Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Editor’s blog

Laura King   

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Oct. 13, 2015, Winnipeg – I'm in Winnipeg this week. Oh come on! Winnipeg is the City of Opportunity, according to its website (who knew?!) and while it's not exactly a sexy destination, I'm excited.

First, I get to teach delegates to the Manitoba Disaster Management Conference how to work with – rather than against – media in an emergency (more on that in a minute); and I get to see Elliot Lake Fire Chief Paul Officer for what I expect will be the last time in a while given his recently announced retirement.

It's coincidental that Officer is presenting on the Algo Centre mall collapse, the response to it and the inquiry into it on Wednesday, given that Thursday is the deadline for the Ontario government and other agencies to respond to the report by Commissioner Paul Belanger.

Belanger released his 34 inquiry recommendations a year ago Oct. 15, key among them mandatory incident command, mandatory after-action reports and restored federal funding for HUSAR teams.

The report, you'll recall – two volumes totalling almost 1,400 pages with part 2 focusing on the response – was relentless in its criticism of provincial operations supporting the municipal emergency. (It was very clear, however, that the commissioner had no issue with the operation and conduct of the Elliot Lake Fire Department.)

"In my view," Belanger said "the Ontario emergency response system, particularly in the area of urban search and rescue, is in need of an overhaul."

I don't exactly have an in with the Ontario government (surprise, surprise!), so I can't say for sure what's happening in the bowels of Queen's Park, but I know there are committees and sub-committees trying to wrestle the massive Ontario incident management doctrine into a more functional system that works for career, composite and volunteer departments.

It's frustrating though, all this waiting. The government clearly recognized that the provincial incident management system and other processes didn't work well in Elliot Lake. We know this because it said in November 2013, in its final submission to the commissioner, that it would review IMS, figure out how the HUSAR team and the OPP's specialized search and rescue team – called UCRT – could train together, and improve communication among agencies. That's almost two years ago. And today we have . . . nothing. (I'm told that HUSAR and UCRT worked in the same building during an exercise earlier this year in Windsor, Ont., but not on the same floor and not exactly together.)

I'm pretty sure I'm not on the list of people with whom anything the government has to distribute on Thursday – should it even meet the deadline – will be shared; presumably there will be internal reviews and what not before anything changes publicly. But I'll try to find out and keep you posted.

Meantime, I'm pretty sure federal funding for HUSAR is about as likely as a Conservative majority come Oct. 19 – but perhaps things will change if there's a new party in power.

As for media training, you all know that in Elliot Lake the fact that two women were in the rubble – and were likely killed almost immediately – was initially kept from reporters; this decision fuelled inaccurate reporting and speculation that threw townspeople into a tizzy and, ultimately, led to phase 2 of the inquiry.

Which is why teaching emergency managers how to deal with reporters is a critical part of the process.

Thursday afternoon, with Canadian Firefighter columnist and Winnipeg firefighter/paramedic Jay Shaw – who has been seconded to management to work on special projects – I'm part of a group taking conference delegates through a tabletop exercise that includes three media segments. I won't disclose details until later but it's a very thorough and challenging scenario that will push delegates to use incident management training, develop an incident action plan, think quickly and deal with some interesting social media messaging.

Sometime during the conference – remarkably, there are 460 registered delegates! – I'm catching up with Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service Chief John Lane, whom I saw only briefly in Victoria at the Canadian chiefs conference last month. I have lots of questions for the chief about fire/paramedic services given the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association's fire-medic proposal.

I'm also looking forward to Friday; after the conference ends, I'm heading to the Fort Garry Fire Trucks plant with president Rich Suche to take photos for our November apparatus-showcase issue and learn more about building pumpers, tankers, aerials and rescues – in the City of Opportunity!

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