Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Editor’s blog

Laura King   

Features Blogs Editor’s blog

Sept. 30, 2014, Toronto – In my travels over the summer I took my red T-shirt that says “Elliot Lake Fire Department/Proud to know them,” and showed it to rooms full of fire officers at the end of my presentations on the media coverage of the 2012 mall collapse in that northern-Ontario town.

Sept. 30, 2014, Toronto – In my travels over the summer I took my red T-shirt that says “Elliot Lake Fire Department/Proud to know them,” and showed it to rooms full of fire officers at the end of my presentations on the media coverage of the 2012 mall collapse in that northern-Ontario town.

Inevitably, despite my gruff journalistic exterior, I get choked up when I talk about the scrutiny the fire department – Chief Paul Officer and captains John Thomas and Darren Connors in particular – endured after the incident and during the seven-month inquiry into the collapse and the emergency response. I watched all three testify. I saw the stress in their eyes and in their body language as they walked into the former White Mountain Academy of the Arts in Elliot Lake where a courtroom had been built specifically for the inquiry.

A few weeks ago, commissioner Paul Belanger said he will release his report on Oct. 15 – more than a year after the inquiry ended. (It still boggles my mind that after listening to testimony for seven months it took a group of such intelligent people a year to pull together the recommendations. I know there are politics involved but . . . )

Belanger will not take questions from reporters. (That boggles my mind too but lawyers tell me it’s not unusual). Commission counsel, however, will do so. There is a media lock up to review the report before it is officially released at 11 a.m. at a community centre in Elliot Lake. “Bring your reading glasses,” was the advice I got from the inquiry’s media point man. And caffeine.


Incident command. Funding for HUSAR teams (or what’s left of them). The role – or lack thereof – of the Ministry of Labour during a rescue. Communication. And, perhaps most importantly, clarification that rescue is the exclusive purview of fire in Ontario. Those are the issues the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs asked the commissioner to address.

The inquiry cost somewhere between the budgeted $15 million and the $25-million figure being tossed about by some participants in recent weeks.

Two lives were lost in the Algo Centre collapse. Countless lives were affected.

For many, there will be closure on Oct. 15; hopefully, the 31 firefighters whose names are on the back of that red T-shirt will find it in the report’s recommendations.

It’s not my job to do so, but I’ve heard a fair bit of misinformation lately about Ontario’s firefighter Candidate Testing Service (CTS) – when I was in Thunder Bay recently, and some even passed on to me from our own Firefighter Training Day and Career Expo – so in the name of good journalism, or maybe just because I’m a Type-A controlling personality, I’m going to explain a few things. Listen up.

There is no “pool” of candidates from which municipalities that sign on to CTS to do their hiring can choose who to interview. Anyone and everyone interested in working for a particular fire department applies to that department when the municipality announces that it is recruiting, same as always. Applications are vetted by the municipality’s human resources people and/or the chief(s) or a hiring committee, and people are selected for interviews.

The difference is that departments that are using CTS know that everyone who applies has been through the CTS testing and has passed the interpersonal skills test, work-styles test, aptitude test, CPAT test, clinical test, medical test and firefighter skills test, and has been evaluated for hearing and vision – therefore the candidates who apply are part of a “pool” of qualified potential firefighters; this saves the municipality the expensive and time-consuming task of weeding out those who can and those who can’t. It also saves candidates from paying repeatedly for aptitude and physical testing every time they apply to a different municipality.

That’s it. No tricks. No conspiracies. No pulling names out of hat. Kapish?

So what’ has changed? The fees. There has been some grousing on our forums about the $700-plus fee for CTS, but with more departments signing on (remember that the municipality signs on, not the fire department, and this requires approval from the human resources and legal departments, which takes time), the one-time fee allows candidates to apply to multiple departments and not pay another cent. CTS emails candidates when municipalities are hiring so they can get their applications in.

So, as I wrote in my story in our August issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, $700 or so versus potentially tens of thousands of dollars. You do the math. You can all pass the aptitude test, right, so you should be able to see the logic in a one-time fee versus several testing and application fees.

If I sound cranky its because I’m frustrated with the misinformation and the lack of effort on behalf of those perpetuating the misinformation. I have no stake in CTS but I hear a lot of chatter and it’s clear that there may be more gossip out there than good intentions.

Everything a potential firefighter could want to know about CTS is on the website – – but you have to take the time to read it. If you can’t be bothered to do that, can you be a firefighter?

On a much lighter and positive note, I got an e-mail this morning from the Office of the Fire Marshal in Nova Scotia inviting me to participate in a Twitter chat on Tuesday, Oct. 7, during Fire Prevention Week.

Wow, I thought. Fabulous idea. Engage followers. Get the message out. And, I thought, particularly fabulous idea from an office that just a few years ago was called out by the province’s auditor general who recommended a complete overhaul of the department after it was discovered that inspections were not being properly recorded.

I spoke briefly with Nova Scotia Fire Marshal Harold Pothier in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs/Fire Marshals and Commissioners conference. Pothier is a quiet, well-respected man; he has been in the fire marshal’s office since 1992 and was appointed to the top job on Sept. 10, 2012.

I’ll be tweeting and chatting on Oct. 7. Join us.

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