Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Editor’s blog – B.C. and Alberta bound

Laura King   

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June 11, 2014, Edmonton, Alta. - Well. The best-laid plans. I’m sitting in Edmonton airport, which I was supposed to have left behind an hour ago to fly to Toronto – home from the Alberta/Northern Alberta and British Columbia chiefs conferences. The flight was delayed, then delayed again. Which gives me time to wrap up yesterday’s events in Grande Prairie at the AFCA conference.

June 11, 2014, Edmonton, Alta. – Well. The best-laid plans. I’m sitting in Edmonton airport, which I was supposed to have left behind an hour ago to fly to Toronto – home from the Alberta/Northern Alberta and British Columbia chiefs conferences. The flight was delayed, then delayed again. Which gives me time to wrap up yesterday’s events in Grande Prairie at the AFCA conference.

First, though, a bit of a small-world experience. I was grabbing a snack when I got an e-mail from Mark MacKinnon, the past president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association asking if I was at Gate 70 at the Edmonton airport. Yep. Well, not quite – I was close and heading in that direction.

Presumably, I said in my reply, he was too. Turns out Mark’s son – an industrial firefighter in Red Deer – was at the gate (or is at the gate but I have yet to figure out which disgruntled, laptop-toting passenger he is as we all look the same!), waiting for the Toronto flight, and was updating his dad on the departure changes. Mark saw my tweet about the flight delay and put two and two together. Small (fire) world.

I enjoyed wonderful company last night at a front-row table at the AFCA banquet: speaker/instructor Jason Hoevelmann, Fire Fighting in Canada columnist and blogger Les Karpluk, Peace River Chief Lance Bushie, High Level Chief Rodney Schmidt (who is also the conference co-ordinator) and his wife Jackie, and Rodney’s brother, Greg, who is with Alberta’s STARS air-ambulance and his wife Cheryl.

We got to talking about incidents and shifts and the 24-hour shift and how it is becoming more popular in Ontario and other provinces, when Hoevelmann, who is a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in St. Louis County, Mo., and a volunteer with the Sullivan Fire Protection District (no two-hatter issues there, apparently, which confuses me – same union, same constitution), said something about 48-hour shifts. As is the case in many U.S. departments, Hoevelmann works 48 hours on and 96 off.

The shift is tough on sleep and training – a busy Day 1 often means revisions to the Day 2 schedule – but the hours work well for young families and for those who volunteer at other departments.

It was an interesting conversation after having heard so much about the 24-hour shift, which, in the words of labour lawyer John Saunders, is now normative and pervasive and is not worth arguing over.

Speakers Hoevelmann, Nick Brunacini and Les Karpluk all drew rave reviews at the AFCA conference yesterday – although certainly the most raucous sessions were Brunacini’s on command and managing structure fires. Nick, like his dad, is a passionate and no-holds-barred presenter, which makes for some entertaining moments (the word stupid comes up a lot!).

Les’s presentation on the seven guiding principles of leadership built on the blogs he has written for our website; the opening slide, with animated fire, and music from popular songs lent a light atmosphere to the room. Although we agreed afterwards that given the audience it might be wise to stick to 70s classics rather than today’s hits!

I’d write more but the flight is boarding! Hallelujah!

June 10, 2014, Grand Prairie, Alta. – I started to write my final blog about the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. conference Friday morning on board the Coastal Celebration ferry to the mainland from Victoria, but got sidetracked by the scenery, the passing fire chiefs who stopped to chat, and some good stories from my travel companion and chauffeur. Those were the first of many distractions over a couple of memorable days.

Our first bear sighting –
a grizzly.


Comox Fire Chief Gord Shreiner and I spent Friday and Saturday driving through Beautiful British Columbia and the Rockies, past Jasper, and then over miles and miles (why does that sound better than kilometres and kilometres?) of barren highway between Grande Cache and Grande Prairie.

The trip was more than 1,300 kilometres (note to future travellers that there are no Tim’s north of Kamloops!), which is ample time to tell every story from the last 20 years to a travelling companion – hockey stories (lots and lots of hockey stories), lacrosse stories, broken-bones stories, fire stories, brushes with greatness stories, bear stories. And ample time to get lost. Just once. On the Trans-Canada.

We weren’t really lost – we knew exactly where we were – but the navigator had assumed the driver was paying attention, and the driver, who was distracted by the navigator’s persistent questions, assumed the navigator was on top of things (which clearly she

Bear No. 2 – a black bear.


was not) and missed a crucial left turn.

We were stopped for construction between Kamloops and . . . oops, almost gave it away, when said driver checked the iPad and realized we were going east rather than north.

Said driver was mortified, as was the navigator, and there were apologies all ‘round. No matter, we decided, we had no deadlines, we would still make Valemont (cheaper hotels than Jasper) before dark – which, in these parts, is well after 10 p.m. – and we wouldn’t tell anyone about our, uh, adventure. Deal!

Chauffeur/Chief Gord Shreiner in beautiful Valemont, B.C.


We rolled into Valemont at about 9 p.m., – 15 hours after we had set out from Victoria – after having seen a vegetation-grazing grizzly by the side of the road – up close (said driver does a very nice U-turn) and, less than a minute later, a smaller black bear. Which for two bear lovers made the extra 200 kilometres well worth the trip.

Just to confuse you all, I’m backtracking for a minute to the FCABC conference. I did my presentation on the Elliot Lake mall collapse Wednesday at 11 a.m., which followed sessions by Chief Shreiner and two other Fire Fighting in Canada writers, Vince MacKenzie and Rob Evans.

FCABC president Tim Pley helps to answer questions following editor Laura King’s presentation on the Elliot Lake mall collapse.


I’d much rather write than speak, but I’m convinced that fire personnel across the country need to know what Fire Chief Paul Officer and his department experienced after the Elliot Lake incident and during the lengthy inquiry.

I was going to wear my Elliot Lake Fire Department/Proud to know them t-shirt but it was warm (or I was warm – nerves) and I wanted something a bit lighter, so I brought the t-shirt to show the room.

I’m not sure if it was relief for having made it through the presentation without completely losing track (there’s a lot to cover!) or losing my voice (big room, b-r-e-a-t-h-e), but I found myself quite verklempt when I said that I had promised Chief Officer that I would show off the shirt and make sure I took the messages and lessons from Elliot Lake to as many people as I could reach.

Editor Laura King with the
Elliot Lake Fire
Department/Proud to know
them t-shirt.


The reviews of my presentation were good (although I’m no Vince MacKenzie, whose self-deprecating Newfie jokes won over the west-coast crowd!), people were kind on Twitter, and I had a wonderful offer from an experienced presenter for some coaching.

But after this round of conferences, I’m sticking to writing and two-minute, from-the-hip, Follow-me-on-Twitter-and-talk-to-me-about-getting-your-stories-in-our-magazine speeches like the one I gave Sunday night here in Grande Prairie that drew laughs and applause. Whew!

After breakfast Sunday with Grande Prairie Fire Chief Dan Lemeux, I spent the day at the Grande Prairie Fire Department – Station 1, with Platoon Chief Tony Lutzmann, Capt. Steve Larson, Lt. Ryan Nash firefighters Chad Thomson, Steph Garand and Chris Storsehaw.

After a lift-assist call at a seniors home that demonstrated an impressive working relationship between fire and EMS here, I toured the station, listened to a 911 call about a recent house fire, went to the site to observe a multi-station post-mortem and see the lightweight construction in the renovated part of the home, toured Grande Prairie’s new Station 3 and learned more in a day than I have in a while.

Two things that struck me: the department’s commitment to health and wellness – GPFD participates in the IAFFs Wellness/Fitness Initiative; and the fact that Grande Prairie’s dispatch centre handles calls for 62 fire departments that cover 43 per cent of Alberta’s land mass. That’s a big chunk of the province.

Which brings me back to British Columbia and a tour last week of the fire hall at CFB Esquimalt. The tour was a fluke – Hope Fire Chief Tom DeSorcy mentioned that FCABC president Tim Pley had an offer for a tour and asked if I’d like to go. Uh, yeah. I’ve been working for some time on a piece on military fire fighting and had hoped to go to CFS Alert over the winter. (Yes, I know, it’s cold up there!). Sadly, all media requests for Alert have been put on hold – even comedian Rick Mercer’s, so I’m in good company – so I’m working with Canadian Forces Deputy Fire Marshal Pierre Voisine to come up with a new plan. I had had been to CFB Borden several months ago to observe aircraft fire fighting but this was the first opportunity since then to tour a base fire hall.

The $22.5- million station at Esquimalt is built to withstand an earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale; there are massive generators that will power the station forever (or so it seems), water tanks that can sustain the station for weeks, remarkable details such as checker-plate thresholds and port-hole windows, and top-notch technology.

That said, it was the fire pole and hydraulic bullards that protect the building that most impressed our tour group. The pole is crooked – not really, but that’s the rumour. Actually the pole goes to the third storey so it is in two sections with a landing in between. Toys for boys . . .

You’ll read more about the station in Fire Fighting in Canada later on.

I haven’t been to the Alberta chiefs show in a few years so it was a thrill at Sunday’s trade show and opening ceremony to run into the crew from Smokey Lake, a group from Lethbridge – some who I had met several years ago doing a ride-along there, Jason Hoevelmann from St. Louis County, Mo., who I met in Peace River last spring, and, especially, the group of instructors who put on the pre-conference live-fire training Friday and Saturday: Peace River Chief Lance Bushie, High Level Chief Rodney Schmidt, Drager instructor Rich Graeber, Peace River firefighter Tyne Lunn, and instructor Tim Zehnder, who I met in Indianapolis in April at FDIC, and others. (You can see the video of the weekend training on our home page.)

This group of fabulous instructors and their colleagues put 62 students through four prop stations over two days and are planning a similar program next year when the Northern Alberta Fire Chiefs conference goes back to Peace River – this year it’s combined with the AFCA conference in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the City of Grande Prairie.

The instructors were clearly exhausted from two days of hands-on training, but also pumped about safe and successful session that is getting rave reviews.

I took in last evening’s barbecue at the trade show with FFIC sales manager Catherine Connolly, who joined me here in Grande Prairie on Saturday (missing the two-day drive from Victoria and the wrong turn . . . her loss!) and columnist/blogger Les Karpluk, who arrived yesterday and presents his seven principles of leadership session today. Presumably his trip was less adventurous!

More from Grande Prairie and the AFCA conference this afternoon.

June 4, 2014, Victoria – We expected our Volunteer Vision – Live! session to go well yesterday at the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC conference. We didn’t expect the amazing stories from conference delegates in the audience about the challenges in their departments and, more importantly, the solutions.

Volunteer Vision – Live! was the brainchild of Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie, who was asked to fill several sessions at this week’s FCABC conference. If you present at conferences, you know how challenging it is to come up with meaningful content that engages the audience, and to do back-to-back breakout sessions two days in a row! So, Vince talked to his Volunteer Vision counterpart Tom DeSorcy, who is also the conference co-chair, and Volunteer Vision-Live! was born. (Vince also presents solo today – twice! – on Charting your fire-service career.)

We did back-to-back, 75-minute bearpit sessions yesterday, focusing on topics that tend to come up often in Vince and Tom’s Volunteer Vision columns in Fire Fighting in Canada: professionalism in the volunteer fire service; recruitment, retention and . . . . retirement; and social media, specifically Twitter. I moderated; Vince and Tom shared wisdom and insight.

The room was full – for both sessions – the audience was engaged, mind you, it helps to have other Fire Fighting in Canada columnists such as Salt Spring Island Fire Chief Tom Bremner and Fraser Lake Fire Chief Dave Balding in the room to call on to start the conversation!

I won’t go into detail on the content because we hope to show you video snippets of the presentation on our website soon – thanks to yet another columnist, Salt Spring Island Deputy Chief AJ George, for shooting! – and we’re thinking Volunteer Vision – Live! might be syndicated for distribution to conferences across the country. Those of you who know Vince and Tom know how much they dislike being in the spotlight!

Yesterday’s Volunteer Vision – Live! session with columnists Tom DeSorcy and Vince MacKenzie and lots of audience participation. Click here for more photos.


It appears that I owe Twitter lessons to several conference participants who attended our Volunteer Vision – Live! sessions yesterday. About half the participants in the first session said they are on Twitter; fewer in the second session.

So, with a mission to get more Twitter followers – kidding, with a mission to help more fire-service leaders use Twitter as a tool to increase their departments’ profile in their communities – I promised Twitter lessons and a free subscription to Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly to the first person to ask after the session for Twitter lessons.

I think that’s called thinking on your feet, or spontaneity – regardless, I probably should have checked with my publisher first about the free subscription, but we all know it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission!

I’m waiting for e-mails this morning from the Twitter/subscription winners to set up times for Twitter lessons . . .

We had a delightful dinner last night at the Japanese Village in Victoria – where skilled chefs prepare food at the table and, in our case, attempt to out-wit a bunch of fire chiefs who were a bit punchy from too much adrenaline and a couple of long days.

Needless to say, the young chef – who was adept with knives and extremely astute (the words high-maintenance were used more than once in reference to the only editor at the table . . . I can’t imagine how he got that impression!), met his match!

A poor-quality photo (due to bad lighting!) at the Japanese Village in Victoria with Tom and Denise DeSorcy, Ric and Tammy Raynor and a ham-it-up chief!


Today is an off day for me – no presentations to deliver! I’ll take in Chief MacKenzie’s talk and a session by FFIC Stopbad columnist and Comox Chief Gord Shreiner on his famous Call-signs-for-life practice, then focus on my presentation for tomorrow on media coverage of the mall collapse in Elliot Lake and the inquiry into the emergency response.

The sun is shining – again! – and I’m hoping for a visit to CFB Esquimalt’s new $27.3 million base fire hall and emergency response centre.

Oh, and there are those Twitter lessons . . .

June 3, 2014, Victoria, B.C. – It’s a bit more laid back here on the west coast than in some other regions of the country . . . which is good because as with any large-scale event, despite the best-laid plans, things go wrong. Like the theft of three brass bells needed for the conference – including last night’s memorial service – from the back of a certain chief’s truck.

The chief was transporting the FCABC’s two lecterns and three bells from Nelson, B.C., and had stopped for a break. One smashed window and three missing bells later, and there was a mild crisis. One resourceful chief managed to have a bell delivered from a nearby department and the memorial service proceeded as planned, the only damage a bill for glass repair, and a good story told by FCABC president Tim Pley.

As with any conference, the mass exodus of vendors rushing to pack up and catch flights at the end of the trade show is akin to a well-executed evacuation: quick and efficient.

The trade show was to end at 2 p.m. yesterday, which, as conference delegates are aware, means vendors start packing up after lunch. And there are protocols – generally, all booth materials and boxes must be loaded in a certain area, out of sight to the rest of us.

Yesterday, unbeknownst to conference organizers, the City of Victoria happened to be paving the area immediately outside the loading spot, and had closed the road until 5 p.m. – by which time most vendors should have been seated with their seatbelts fastened and seat backs and tray tables in the upright position.

Panicked vendors with flights to catch were not amused. After some, uh, negotiations, dozens of sheets of plywood were delivered and put down over the new pavement, and the vendors loaded their wares. We’re not sure who’s paying that bill!

Those of us who haven’t been to the FCABC conference in a few years were pleasantly surprised – surprised isn’t the right word, pleasantly entertained, perhaps – when Fire Chief Alan Stebbing was called to the stage to sing the U.S. and Canadian national anthems.

A few brave souls who knew the words to The Star Spangled Banner sang along with Stebbing’s flawless rendition, then the room broke out in O Canada, wide smiles acknowledging the spectacular singing voice of the chief from Taylor, B.C. (Google it –it’s near Fort St. John, and not near anything else!).

Conference co-chair Tom DeSorcy said he and others noted Sebbing’s vocals a few years ago when, in the audience, he all but drowned out the hired anthem singer, and, voila, the FCABC’s own anthem-singing fire chief!

I know I wasn’t the only one in the room who wanted to start cheering at the final “O CA-NA-DA we stand on guuarrdd, for, thee!”

Conference organizers here in beautiful Victoria had some logistical challenges over the last couple of days – which they managed brilliantly – with the conference hotel on one side of Victoria harbor and the trade show and opening ceremonies/banquet on the other.

I grabbed a shuttle from the Delta Ocean Pointe to the trade show at the Victoria Coference Centre yesterday afternoon. I had just arrived, thrown my suitcases (yes, plural) into my room, and zipped over with just two hours to take in the whole show before 2 p.m.

Naturally, I started talking to the shuttle driver about the beautiful weather and the scenery, and he politely replied with the usual bit of small talk, then mentioned how the ocean affects the weather and how he loves it here because it’s like home. Home. Nova Scotia.

“No way,” I said. “Me too.”

“Where?” he asked.


“Me too,” he said. “The Pier.”

That would be Whitney Pier, the company-town part of home – The Pier, Dear, to locals.

And so it went. Shuttle driver Scott MacMillan’s family moved to Cole Harbour, N.S., where he grew up, but his parents are back on Cape Breton.

An hour later, I ran into Salt Spring Island Fire Chief Tom Bremner, who, of course, used to the be chief in Truro, N.S., and, like all of us, is a how-about-the-weather-small-talk kind of guy.

“I knew you had arrived,” he said. “The shuttle driver told me!”

Uh huh.

Back to logistics. The shuttle system worked flawlessly yesterday, and last evening we were treated to a water taxi ride across the harbor to the opening ceremony and the memorial service and banquet. Coming back, conference organizers had hired double-decker buses; our driver – clearly feeling particularly tourist-friendly and egged-on by a rather rowdy crowd – asked if we’d ever been to Chinatown at night, and offered to shuttle us downtown to see the lights and sights. A lovely ending to a long, but great, day.

As I finish this I’m sitting in the restaurant in the Delta Ocean Pointe, looking across at the B.C. legislature, and reviewing the Volunteer Vision-Live! presentation I’m doing this afternoon (two back-to-back sessions) with columnists and fire chiefs Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy. I’m sure I won’t get a word in edgewise!

June 2, 2014 – Very early this morning – 3:45 alarm, 6:50 flight – marked the beginning of a 10-day, western trip to the British Columbia and Alberta fire chiefs trade shows and conferences.

Circumstances – mostly other conferences and commitments – have prevented attendance at these shows in the last few years and, way back during budget talks in August, we thought it was smart to do one trip and cover both shows. I’ll let you know the verdict on that next week after our 17-hour drive to Grande Prairie from Victoria!

Meantime, at 30,000 feet, I’ve just put the final touches on two PowerPoint presentations to deliver this week.

Tomorrow’s session is Volunteer Vision – Live! – the brainchild of columnists Vince MacKenzie and Tom DeSorcy, who, as Fire Fighting in Canada readers know, share passion and provide wonderful insight into issues in volunteer departments.

The session – what we reporters call a bear pit, with lots of audience participation (I’m the moderator, and I will find you if you try to hide in the back row!) – promises to be energetic, and perhaps a bit controversial. More on that tomorrow.

On Thursday, I’m presenting on Elliot Lake and the $15-million inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall and the subsequent emergency response. There’s a lot to cover but there’s also a lot for delegates to learn, about command, control and communication. Especially communication.

Fire Fighting in Canada is extremely well represented at the B.C. conference: Vince is presenting solo in addition to Volunteer Vision – Live!; Rob Evans presents on recruitment and retention; AJ George gives a talk on use of iPads; and Gord Shreiner does one of his Stopbad sessions. (None of this has to do with the fact that Tom DeSorcy is the conference chair and Gord is the education director!).

I’m missing a good chunk of the trade show, which opened yesterday and closes at 2 p.m. today, so the plan is to sprint from the Victoria airport to the show – luggage in tow – and speed visit as many booths as possible during the last couple of hours, which could be a tall order given the early wake-up call.

I have interviews scheduled later this afternoon, and the banquet is tonight – a nice touch, I think, that allows vendors to attend; in other provinces often the trade-show participants depart before the banquet on the final day of the conference.

I’ve landed in Vancouver, where it’s sunny and warm and . . . only 8:30 a.m!

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