Opinion
Written by Laura King
Remember when Toronto mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to shovel snow and the whole country guffawed?
Written by Laura King
Several years ago, I spent a day at Edmonton Fire Rescue, learning about fire-hall routines and responding to calls with the rescue and pumper crews. My blog from June 25, 2010, tells part of the story: “A call came in for the unglamorous task of unclogging a needle deposit box at a community centre – a task probably not unique to Edmonton Fire but not common to many Canadian departments . . . ”
Written by Jay Shaw
Sometimes I feel as though I should have been a firefighter in the ’70s when firemen were firemen and we rode on the apparatus tailboards, our senior officers were one generation removed from the war, and folks appeared to be just a whole bunch tougher. These were the times when you were told to suck it up, quit your complaining, and  “Take it like a man.” When veteran firefighters tell stories about what it was like to be on the job back then, I am so proud of our history and a little fearful for our future if we don’t start to understand just where we are going.
Written by Rodney Schmidt
All the negative stories regarding fire departments providing first and co-response EMS services have led me to wonder who is being served by not playing nicely in the sandbox. Certainly these us-versus-them situations fail to put the customer. or patient, first. 

Members of the High Level Fire Department (HLFD) are part of the patient-care process, even when EMS is on scene first. Our system is based on a patient-first philosophy and it works; perhaps other regions can learn from us.

High Level, located in northwest Alberta, is a community of just under 4,000 people. With an initial response area including a 40-kilometre  radius of the town as well as highway response 200 kilometres to the north, 100  kilometres to the south, 40  kilometres east and 70 kilometres to the west, the HLFD has a large responsibility. One of those services is medical co-response.

The HLFD is part of the Alberta Medical First Response Program, which was developed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) when it took over responsibility for EMS in 2009.  The program has grown and the HLFD is growing along with it. The EMS service in High Level is provided by a contracted service to AHS.  The company, Aeromedical Emergency Services, has a longstanding, great working relationship with the HLFD. 

The HLFD is a volunteer service with three staff (two full-time equivalents) providing administrative direction and command capability to the more than 35 volunteers. The HLFD has always provided assistance to EMS at a first-response level, but since the development of the Medical First Response (MFR) Program, the working relationship has grown with the service level. Approximately half of the HLFD staff have medical training above first aid; this includes four staff trained as emergency response technicians (EMTs) who are primary-care paramedics, and eight emergency medical responders (EMRs), all of whom are registered with the Alberta College of Paramedics. Another six staff members are trained as first medical responders (FMR), which is similar to an EMR, with 80-hours of classroom training. The majority of the volunteers all have standard first-aid with additional training on spinal immobilization, stretcher operation and oxygen administration, as well the ability to operate the department’s monitors/defibrillators (LP12s). Firefighters have medical training built into weekly training nights, and dedicated medical training nights are scheduled every six weeks for currency training. The HLFD also uses an online learning-management system for additional training. Staff from Aeromedical regularly attend training nights. All new Aeromedical staff meet senior HLFD staff and tour HLFD facilities.

The HLFD provides up to basic life support care to first-response calls and carries advanced airways, as well as epinephrine for allergic reactions, ASA for heart attacks, instant glucose, D50W and Glucagon for diabetic emergencies, and Atrovent and Ventolin for respiratory distress. Some medications are approved for use by FMR/EMR staff and the rest are reserved for use by EMT staff.  The department is adding Narcan – an opiate antidote – once training is complete.

The HLFD responds to all Delta- and Echo-level calls (potentially life threatening) as well as any call with an ambulance delay of 15 minutes or more. In 2015, EMS calls comprised about 56 per cent of the HLFD call volume (178 calls). This percentage is not uncommon in Alberta, where the majority of MFR programs utilize similar parameters; the difference lies in the proud and seamless working relationship between the two agencies.  

When HLFD staff arrive, usually with a crew of between four and six personnel, some firefighters are assigned to assist with patient care with the paramedics, and some ready the stretcher or start preparing whatever device is  required for patient transport. Once on-scene treatment is complete, HLFD members assist with the patient in the ambulance. This may involve starting IVs, taking vitals, assisting with patient airway or anything else that is within the scope of training. 

HLFD members attend in the back of the ambulance on approximately 75 per cent of co-response calls; this improves patient care and helps firefighters stay current on skills. Once at the hospital, firefighters assist with patient transfer and, when requested, even assist nursing staff. If firefighters are not required to assist at the hospital, the fire crew that follows the ambulance to the hospital will help to ready the ambulance for the next call by preparing the stretcher, cleaning the ambulance interior or assisting where needed to ensure that the EMS crew can have a quick turnaround.  

When not training or responding, both services attend social events together and co-operate on joint public presentations. It is this type of community effort and co-operation that shows what can be accomplished when services set aside differences and do what is best for the community.


Rodney Schmidt is the fire chief and director of protective services for the Town of High Level, responsible for fire protection in an area spanning more than 37,000 square kilometers in Alberta’s northwest.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Written by Jay Shaw
When I was in university, a professor gave me feedback on a research paper I wrote and said that I had to balance my opinions with fact. The prof explained that the facts that I believed to be relevant also needed to be from sources that were credible; and further, the credibility of the sources had to meet university academic guidelines for referencing, or else I might be considered a plagiarizer.
Plagiarizing is really, really bad – like, getting-caught-eating-another-shift’s-ice-cream bad, but worse. At one point I wanted to tell the professor he doesn’t know what I know, because he’s never seen what I’ve seen – sound familiar? 

Why is this research stuff important? Because a bunch of lab-coat firefighter scientists working out of a high-end research facility have continually been publishing game-changing science that is telling fire services what we think we know, we don’t actually know, and what we think we know that is actually correct, is correct for a whole bunch of different reasons. Basically, scientists are throwing a huge wrench into  the this-is-the-way-we-do-this-around-here philosophy. 

These researchers understand that the messages they are preaching to fire services in North America are hard pills to swallow. How do you tell a tremendously proud group of professionals that the Earth is in fact round? You do it the way these researchers have: very carefully and with respect. Scientists let the data speak for itself by breaking it down into digestible chunks that are easy to explain. Most of us know and have seen throughout our whole careers as firefighters that our water stream pushes fire, and that our Z- and O-pattern straight stream applied correctly is the best way to fight fire. I mean, we’ve seen it with your own eyes; we’ve been there and done that. Now imagine that the whole time, what we have actually seen is something entirely different. Could we change our thinking? Could we believe something even if we might not fully understand? 

The group of firefighters working for Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) burn stuff – lots of stuff – in a facility that I can only describe as the Disney World for live fire training. Now, I’ve seen only the dozens of videos online, but the math all adds up. Astrophysicist Neil deGrass says, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

Now this new crazy math that the kids are learning these days is not that new after all. In fact, evidence-based methods have been the standard of practice for many professions, including some close to home; our paramedics have been basing patient decisions on evidence-based research that is driven by outcomes for, like, forever. In fact, this kind of paramedic thinking –  asking why, in a controlled environment, before the heat of battle – is very refreshing for a profession that is so steeped in history that in some departments the routine day-to-day functions are done because, well, because they’ve always been done this way. 

The best part about this new modern fire behaviour is that I’ve seen so many veteran officer firefighters soak up the findings and believe in the science. But there are many more who will not believe. 

In fact, the director and humble leader of the UL Firefighter Safety Institute, Stephen Kerber, who is a firefighter himself, has become a bit of a firefighter rock star. At one of his recent sessions at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, immediately following the final word from Kerber, the stage was rushed. I will admit, I was right there in the front row and shook the hand of the man who, along with his team of researchers, saves firefighters’ lives through science. Kerber told me that those who struggle with and cannot believe in the research are those who take one side, one angle, one statement and compare it to their complete body of firefighting experience. Kerber admits it is a huge challenge. “We are trying to make up for 200 years of fire-service experience without much research to validate or refute what is actually happening on the fire ground, and we’re doing it one fire at a time.” 

What the university professor was trying to tell me all along was that, my opinion matters, and what I’ve seen or what I know does too; but it matters more what I can logically conclude and express, from a consistent baseline of evidence. I think Kerber is saying the same thing; he’s just way cooler when he does it. 


Jay Shaw is a firefighter and primary-care paramedic with the City of Winnipeg, and an independent education and training consultant focusing on leadership, management, emergency preparedness and communication skills.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   @firecollege
Written by Laura King
I was in Alberta the week wildfire decimated parts of Fort McMurray. A handful of firefighters and officers who were supposed to be at the Northern HEAT conference in Peace River had been dispatched to Fort Mac, packing pick-up trucks and answering the call.
Written by Jay Shaw
While tens of thousands of Albertans continue the recovery process, amazing stories are emerging about the heroic, selfless actions of citizens, responders and civic leaders who all pulled together to save Fort McMurray.
Written by Jay Shaw
We’ve all said it – we’ve said it to new recruits and to our buddies on the job as we exchange stories and revel in the amazement of a great call: this job is like winning the lottery!
Written by Laura King
It’s our mandate to keep you informed about innovations – robotic technology, for example, that’s useful in certain dangerous firefighting or hazmat situations.
Written by Laura King
On that worst day, when Mrs. Smith – or Mrs. Singh or Mrs. Ahmad – calls 911, does it matter who shows up as long as the responders are properly trained and do their jobs to the best of their abilities?
Written by Laura King
We had planned this issue on building safe training facilities long before college student Adam Brunt died during ice-water rescue training in February in Hanover, Ont.
Written by Jay Shaw
We have all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” used in and around the emergency services. This saying dates back to the 1970s American government bureaucrats who implored the Carter administration to stop meddling in things that didn’t require fixing.
Written by Laura King
I don’t know much about drones. You may not either. I do know that technology is a good thing, and that anything that makes firefighters safer is welcome. iPads. Thermal imaging cameras. Simulation software.
Written by Jay Shaw
What is it about a profession that makes it professional? What qualities do we look for when we define a vocation as having high levels of integrity and trust?
Written by Arjuna George
You’re registered and ready to go to your first firefighter conference – maybe FDIC in Indianapolis this month, one of the training sessions profiled on pages 16 to 19, or your first provincial conference for fire officers. How do you get the most out of three or four days of classroom or hands-on training, enjoy the social opportunities (without overdoing it!) and manage to remember what you’ve learned?
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