By Laura King
June 28, 2013, Toronto - As in any dire situation, there are stages of emotions – and in the Calgary area, some exhausted responders have turned to humour with this tidbit posted repeatedly on Facebook and Twitter in the last day or so: Directions in #YYC – Go to the nearest fire, turn left at the train derailment, and it’s the second flood on the right, next to the hippo.
June 28, 2013, Toronto – As in any dire situation, there are stages of
emotions – and in the Calgary area, some exhausted responders have
turned to humour with this tidbit posted repeatedly on Facebook and
Twitter in the last day or so: Directions in #YYC – Go to the nearest
fire, turn left at the train derailment, and it’s the second flood on
the right, next to the hippo.
No one is being disrespectful to flood victims, but it has been a long haul for those in Calgary and High River and Canmore and Redwood Meadows, and dozens of other communities, and a bit of humour is healthy given the demands on first responders across Alberta.
I talked briefly with Redwood Meadows Fire Chief Rob Evans yesterday – Rob is writing the cover story for our August issue, on the flooding. He and his crews have been working around the clock to protect their own community – 25 kilometres west of Calgary (you can read a neat story about the effort in the Calgary Herald) – and nearby Bragg Creek. Rob is a volunteer chief of a volunteer fire department. He has taken time off from his job as a dispatcher at Public Safety Communications in Calgary. Rob’s wife, Jennifer, is a fire captain and EMT. His father in law is the deputy chief and his brother in law is on the department and has been handling social media duties to keep Redwood Meadows’ 1,250 residents informed. Rob’s parents have been looking after his and Jen’s three children.
In nearby Foothills, where Chad Sartison is a career fire captain – Chad is also writing a piece for us – the situation has been equally as demanding. At the height of the response earlier this week, one of the department’s trucks caught fire, a member broke his leg, and another went to hospital with chest pains. “The chief,” Chad said, “was beside himself.” No kidding!
So while I caught Rob on the phone yesterday as he was at home, briefly, recharging his batteries after a week of chaos and no sleep, and communities such as Peace River to the north – also a volunteer department – were experiencing less severe flooding, it was a bit ironic, from my perspective anyway, to read that Toronto’s almost 3,100 firefighters were awarded a 14.25 per cent pay increase over five years, from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2014, keeping firefighters at parity with Toronto police. Toronto Fire had been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2009; the arbitration award announced yesterday puts first-class firefighters at $90,623 by Jan. 1, 2014. The increase will cost the city $45.7 million.
In his 30-page ruling, arbitrator Kevin Burkett rejected the City of Toronto’s claim “that his primary consideration should be its ability to pay.”
Deputy mayor Doug Holyday said the city’s firefighters “have grabbed the brass ring and it’s got to stop.”
“They’ve got to be brought back to reality,” he said.
Reality is what’s happening in Redwood Meadows and High River and Canmore and Bragg Creek and Peace River.
It was great on Wednesday evening to see so many friendly faces as retiring Toronto Deputy Chief Frank Lamie was feted by colleagues at a Richmond Hill, Ont., restaurant.
I got to know Lamie after the Sunrise Propane explosion in Toronto in August 2008, and over the years he has been a wonderful resource. So it was fitting that yesterday, Sunrise and its directors were found guilty of violating environmental and labour relations regulations; they will be sentenced July 23. Interestingly, stories in the mainstream media yesterday mentioned that one person – a Sunrise employee – had been killed in the explosion. Few, if any, noted that Toronto District Chief Bob Leek was felled by a fatal heart attack at the scene.
You can see photos from Wednesday’s soiree on my Facebook page.
I promised some fantastic people I would mention that Risk Lasky brings his Pride & Ownership series to the Six Nations Fire Department in Ontario on Saturday, July 26. It’s worth the drive if you live within commuting distance, and the SNFD, under chief Michael Seth and with the multi-talented Crystal Johns running the show, always goes above and beyond when it hosts events. Tickets are $25, including lunch, for the 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. presentation. Contact Crystal at email@example.com
And finally, a shout out to Fire Fighting in Canada columnists Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy, OAFC president Matt Pegg, and the hundreds of firefighters – mostly volunteers – who are taking in the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services conference in Corner Brook this long weekend.
I’m looking forward to seeing some of you next week in beautiful Summerside, P.E.I., for the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association conference, with speakers Bill Stewart – the former chief of Toronto Fire Services – and Calgary Fire’s Len McCharles. Lobster for all!