Extrication tips: Best practices for patient care

Extrication tips: Best practices for patient care

Canadian Firefighter’s extrication expert Chad Roberts explains the steps to proper patient assessment and care in his latest column.

No lights, no sirens: Autism awareness changes incident response

No lights, no sirens: Autism awareness changes incident response

Assistant editor Lauren Scott finds that first responders across Canada are taking autism awareness training to better serve individuals on the spectrum.

Fit for duty: Improving your functional movement

Fit for duty: Improving your functional movement

Canadian Firefighter columnist Sherry Dean explains how firefighters can limit injuries with daily exercises, keeping themselves fit for duty.

Timbits: A heads-up method for getting down low

Timbits: A heads-up method for getting down low

When on scene in a smoked out building, firefighters know to get low. Canadian Firefighter’s Tim Llewellyn offers a different crawling technique that allows firefighters to keep their heads up, while staying low to the ground.

Improving performance: How data and teamwork can help reach department goals

Improving performance: How data and teamwork can help reach department goals

Senior management and union leadership in Surrey, B.C., have developed an incentive program that has streamlined operations. Chief Len Garis and Deputy Chief Larry Thomas explain how the department is using data to drive performance.

May 23, 2017, Oakville, Ont. - My average day involves sitting in front of a computer, editing stories, and lots of coffee. What it doesn't involve is crawling through smoke, cutting up cars or running hoses. But the day I spent at the Oakville Fire Department was not an average day.Before I suited up in editor Laura King's gear, I was given a truck tour and shown around the training facility. The alarm went off and the firefighters had to race off to a nearby school. It seemed as if it took no more than 30 seconds for the guys to suit up and drive off.It probably took me 15 minutes to put on my turnout gear. Just as I was feeling comfortable in the gear, and feeling the weight of the SCBA on my back, Training Officer Darren Van Zandbergen slipped a smoke-simulation screen into my helmet and I was once again uncomfortable . . . and essentially blind.I never realized how little is visible through smoke. I assumed some light would peek through; crawling on the floor feeling my way around walls and fallen beams I realized how wrong I was. It was nerve-wracking to blindly feel my way through the training building, but ironically it was an eye-opening experience.I have edited Extrication Tips columns for Canadian Firefighter, but I finally got to experience what it's all about. The tools were much heavier than I expected, my previous extrication experience having been limited to on paper. It was tough, but I managed cut through the windshield and the sedan door.By the time I attended the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference that weekend, I felt I had a better understanding of the job. I was enrolled in the municipal officials seminar and attended a training day at the Fire & Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) in Mississauga.That day I spent in Oakville made me seem like a total pro at FESTI, so many thanks to everyone in Oakville!With "KING" on my back and looking like a pro, a few people at FESTI asked if I was from the King City Fire Department. Funnily enough, I was born, raised and still live in King City. What a way to represent my hometown!There's only so much you can learn in front of a computer. Getting out from behind my desk was one of the most valuable experiences to help me edit the work of fire chiefs and firefighters to the best of my abilities. I have so much more to learn about fire, but hopefully with your help, Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter readers, I will get there. I'll never be able to understand the ins and outs like you do, but it's worth trying.I feel really lucky to be able to report on the fire industry. Even more so, I feel lucky that I can edit knowing that I am safe because my local fire department has that under control. After each training session, I was reminded not to take emergency services for granted.So, the least I can do is bring relevant and informative stories to the fire service industry! Let me know what matters to you as a fire service professional? What do you want to read about? I am looking forward to learning more about the industry as an assistant editor, and maybe I will get to attend a few more training sessions in the process.Lauren Scott is the assistant editor of Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter magazines. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
May 18, 2017, Toronto - A firefighter with experience in water-ice rescue testified Wednesday at an inquest examining training deaths that he avoids exercises in icy, swift water because it is too dangerous.
Jan. 19, 2017, Toronto -  It’s complicated, this two-hatter issue. But the gist of it is this: an American-based trade union is denying its members the freedom that other Canadians have to work and do what they want in their spare time – build decks, plow snow, fix plumbing, be volunteer/part-time firefighters in their home communities.The union – the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – on Monday tried four of its members who work full time in Mississauga, Ont., and also work part time¬ in Halton Hills, a community northwest of Toronto with a composite fire department.The IAFF constitution prohibits secondary employment – it forbids firefighters from working part time in another union shop (as firefighters, paramedics or public-safety officers), and members who do so are disciplined for violating an oath. Oddly, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association allows, by its own count, about 1,000 of its members to work as paramedics, without reprisal. Monday’s session ¬– an internal trial board hearing ¬– was closed; Mississauga’s past union president Mark Train, who sometimes represents the union in legal matters, declined to discuss details, saying the process has not concluded and, “as such I will not comment on the matter.”The hearing started and ended Monday but the trial board has a period of time during which to mete out penalties. One of the four firefighters on trail admitted to violating the IAFF constitution and resigned Monday night from the Halton Hills Fire Department. The penalty being considered for the other firefighters is a $1,000 initial fine followed by monthly levies of $500, and another $500 for every six months during which the part-time activities continue – a fairly blunt deterrent. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the union would revoke the two-hatters’ memberships, thereby potentially affecting their full-time jobs; most collective agreements require municipalities to employ only firefighters who are associatin members, and the IAFF has pressed towns and cities to terminate firefighters who have been dismissed from the union.The Halton Hills firefighters represented themselves at Monday’s hearing – legal counsel was not provided; in fact, the municipality is eliminating two-hatters through attrition, and has declined to hire two hatters for its part-time roster since 2011 in anticipation of union action.That’s in contrast to Caledon, Ont., a large, composite department with 22 unionized career firefighters and more than 250 volunteers. Some Brampton firefighters who work part time in Caledon received letters from their locals in the fall, making it clear that there would be repercussions if they continued to respond to calls as two-hatters. Some two-hatters handed in their pagers but the issue is ongoing. Town of Caledon management is supporting the two-hatters and providing legal counsel. And that may lead to the test of Bill 109, which was introduced by the governing Liberals and passed in 2016; it amended Ontario’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act to include a non-discrimination clause meant to ensure that full-time firefighters can also work part time in their smaller, home communities. But there’s politics at play. Ontario’s IAFF members, of course, roundly backed Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals during the 2014 provincial election; if Bill 109 is, indeed, tested, and holds up to scrutiny, that sea of support could evaporate. While the IAFF is American-based, the two-hatter issue arises only if charges are laid by a member of the offending firefighter’s home local, or by someone else affected by the two-hatting activity. I’m at a bit of a loss to understand how unionized firefighters in Mississauga are affected by their colleagues’ part-time employment in Halton Hills, but maybe I’m missing something.And, in what seems to be a conflicting philosophy, the OPFFA’s fire-paramedic proposal would allow members who are both firefighters and paramedics to administer symptom relief to patients at medical calls; critics claim the plan is simply a way to ensure firefighter jobs. Read between the lines.
Jan. 4, 2017, Slave Lake, Alta. -  Run of the mill calls, or are they?It was 10 p.m. on a cold Wednesday night in November and the tones went off for a vehicle fire in the southwest part of town. Just another vehicle fire, I thought. Upon arrival our Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service duty officer (someone covers the area 24/7 with a command vehicle that goes out before crews) saw a small amount of smoke coming from the front of a vehicle that was crashed into the front of a mobile home. The calls to the hall were hurried and crews could tell that the situation was more than a typical vehicle fire. With temperatures at -23 C and the wind 30 km/h out of the northwest, this was destined to be a cold fight.On arrival, firefighters hurried to their positions and started the attack on the SUV fire that by now (seven minutes into call) was starting to spread into the corner of the mobile home it was smashed into. With the SUV and the trailer on fire, a second hose was deployed and more resources were called to the scene. This particular mobile home was located in a tight cul-de-sac and parking was at a premium – the structure was flanked on one side by a house and on the other by an open lot (which firefighters had been at the previous month for a struck gas line). The firefighters started dousing the flames in the vehicle, while the second crew set up for the mobile-home fire. Just as things were getting really exciting, a most peculiar thing happened . . . the SUV started rolling down the driveway and out into the road, slowly at first and then picking up speed as it left the driveway and went out into the cul-de-sac. This flaming vehicle headed past firefighters with flames dancing, and ended up just 10 feet from the side of our brand new, $500,000 custom-cab truck!Firefighters standing by tried to slow the roll, and firefighters moved hose lines and attacked the fire with new vigour as the very truck that brought them was threatened. At the same time, the mobile-home fire had reached the soffits (plastic no less) and moved into the attic space. On this newer style mobile home, the new, vaulted ceiling left small, cut up, awkward attic spaces and the fire was hard to follow.   View the embedded image gallery online at: https://www.cdnfirefighter.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=latest&layout=latest&Itemid=1#sigProGalleriabfaa586171 The weather made every attempt to stop us, freezing up masks, turning water to ice to get the vehicle moving backwards, freezing up nozzles and firefighters alike. Command ordered an aggressive interior attack and vented the attic space and pulled drywall ahead of the fire. Firefighters held the fire at the halfway mark despite the overwhelming weather odds, and the close call out front. Insulation froze to everything, leaving firefighters looking like half-plucked chickens. Masks were frozen, and were later removed while overhaul continued (there was great air movement and all smoke and off gassing was removed by natural ventilation). Firefighters tried seeing through iced and fogged visors and safety glasses but, in the end, two were treated for debris in their eyes. Not a great outcome and as many judge, others who know and have been there understand.As the fires were brought under control, the investigation started and as weird as this call was, the reason it started followed right along. A kid in the house (14 years old) with a learner’s driving license, had decided that a trip to the store (three blocks away) had to be by SUV on this cold night. After warming the SUV, she decided to back out of the driveway – while the SUV was in drive. After slamming into the mobile home, she ran inside and alerted the other occupants. As the others were leaving, the SUV had already caught fire. Hard decision after hard decision combined with freezing temperatures, and wind that blew right through us, made this a fire for the record books. Seventeen firefighters on four trucks spent three hours gaining an upper hand on these fires. Many rotating shifts and a crafty crew familiar with cold-weather events got us to this positive outcome. It didn’t hurt that we had spare gloves, toques, and Tim Hortons to keep us warm.To me the lesson this night was be prepared – have dry clothes, bad-weather SOGS, and firefighters who can adapt quickly and efficiently. Calls like this should remind us all of those long cold nights on which the satisfaction of a job well done, and the community of the fire service, are all that can keep us warm.Jamie Coutts is chief of the Greater Slave Lake Regional Fire Service and a regular contributor to Fire Fighting in Canada / Canadian Firefighter. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it @chiefcoutts
Nov. 24, 2016, Niagara Falls, Ont. – Sometimes, as an objective and trained observer, it’s fascinating to be the proverbial fly on the wall, to gather information, filter the rhetoric, and over time, give readers a clear and contextual picture of fire-service issues. That’s what I’m doing (or trying to do, despite some obstacles) this week, at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) mid-term conference in Niagara Falls. While the OAFC unveiled the basics of its new strategic plan Wednesday morning – enhanced communication, revenue generation, government relations, and members services are at the crux of the document – it is, of course, what’s going on in the background that has people talking. While the OAFC is getting its ducks in a row for its four-year plan– more detail was provided and approval sought from members in Thursday’s closed businesses session – the much larger, better organized Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) is ensconced in its legislative conference at Queen’s Park, and it has the ear of the governing Liberals. Although the chiefs association has made considerable strides in government relations recently, the better-financed OPFFA, with a strong presence at the legislature and 13,000 boots on the ground, is, as OAFC executive vice-president Rick Arnel noted Wednesday morning, simply, better resourced. Again this week, the union has caused a bit of a kerfuffle with its fire-medic-turned-fire-paramedic-turned-patients-first proposal, about which the government is asking municipalities for input, and about which the chiefs have not been consulted by government. The two associations met earlier this week; OPFFA president Rob Hyndman and others, with the OAFC board, to pitch the IAFF’s new fire-ground survival protocol; the two groups have also discussed other issues, including the ever-frustrating two-hatter controversy, of which Brampton and Caledon firefighters are the most recent targets. Several people have said this week that Tuesday’s chiefs-union get together was productive and that the two associations can, indeed, work well together on issues. Save, perhaps, the fire-paramedic situation. Bizarrely, the government issued a discussion paper on Monday titled Patients First: Expanding Medical Responses, which, ostensibly, addresses challenges with land-ambulance service and promotes the OPFFA’s proposal to give expanded duties to firefighters who are also employed as paramedics, in a tiered-response situation (it’s not clear how many firefighters also work as paramedics). According to the discussion paper, this approach would be voluntary for municipalities. Any changes, of course, to firefighters’ roles, require amendments to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. Essentially, the government wants input about the fire-paramedic proposal “to determine service viability and opportunities.” Ontario, of course, post-amalgamation in 1998, has three tiers of government: municipal, regional and provincial. Fire is municipally funded; EMS is regional. And according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), that complicates things. The government document includes no financials, organizational or operations details. Simply, this: “There are three levels of paramedic scope of practice in Ontario. The ministry is exploring the potential option to allow eligible municipalities to choose to allow full-time firefighter to provide care up to the first level (primary care paramedic level).” A companion document – a lengthy survey being sent to stakeholders, including municipalities – however, makes it clear that any new costs would be municipal responsibilities. “Funding responsibility of the optional service will remain at 100% municipal cost,” the survey documents says. “The proposal would be an optional approach that municipalities can choose to implement at councils’ discretion based upon local decision and needs.” AMO has consistently opposed the fire-medic proposal, since it was first introduced in March 2015. “Municipal governments are deeply concerned about the direct and significant impact of the proposal on municipal emergency services, both financially and operationally,” AMO says on its website. “We will read the [government] discussion paper carefully, but to date, there has been no evidence or cost-benefit analysis seen that shows such an approach would improve patient outcomes.” More bluntly, AMO says that given the lack of evidence, it’s flummoxed that the proposal is a provincial priority given that municipalities would bear all the costs., labour challenges, and risks. “Fire services are 100 [per cent] funded by municipalities and only an elected municipal council has the authority to determine the level and type of fire protection services needed by its community,” AMO says. “We are also concerned that if any municipal council agrees to this proposal it would be replicated throughout Ontario by the current interest arbitration system.” Instead, AMO says, it wants the government to redevelop land-ambulance dispatch to improve patient outcomes. To a fly on the wall and an objective and trained observer, it’s interesting to hear the chatter about issues of the day: frustration that on the one hand, some union members refuse to allow their brethren work as part-time firefighters in their home municipalities, but on the other, could be seen to be impinging on another trade union to guarantee themselves employment longevity.        
Nov. 23, 2016, Niagara Falls, Ont. - Not once, in Fire Marshal Ross Nichols’ hour-long address to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs on Wednesday, did he claim to be “working on” the myriad initiatives that fire services across the province are anxious to see come to fruition.
Oct. 26, 2016 – An email landed in my in box last week from the always affable Brent Ross, spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety; Ross was replying to my request for details about the Ontario government’s response to the recommendations from the Elliot Lake inquiry.The gist is this: an RFS – request for service – has been issued for a review of emergency management in Ontario. The successful vendor will be engaged in November (more than two years after the inquiry recommendations were released); the review will begin in December and be completed in the spring (five years after the collapse of the Algo Centre mall); the process includes consultation but it’s not clear with whom.  “As part of the emergency management review,” Ross said in the email, “the incident management system will be reviewed and a way forward developed.” Ontario’s incident management system is a weighty document developed years ago with good intentions but it fails to suit the province’s myriad fire-department configurations and staffing models – career, composite, volunteer, urban, suburban, rural – and needs an overhaul.With emergency management becoming more relevant given weather events and security issues, it will be interesting to see how the review deals with a key recommendation of Elliot Lake Commissioner Paul Belanger, specifically, to steer clear of unified command.“There should be only one person in overall charge of a response; a ‘unified command’ structure should be avoided,” Belanger wrote in his final report from the inquiry. Yet emergency services across the province are training on responses to major incidents using unified command. Last week in Mississauga, police, fire and EMS personnel used unified command in an exercise that simulated an attack on a pipeline; and a few weeks ago in East Gwillimbury, unified command was embraced in a tri-services an exercise involving a threat.Belanger’s logic is as follows: “One final decision maker is essential to avoid conflicts or impasses caused by failure to reach a consensus. The concept of a unified command structure intrinsically contradicts the unity of command doctrine because it fails to ensure that decisions are made by someone who is ultimately responsible and accountable.”Indeed, to make his point, Belanger quotes the testimony of Dan Hefkey, the former Commissioner of Community Safety, who helped to write the provincial IMS doctrine.“So, under unified command, it is operating on the assumption that . . . I don’t know everything you know and you don’t know everything I know, so we are dependent, co-dependent, as a result that’s why you have a unified command,” Hefkey said. “And it then, when you enter into that agreement . . . there is no supreme arbiter to things; you and I are committing to commanding this incident jointly so that we can come to a mutually acceptable conclusion, so that your interests and my priorities are all met . . .  But. . . it’s not clean and it’s not to say that you’re going to have harmony one hundred per cent of the time. There are times when there are disagreement but when you decide that you are entering into a unified command arrangement that’s what you are doing.” Question: “A course of action between the two leaders of a unified command, assuming it is two, to disagree is not acceptable, correct?Hefkey: “No, they can disagree.” Question: “Sorry, if the disagreement results in no decision being made?”Hefkey: “That’s unacceptable.”Question: “That’s unacceptable?”Hefkey: “Absolutely correct.” Question: “You, in that particular case you would have dysfunctional unified command?”Hefkey. “That’s correct.” “As I have indicated,” Belanger said in the report, “the unified command structure is not well understood by the men and women who have to work with it on a regular basis. This difficulty is, in my view, because they understand that a system which allows for the possibility of clashing or inconsistent decisions, is unworkable.”Essentially, the commissioner said, the province’s incident-management system should be amended to eliminate the unified command model and require one incident commander “at all times.”According to Brent Ross, once the emergency management and IMS consultation/review is completed in the spring, the ministry will develop proposals to government in response to the review findings. I expect Commissioner Belanger will be watching, with interest.
Oct. 18, 2016, Toronto – I waited and watched and, sure enough, Friday afternoon, the Ontario government posted an update about the recommendations from the inquiry into the Elliot Lake mall collapse and the emergency response to it. It’s a brief – and rather vague – document. There were, you’ll recall, 71 recommendations in the Oct. 14, 2014, inquiry report – many dealing with building inspections and inspectors (the government has, indeed, done some work in those areas), and 31 specific to emergency management. There are, in the emergency-response section of the press release, nine updates, the first, of course, being a review of emergency management and the provincial incident management system.  The mall collapsed June 23, 2012; the inquiry convened in August 2013; and the recommendations were released two years ago. Lest I sound like a broken record, some context: In that time, the province of British Columbia – buoyed by a handful of dogged chief fire officers – released a comprehensive report by its fire-services liaison group, created new minimum training standards, developed the Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook, and passed the new Fire Safety Act. There are lots of action words in the Ontario government’s press release – reviewing, developing, increasing, strengthening, ensuring, exploring, engaging – all in the present tense, all ongoing, all yet to be completed. For example, “Reviewing Ontario’s emergency management and incident management systems to further enhance and improve the province’s ability to respond to emergencies.”No details are provided and, as far as I’m aware, little has changed. (I’m waiting for an email reply from the Office of the Fire Marshal, specifically about the status of the emergency-management and IMS reviews.) Certainly there had been talk about committees and sub committees and both review processes, but nothing has come to fruition.Indeed, the government web page about Ontario’s incident-management system still links to the 2008 provincial IMS doctrine, as it’s known, and which inquiry witnesses called unwieldy and impractical.Why the slower-than-the-speed-of-government response? Let’s review. In August 2013, the Office of the Fire Marshal merged with Emergency Management Ontario. The mandate of the combined agency was (note the past tense) to work with municipal partners to deliver fire-safety and emergency-management programs and services, share expert advice with local decision makers, and support municipal response efforts in emergencies.In August 2015, fire marshal Ted Wieclawek left the office. OPP inspector Ross Nichols was named interim fire marshal in October 2015; his contract has now twice been extended while the government seeks the (apparently elusive) most-qualified candidate.I have witnessed myriad presentations about the reorganization of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management; like everyone else, I waited and watched for change and progress but was told by various OFMEM officials that the reorganization was extensive and time consuming and that, in the words of the fire marshal, “we’re working on it.”In September in Thunder Bay, Al Suleman, who was director of emergency management with the OFMEM (but is now director of standards, training and public ed), explained that the agency is reorganizing the reorganization (my words, not his) and that the two entities are separating, having found the merger not to their liking – more of an annulment than a divorce given that the marriage was never consummated.  Meantime, updates on other inquiry issues noted in Friday’s press release – urban search and rescue, OPP incident-command training, and helping municipalities handle media during emergencies – are equally vague. It’s interesting, though, that there appears to be more focus on managing the message than managing the emergency.
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.
There are many expectations of fire-service members when we answer a call, too many to count. It doesn’t matter if you are a full-timer, paid on-call, or a true volunteer, the expectations really don’t change. People expect you to know how to handle their emergencies, whatever the nature of the calls. People also expect you to handle calls in a timely, efficient manner, and to quickly stabilize the situation.    
A large British Columbia fire department has experienced measurable operational and safety improvements after introducing pay incentives for its 396 unionized staff based on department-wide performance.
I have had the great privilege of being part of the fire service for two decades. Over the last 20 years I have grown, and cultured an understanding about people, service, leadership, management, medicine, and of course fire fighting. In this business it’s all about giving, and making the fire service better. In turn, the service provides you with rewards and life skills that are priceless.
More and more, I hear stories about labour and management working together to achieve positive outcomes – programs such as the IAFF Wellness Fitness Initiative, for example – and buy-in from firefighters to help management and the corporation, reach benchmarks.
It was an astute juror at the inquest into two firefighter training deaths who asked the most poignant question: “Do you think ice-water rescue training should be required?”
For the past 20 years, I have been responding to tragic incidents and comforting those in need during their worst days. In April, my wife, Cathy, and I were literally in the eye of the storm. We were on vacation in Australia as Cyclone Debbie struck. As an emergency responder, this experience provided me with some amazing insight and confirmed some best practices that are integral to emergency management.
It’s a double play on words, to say that firefighter Gary Kendall and firefighting student Adam Brunt were in over their heads during swift-water rescue training in the St. Clair and Saugeen rivers in 2010 and 2015 respectively. But it’s the truth, though no fault of their own.
Every morning I get into my vehicle, turn the key and, due to years of engineering behind the internal combustion engine, my ride starts up and I’m on my way. I then drop in at the local coffee shop, where pleasant and observant staff start making my regular order before I reach for the change in my pocket. I never think about saying “Sue, the coffee process is running top-notch today.” Maybe I should.
Q At what point did you realize the magnitude of the incident and the potential for a media circus?
The superintendent of Toronto’s Badminton and Racquet Club met Capt. Steve Green in the driveway on Monday,  Feb. 14. There was a small fire, the super said, on the second floor, that he had put out with an extinguisher. Nothing to worry about.
Recruiting firefighters is becoming more challenging. Incorporating a comprehensive onboarding program may help departments attract and retain solid members.
Remember when Toronto mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to shovel snow and the whole country guffawed?
Now that fall is upon us and the cold winter months are right around the corner, this is my favourite time to spend free days in the kitchen creating some new recipes. I like to think of a new dish as a blank canvas; what can I do to make this canvas really pop? I have always prided my cooking on bold flavours, and I have learned over the years that spices are what bring the blank canvas to life.
There is no doubt that fire fighting, weight training and endurance training are hard on our bodies. I have never heard anyone say the older they get, the easier it is to recover. Injury is a given when you lead an active lifestyle, but there are many ways to treat and work through an injury. One of the better approaches is to prevent injuries before they happen, but how do you do that?
Finally friends, summer is upon us. As Canadians, we patiently wait for these few cherished months to get outside, reacquaint ourselves with our neighbours and enjoy our beautiful surroundings. In the cooking world, summer means it’s time to roll out the grill. It is hard to beat the satisfaction of standing over your grill on a beautiful summer day. Needless to say, everyone loves a good barbecue.
When it comes to personal responsibility for health and wellness, most folks avoid the truth. It’s tough to admit that you are not doing the things you should be. To add insult to injury, through inactivity, you not only fall short on accountability, you most definitely put yourself at a higher risk of health problems.
As a naturopathic doctor, I have been helping firefighters detox their bodies for 15 years. At my practice, I have introduced the use of far infrared sauna therapy to the detoxification program. In the last few months, I have been called upon by a number of fire departments to report on the medical evidence that supports the use of far infrared sauna therapy.
The smoke and debris have settled. Hot spots have been extinguished. The trucks are clean and back in service. The constant hum of the engines and the roar of the flames are starting to wear off, but your shoulders still ache from your pack. The call is over, but your mind races. You are unable to leave the day’s work behind. Inevitably, you take some of the incident home with you.  
For good reason, firefighters pay a considerable amount of attention to keeping equipment properly fuelled.  Trucks, saws, fans and generators are regularly and meticulously checked. We all know how a machine runs with the wrong fuel or not enough fuel. It is equally important that firefighters fuel their bodies properly every day.
I can hardly believe I have been sharing recipes, tips and cooking stories from life in the firehouse for more than six years. My first column spoke to the camaraderie and huge benefits that a platoon can experience from time spent together in the kitchen.
Recently I read yet another article on HIIT, high intensity interval training. The author touted HIIT as the latest greatest. It is hardly that. HIIT has been around for decades, but science does continue to support the benefits and results of this type of training.
Fire fighting is a physical job, with its most valuable resource being capable manpower. Most fire departments require a test of physical fitness prior to employment, and may offer varying degrees of wellness programming for active members.
One of my favourite parts of ushering in a new year is reflecting on goals set 12 months ago, reliving the accomplishments, and perhaps, reviewing the misses. Just like the first day of the NHL season, the new year is a fresh start, and everyone has a chance to win the Stanley Cup!
Our department has just completed a training program with our recruits. The program lasted three months, and a significant component was a daily physical workout at 7 a.m., rain or shine. Although the day’s training can be rigorous, the morning routines included runs, circuits, an obstacle course, yoga and mobility.
Oct. 11, 2017 – One single ounce of oxygen. That’s all it would have taken for an explosion to have occurred at Pacific BioEnergy’s Prince George, B.C. facility in August 2017. It was Thursday, Aug. 24 when chairman and chief executive officer Don Steele found out that one of the wood pellet fuel company’s silos began smoldering overnight.Steele was hosting a group of seven guests who had flown from Nagoya, Japan for a tour of the facility. “I advised them," he explained. "I said we could go up and have a look. We might even go on the property and they wouldn’t see much. But, at that point in time we were evacuating,” Steele said.Although reported as a fire in mainstream media, the incident was a smoldering situation. Wood pellet consultancy company FutureMetrics’ John Swaan founded Pacific BioEnergy Corporation in 1994. His direction on-site is one of the main reasons why an explosion didn’t take place.What was the winning solution? Nitrogen injection. In an industry where the potential for explosions is all too common, this was the first time that a North American pellet operation successfully put out a smouldering issue. “We have a number of incidents that have happened in our industry, mostly in Europe, that have not gone successfully,” Swaan said.“There were some references that I shared with Don and his key people on-site,” Swaan recalled from the day. “And then his VP of operations gathered his key people around and took a look at what the options might be and looked at the references,” he explained. “I shared the report about how best to handle these [situations], that was done in a research centre in Sweden.” “So we did some calculations, and based on those calculations, a decision was made with Don and his people to say ‘OK, let’s bring in the nitrogen.’”“A simple reaction would be to try and open [the silo] up to put out the fire, which would have been catastrophic,” Steele said. “Any oxygen entering would have been disastrous. It was a tremendously risky proposition.”The silo holds 3,500 tonnes of pellets. Steele said that’s the energy equivalent of about 10,000 barrels of oil. The incident had the potential to have the entire surrounding city evacuated.The nitrogen injection equipment was brought to the facility from neighbouring Alberta within eight to 10 hours. Alberta’s oil fields have prompted the province’s first responders to be prepared for fire suppression missions to prevent explosions. The smouldering material in the silo was injected with nitrogen for a few days until it was safe enough to remove in small amounts. The nitrogen arrives as a liquid and needs to be turned into a vapour.“I think the first principle of it is, liquid nitrogen is an inert gas,” Steele said. “In other words, it can’t explode or burn. So you use it to push the oxygen out of the container and then try and seal it off. We tried with foam and various things, but once you’ve got the oxygen content below a certain level, [about] 10 per cent, you’ve minimized the risk of an explosion. So then you can start pulling the material out.”“We basically wetted it down, and over a course of seven days eliminated the risk, moved the material out, quenched the fire risk and then stockpiled it over in another part of our property,” Steele said.“I think the key thing is nobody overreacted… I don’t even think there was a Band-Aid.”Swaan and Steele said the cooperation between industry and first responders was what ensured a safe outcome.“This kind of incident has the potential of major, major injury. Our people knew how to safely handle the material and the first responders and fire department knew how to look after our people to keep them out of harm’s way,” Steele said. “They had the respiration equipment, they had the fire hoses, they had the ability and the technique for putting out a fire. Our people knew how to move the material through and safely evacuate the silo.”Half a million dollars-worth of material and product was destroyed and a lot of equipment was damaged, but Steele says everybody’s safety makes the situation a success. “It’s a happy beginning actually, because we’re beginning now to refit and add to our knowledge of our product and how to handle it,” he said. “And I think the whole industry is going to learn something from it too.” “I say anything that can be fixed with money is not a problem. You can’t fix people with money, particularly if they’re severely injured or killed.” “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ [a silo fire could happen] it’s ‘when,’” Swaan said. “But the good news is that we now as an industry have a lot of new learnings. We have experience that we can now share with the industry so that we can make it a safer industry for these types of situations.”Steele said, “The key thing is, think before you act, use other information, use your judgement, move deliberately, keep everybody safe.”This story was originally published in Canadian Biomass. 
My series on firefighter survival (see part 1, Canadian Firefighter, July 2017) focuses on the mayday call. A mayday call is for firefighters only, never for patients or for any other fire-ground emergency. When a mayday is called, everyone on scene knows a firefighter needs help.
This column is the first in a two-part series about dealing with patients involved in motor-vehicle collisions (MVCs). The next column, in January, will address research that has led to changes to how crews respond to patients at extrication incidents,.
When firefighters in Come By Chance, N.L., were called to the scene of a traffic collision in October 2016, they responded, as usual, with lights and sirens. But a puzzle-piece sticker on the car’s back windshield – the international symbol for autism – alerted rescuers to change their approach.
In each edition of Tim-bits, I select a topic or technique that was introduced in recruit academies and became engrained as fire-service doctrine, then offer a field-tested and street-smart modification to make the practice easier, safer or more effective.
In the April issue, I reviewed the general flow and pressure characteristics of standpipe systems based upon the year of their installation or upgrade. For review, standpipe systems installed before 1993 are designed to produce a flow of 500 gpm at 65 psi – which produces a good combination of volume and pressure for a 65 millimetre (2.5 inch) hose with a smooth-bore tip.
In the April issue, we discussed roles of each responder and how to set a plan at a scene. No matter how simple or complex the incident, rescuers must start with a plan to assess the severity of the scene and the condition of the patient(s).
Your crew gets a call for a working fire at a low-rise apartment complex with a person trapped. Within minutes, you are on scene. You’re told over the radio the resident is trapped on the top floor. As you and two colleagues enter the building, your core temperature begins to climb. You’re getting hot, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. You think you’re fine but you become flustered. You’re not sure why, because you’ve done this before. Your temperature begins to rise further and you can no longer focus on the search. You need to get out.
In the last few issues, we have built a foundation of key firefighter survival skills and an understanding of the importance of having these skills. We will now build upon that foundation with some integral survival strategies, beginning with mayday calls.
The dispatcher’s voice crackles loudly over the pager through the late-night silence: “Possible structure fire, 2 Gilkey Dr. – Penn Mar Plaza in Mars Borough. Caller on the 7th floor can hear smoke alarms going off and reports black smoke filling the hallway – unable to evacuate. Responding units will be Engines 42, 19, 20, 21 and 22, Truck 42, Truck 228 and Rescue 16 for the RIT.
In the January issue, we examined the first three points of the basics or foundations of fire fighting that every firefighter should know: your equipment; your crew; and your response area. The last two basics are size-up and training.
No two motor-vehicle collisions (MVCs) present the same: differences range from the vehicles involved to speed, the numbers of patients involved, and their positions in the vehicles. While it’s impossible to manage every collision scene the same way, a simple, modular approach that is scalable and uses principles of the incident management system can be applied to size-up every incident.

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