allen and Chief Butz were amazing to work with; they listened and respected our views based solely on stories out of Slave Lake. In the days that followed as we took on different roles and different fire fights in the city, we worked with hundreds of firefighters from across the province. It was a different experience from Slave Lake as we were there to help in a different way – it wasn’t our city burning. The lessons captured this time will be different, will be from another perspective and will no doubt lead to new ideas and solutions.  Looking forward, we need to examine evacuations. (Mandatory needs to mean mandatory, and the RCMP need legislation to enforce the evacuation.) How, and who fights these urban interface fires needs to be reviewed, and the proper training, equipment, and trucks need to be developed and purchased. Unified command between fire services and forestry needs to be solidified and adopted by all. Healthcare follow-up needs to be implemented for all people who stayed behind and came from afar to assist in extinguishing this fire. The toxins from this type of urban interface fire are not fully understood yet.In July 2011, I wrote in Canadian Firefighter: “The biggest lesson learned is we have to plan farther – when you’re in wildland areas the world is changing, the weather in the world is changing, and we have to plan with that change.”This outlook has changed the way our whole fire department operates. We were always a stay-ahead department – if one truck is good we send two, if two trucks are good we send three, and we can, because we’re a regional fire service.We can add extensive FireSmart operations to this now. I had even said if we had 300 fire trucks lined up we could not have stopped Slave Lake because of 100-kilometre-an-hour winds. If we had that many trucks lined up in Fort Mac could we have saved it all? There is no way to know for sure, but I will say these words one more time: get ahead, stay ahead.As the wildfire continued to burn, we heard the stories from firefighters involved and critical pieces that were learned from Slave Lake: use of heavy equipment to separate homes saved hundreds, or maybe even thousands of other houses; having water through thick and thin was huge – the utilities people were incredible; transportation folks made sure routes were clear and trucks were fuelled – just amazing. There will always be more to learn, but there were some lessons learned from previous fires.For our crews here in Slave Lake it had been an active spring with multiple deployments and many busy days; we think of our fellow firefighters in Fort McMurray and hope that they remembered to take care of themselves, and to take care of each other. To Chief Allen, and Chief Butz – remember to go easy on yourselves; you did a great job in an extreme environment. Jamie Coutts is the fire chief of Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service in Alberta. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @chiefcoutts
On Tuesday, May 3, we had heard that things in Fort McMurray were getting bad: people were being evacuated and the threat to the city was huge. In the afternoon, I had been talking with one of my captains with the High River Fire Department, Brent McGregor. McGregor had been a training officer in Fort McMurray before moving to High River Fire, and he was concerned about the city and the guys up there as this had been his home for a number of years.
The County of Grande Prairie in Alberta, in early conversations with Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership (GPREP), had committed personnel for deployment for the incident occurring in Fort McMurray. This commitment was for roles specific to the Incident Management Team (IMT). (GPREP is an emergency response partnership comprising the County of Grande Prairie, the City of Grande Prairie, the Town of Wembley, the Town of Beaverlodge, the Town of Sexsmith and Village of Hythe.)
Editor Laura King spoke with Chris Fuz Schwab, the deputy chief in Smoky Lake, Alta., after he returned from Fort McMurray. This is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the September 2015 edition of Fire Fighting in Canada. It has been updated.
Editor’s note: Sue Henry is a deputy chief with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency. Editor Laura King spoke with Henry following the deployment of the all-hazards Canada Task Force 2 to Fort McMurray.
Rescuers should be aware of government rulings that affect the construction of vehicles so that they can adopt new extrication strategies.
Peer pressure is present in every fire station and can contribute to dangerous situations.

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