Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Big Brother is watching

Laura King   

Features Blogs Editor’s blog

March 29, 2010

Believe it or not, people often confuse Fire Fighting in Canada with Fire Engineering , the U.S.-based magazine that we consider our big brother – bigger budget, bigger audience, bigger everything but little Canadian content.

So it was interesting to meet Fire Engineering editor-in-chief Bobby Halton at the Firefighters Speak Up event in Ilderton, Ont., on Saturday. Halton, a former chief and a cancer survivor whose lithe frame (he has gone from 240 pounds to about 165) is a testimony to the ravages of the disease, did a 3.5-hour training presentation to volunteer firefighters from several Ontario communities.

Fire Engineering Editor-in-chief
Bobby Halton (centre) with Jeff
Musser, Lonnie Fltecher, Carlin Riley,
Blair Harvey, Steve Cook and Mike
Reid at the FireFighting in Canada
sponsored Firefighters Speak Up
Saturday in Ilderton, Ont.
Photo by Laura King. Click here
to view larger image

Halton, of course, co-wrote the Fire Command books with retired Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini but, he says, much of what’s in them is out of date. A new edition is in the works. The point, he says, is that the fire service is changing and we need to embrace that change instead of living by the old rules.

We all know about lightweight construction and highly combustible contents and flashover, Halton said, but “we have a predilection for interior attack . . . and if we don’t go in then we’re cowards,” he said. “And you’re looking at a gutless coward. In my world the job of the first due engine company is to locate the fire. If you go in searching and you don’t know where the fire is, you end up . . . dead. You’ve got to know where the fire is.”

Good advice.

presentation was the fifth anniversary of Firefighters Speak Up, the brainchild
of a group of like-minded volunteer firefighters who wanted to bring training
and education to those who rarely get the opportunity to attend events like FDIC
(of which Halton is the education director.)

Riley, a career firefighter in Kitchener and a volunteer in his home
community of Ilderton, and Blair Harvey, a sergeant with the London Police and a
volunteer district chief in Ilderson, were charged with escorting Halton to the
event. Friday night while en route, Harvey’s pager went off for a grass fire.
Halton, video camera in tow, insisted that they go to the call. Being old
school, Halton asked Harvey if his crews would bring brooms
to bang out he fire. Harvey said no, they’d drown it. About 16
firefighters showed up at the scene. One of the last to arrive was an older,
obviously experienced volunteer firefighter, who proceeded to hand out brooms. ‘Nuff


Among Halton’s
many messages was the fact that our brains are programmed to do or see certain things
based on training or what we’re told. Try this exercise that Halton did with firefighters on Saturday. Watch this video and count the number of
passes the white team makes – pay close attention as it’s tough to count
the passes.

Now, did
you see the bear walk through the basketball players? Neither did ANY of the
firefighters in the room on Saturday – because they were told to count the
number of passes and that’s what they focused on.

message, eh.

The 2011 edition of Firefighters Speak Up – in the tenth anniversary year of 9/11 – features FDNY Batallion Chief John Salka, founder and president of Fire Command Training and, if all goes according to plan, members of FDYN's Ladder 6, which, together with Engine 9 out of the Chinatown area of Manhattan, was the only company not to lose a single man on Sept. 11, 2001. It'll be worth the trip to Ilderton. 

were at least eight fatalities this weekend – one in an apartment fire in
northern New Brunswick, one in Nova Scotia on Friday, two in separate fires in Toronto
and four in a massive blaze in Montreal. And politicians wonder why the fire
service is fighting for residential sprinklers . . .



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