Canadian Firefighter Magazine

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

Laura King   

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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.

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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