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Editor’s Blog


March 5, 2012
By Laura King


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March 5, 2012 - A bit of a mish mash for a Monday in March . . .
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First, congrats to Alex Burbidge, who becomes fire chief in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., next month.

Burbidge is a platoon chief in Vaughan, Ont., and yes, his little brother, Bryan, is the chief in King Township, Ont.

March 5, 2012 – A bit of a mish mash for a Monday in March . . .


First, congrats to Alex Burbidge, who becomes fire chief in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., next month.

Burbidge is a platoon chief in Vaughan, Ont., and yes, his little brother, Bryan, is the chief in King Township, Ont.

The Burbidge brothers have fire in their blood – dad was with the City of North York (before it amalgamated with Toronto). Here’s a great picture off all three, from the 1992 City of York recruit graduation day – and yes, please, post all the comments you like!

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Tomorrow, March 6, is the 25th anniversary of the Horticultural Technologies fire in Kitchener, Ont.

This was brought to my attention by our Trainer’s Corner columnist, Ed Brouwer, whose passion for firefighter safety is well known among readers of Fire Fighting in Canada.

Ed has been researching the Kitchener fire, along with the Plastimet fire in Hamilton, Ont., and the resulting firefighter illnesses and deaths, presumably caused by exposure to toxins.

We’ve tackled this issue in the March edition of Fire Fighting in Canada (you can see the digital version on our home page here ) – not these two Ontario incidents specifically, but we take a hard look at cancer among firefighters and tell the stories of three fire officers who valiantly fought various forms of cancer. It’s a compelling read that will make you think.

Meantime, here’s a portion of Ed’s e-mail to me – take a minute to read it and count the names:

“On March 6, 1987, the Kitchener Fire Department responded to the multiple-alarm fire at Horticultural Technologies Inc. that drew firefighters from across the city. The fire progressed through the night into the next morning. Sixty-nine firefighters, half of Kitchener's force, either battled the blaze or cleaned up the mess.

“The firefighters had no idea what was burning, but reported the smoke and flame was ‘every colour of the rainbow’. They learned later that the plant manufactured something called oasis floral foam, a hard foam-like substance used to hold floral arrangements in place and keep them moist.”

[If you’re not familiar with this fire, it will interest you to know that the firefighters on scene turned green from the dye in the floral foam – literally. You can read more here.]

“It didn't take long before the men who attended the fire started to die. In May 1989, Dave Ferrede, age 32, went on sick leave and was subsequently diagnosed with primary liver cancer. He was dead a month later.

“Then Capt. Ed Stahley was diagnosed with primary liver cancer. He died in July 1990 at age 54.

“During the summer of 1989, Sgt. Lloyd MacKillop of the Waterloo Regional Police Service, who had been the supervising police officer at the fire, developed cancer. He died in May 1990 at age 48.

“Firefighter John Divo, the local union president, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in his lungs and spine. He died in April 1990 at age 46.

“Around the same time, firefighter Henry Lecreux was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He died in February 1993 at age 52. Parkinson's disease has been linked to chronic exposure to a number of chemicals.

“The following spring, William Misselbrook – who was the day-shift platoon chief at the fire – died of liver cancer. He was 64.

“Several other firefighters who attended the blaze have skin cancers, prostate cancer, Parkinson's disease and many other health problems. Twenty three of the 69 firefighters called to the blaze have either cancer or Parkinson's disease.

“I thought it only right that we take a moment this Tuesday to remember our fallen brothers and their families. It may have been 25 years ago but I am sure for the families it seems like yesterday.”

Thanks, Ed.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about budget cuts and firefighter layoffs (Corner Brook , N.L.), councils declining to hire new firefighters (Burlington, Ont., Abbotsford, B.C. ), or – this one’s a real doozy – telling chiefs not to so much as mention hiring new firefighters until after the next municipal election (Wasaga Beach, Ont.).

Certainly, this trend is frustrating and, in some cases, could compromise firefighter – and therefore, public – safety, or force municipalities to reconsider their response capabilities.

Not to take away from the issue of fire-department funding, but after sifting through myriad stories over the weekend on budget cuts and cranky councils, it was refreshing to read in the Tillsonburg News a story about composite departments in rural Ontario pooling resources to train their recruits.

Departments in three counties in southwestern Ontario have developed a joint action training group – or JATG – a multiple municipality-run training program for new firefighters.

Fire Chief Gord Roesch of Bayham Fire & Emergency Services told the paper that the program has sped up the training process and reduced training costs.

“When I did this – we did it individually in the Tillsonburg department – it took about four-and-a-half years to get to the same level of training that these guys are going to have in a few months. It was two Thursdays a month, about two hours each, and there was other mandatory training that had to be done, like WHMIS, so we weren’t always working on this curriculum – it was fit in around everything else. So it took up a considerable time. Now the training is done in an academy-like atmosphere.”

You can read the whole story here if you need a Monday pick-me-up.

I got an e-mail last week from Fire Chief Dwane Mellish of the Bible Hill Fire Brigade in Nova Scotia, asking about coverage of the Canadian Firefighters Curling Championship in Truro later this month (March 22-31).

Some of you know my passion for the roaring game and have heard my claim-to-fame/brush-with-greatness stories about playing against Canadian and world champion and Olympic bronze medalist Colleen Jones back in my high-school curling days in Nova Scotia. (Hey, I never said I BEAT her, I said I played against her!).

Another highlight of my curling career was not as a player, but a reporter covering the 1993 Brier for the Ottawa Citizen. Nobody in the sports department wanted to do it so I volunteered (I was an editor in another department), and then listened to the crusty sports editor yell, “Hurry hard,” every time I walked into the office for the next month – sort of like how everyone in Cheers yelled NORM! but far more aggravating!

I returned to curling this season after a 19-year absence (due to kids and hockey), and had to scrap my old backswing delivery – which was designed to get the rock to the other end of the sheet in the freezing-cold Radar Base Curling Club in Sydney, N.S., which had the heaviest ice in the east – and learn to sweep on the other side. Old dog, new tricks and all that. (Shameless plug for the home team: Jamie Murphy’s Nova Scotia team was 3-1 in the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier in Saskatoon as of last night’s draw.)

Anyway, you can follow the firefighter curling on the Canadian Firefighter Curling Association site here or on the 2012 championships site here, or watch for our coverage.

I’ll be in Nova Scotia next week for March Break but head back to Ontario immediately afterwards, so I’m relying on the good folks in Colchester County, N.S., to provide curling updates and photos.

I came across an interesting story over the weekend about new firefighter shifts in London, England. Firefighters there used to work nine hour days and 15 hour nights – very close to the standard 10-14s here in Canada.

They’re now working 10.5 hour days and 13 hour nights and supervisors have found that in 2011:

• The time spent on community safety work went up by 42,229 hours, representing an increase of 13 per cent;

• The time spent carrying out home fire safety visits – where free smoke alarms are fitted in the homes of some vulnerable people – went up by 11,198 hours, representing an increase of 27 per cent;

• The time spent on training went up by 6,092 hours, representing an increase of eight per cent.

Given that the Town of Ajax fire department in Ontario is in arbitration over the 24-hour shift, and that several other Canadian fire departments may be in similar circumstances in the near future, and the myriad arguments against lengthy shifts presented during the Ajax arbitration hearings by sleep expert Dr. Stephen Lochley (look for our story in the April issue of Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly), it’ll be worth noting the reaction of London fire and emergency’s planning authority performance management committee, which will hear the results of the London trial in a presentation tomorrow. Stay tuned.

And, lastly for a Monday, those who follow us on Twitter know that we’ve been watching our Twitter Klout score. Klout is an indication of how well connected you are; it measures the effectiveness of your social networking (you can learn more at www.klout.com).

The Klout score for @fireincanada (that’s our Twitter handle, for those of you who haven’t yet embraced this form of social media) has climbed seven points in the last 30 days to 37 which is, by all accounts, impressive.

What it really means is that I’m spending a lot of time tweeting about stories and blogs and incidents to help our readers and viewers and Twitter followers stay informed (when perhaps I should be editing columns and tracking down cover photos but that’s another matter).

I learned about the Via derailment in Burlington, Ont., on Twitter, and that’s how I first heard Friday night about the Leafs firing coach Ron Wilson; it’s by far the quickest and most effective way to share information.

All of which is to say that my boss has issued a challenge to boost our Klout score – and we love a challenge! – so if you’re not on Twitter, please sign up and follow us at @fireincanada! (My significant other says it’s not Klout if you beg for followers; I respectfully disagree.)

(And shameless plug #2: I’ll be doing a presentation on social media and the fire service at FDIC Atlantic in June – the program should be out this week, check the website at www.fdic-atlantic.ca and sign up!)

Enough for a Monday in March. Off to tweet . . .


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