Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From the Editor: July 2013

Laura King   

Features Hot Topics Opinion

Our cover story this month on skills self-assessment is by Ryan Pennington, who some of you may know on Twitter as @jumpseatviews.

Our cover story this month on skills self-assessment is by Ryan Pennington, who some of you may know on Twitter as @jumpseatviews.

We’ve done stories before on competency evaluations for firefighters, but Pennington’s theory that assessing your own skills, keeping a log of strengths and weaknesses, and being responsible for maintaining those skills, is new to me – something I hadn’t considered before.

As Pennington says, it’s one thing to have an officer point out a weakness he observed at an incident and encourage you to brush up or re-train. But it’s another to self-assess – to know that you haven’t practised raising a 24-foot-ladder in a while, or that you struggled with that particular skill at the last call – and take responsibility for improving your capabilities. It’s the honest thing – and right thing – to do.

Which leads me to a media event I attended on June 6 in Vaughan, Ont., at which a local developer announced that the 142 homes it is building in a new subdivision would be sprinklered and have hard-wired heat detectors in the garages – 15 per cent of house fires in Vaughan since 2009 have started in garages.


Automatic residential sprinklers seem to be a logical safety step – they protect residents and firefighters – but in Ontario at least, there has been opposition by home builders to sprinklers because of the perceived installation cost and an anticipated backlash by consumers over perceived higher home prices.

You’ve heard all the counterpoints – the price of automatic residential sprinklers is about 1.5 to three per cent of the cost of the home, or the same as an upgrade to granite counter tops – and, besides, history shows that consumers are likely to embrace enhanced fire-safety measures if they’re marketed properly – consider bicycle helmets and airbags. The home builders are well aware of these facts, but they have continued to push back, which has made politicians reluctant to make sprinklers mandatory lest they alienate a large voter group.

Enter Townwood Homes, the developer in Vaughan. When I asked Townwood’s principals – vice-president Marcello Messersi and president Tony Guglietti – why they decided to put sprinklers in their new, executive-style homes, they looked at each other, paused, and said, simply, it’s the right time.

It was only later when I read a Toronto Star real-estate story about the new, sprinklered subdivision – written by a reporter who obviously knew Guglietti better than I did – that I learned that Guglietti had experienced a house fire; he wasn’t living in the home at the time but lost treasured contents and now understands the value of sprinklers.

Sprinklers do not eliminate the need for a rapid response by well-trained firefighters. But they give occupants and firefighters a greater chance of getting out alive and unhurt.

Which brings me back to Pennington; his message is that for firefighters, sometimes doing the right things is difficult. It’s hard to critique yourself honestly and tackle your weaknesses. But the extra work and humility make things safer for you, your co-workers and the public.

The same applies to Townwood Homes. Leading innovation in a competitive industry is challenging. But sprinklers save lives. It may take years for that to happen in Vaughan, but it will.

Do the right thing.

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