Written by Tim Llewellyn
I have often thought that the topic of firefighter training can be broken down into several distinct categories.  

In my system of thinking, each category is unique from the others by the general timeframe at which the training is occurring in the firefighter’s career.  

The first category is mentioned often in my Tim-bits columns – recruit school. Here, we are taught the basic fundamentals of firefighting theory and practice.

The next category occurs immediately after recruit school is complete. I call it probationary training. This unofficial and undefined period is where the boots meet the road, where new firefighters use the skills taught in recruit school and apply them to real-world situations and station life.

This is the period when the new folks learn there is the “book way” that they learned in school and the “real-world way” or the way it’s done at a particular firehouse.  

This is often a time of great eye opening for the new folks when they realize that their pre-service education didn’t teach them everything they need to know.  
With their opening-day jitters well behind them, the firefighters pass into my system’s next category – the continuing education phase. This category will encompass the remainder of their fire service career, if they choose to dedicate it to constant learning and improvement. Here, the firefighters will have an opportunity to expand and fine-tune their knowledge and skills in engine-company and truck-company functions, vehicle rescue, other technical rescue specialties, firefighter survival, RIT, driver-operator, fire instructor, fire officer, etc.

One thing important to note about my system of training categorization so far is that it focuses on the individual. The individual takes courses and certification examinations to hopefully become increasingly more capable at various incidents. Fire departments, in turn, embrace the individual who has the determination to learn more and foster that education by holding regular company-level drills that build teamwork and allow individual firefighters to develop into more effective teams.

The next category is company or department development. If your department is like my volunteer department, company or department development drills are often held once per week on a weekday evening. At best, we get two to three hours of training time, which includes setup and cleanup. It is during this critical time that firefighters can realize the expectations that will be demanded of them as they work in a team or department-wide setting at real incidents.

But my department found that these two to three hours just weren’t enough to give our firefighters what we desired. By the time we get into things, it’s time to clean up and go home.

We realized there were two things missing with our weeknight drills – more time to train and live fire. We quickly realized that the most dangerous thing we were asking our firefighters to do was something we hadn’t trained them on for a long time – fight interior structure fires.

We contacted our local fire academy and enquired about running day-long training for our department using the academy’s facility and its class-A burn building. It was determined that since we only wanted to commit to a single, eight-hour day, none of the standard fire academy classes fit our needs. The academy agreed to rent its facility so we could conduct live-fire training that fell into compliance with NFPA 1403, and it agreed to provide the instructors and fuel – at a relatively low cost.  

We picked a weekend day a few months out and met and worked with the instructors to develop a curriculum.

Once finalized, the morning schedule included topics on basic fire control, search and rescue practice and pressurized watercan use.

The afternoon schedule consisted of realistic scenarios that mimicked a few of the fires that we had faced in recent years.  

During the morning schedule, we made sure everyone had an opportunity to practice the fundamentals of what we expected of them at real fires – all that they had learned in their recruit, probationary and continuing educational periods.

The afternoon scenarios put it all together. The scenarios were run as “roll-in” drills, with an actual dispatch and staggered response of the apparatus – just like it happens in real life.

Because we had instructors to manage the safety and instructional aspects of the drills, our company and chief officers were able to focus on their incident command and company leadership skills. We had created an opportunity to train as we actually fight fires – but in a controlled and relatively safe manner. Our firefighters did it our way, as a cohesive and familiar group.

The day was a great success. If a fire academy training facility is within your reach, I encourage you to look into setting up a departmental-level training and development day.

Tim Llewellyn is a firefighter for the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, Pa., and an instructor for a number of fire academies and training faculties. Contact Tim at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Written by Grant Cameron
Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have been lovingly embraced by a large number of Canadians, nearly 23 million to be exact, young, old and every age in-between.
Written by Tim Llewellyn
As a much younger man, I was taught early on in my fire service career to be prepared – for anything. In the fall of 1989, as a fresh-faced rookie, one of the first lessons I remember being offered up by a ‘salty old guy’ was to keep a pair of heavy socks in your fire boots for the colder months. Those hand-me-down rubber hip boots that were standard issue at my first volunteer fire department were minimally insulated and did little to fend off the bone-chilling winter cold. I took the advice and stuffed an old pair of wool hunting socks into the boots. However, I never actually put the socks on. It always seemed like too much work and it would take too much time to pull those rough, scratchy, stretched-out socks over my cotton ones.  And besides, I didn’t want to miss the fire engine or be the last one to get on. My feet were often cold back then.  

Fast-forward almost 30 years (man, time flies), I find that I am now the ‘salty old guy’ who gets to pass on tips to others. For those of you who have followed my Tim-bits articles in this fine publication for the past five years, you’ll notice that the overarching theme essentially boils down to what I was taught very early on – be prepared for anything.  

As firefighters, we need to construct our hose beds to be capable and ready for a forward or reverse lay. We need to be prepared to advance, position and lay out hoselines in different manners for the greatest efficiency and effect. We need to be prepared.

In this column, I’m taking what my ‘salty old guy’ told me, and I’m adding my two cents along with what has worked well over my years of service. The preparation that I’m going to speak about is not that of training, but of personal preparedness for whatever might come our way.

My old guy told me to keep a spare pair of socks in my fire boots. My advice to all is to get a small duffle bag or backpack to hold a pair of socks and other essentials. I use a version of a pilot’s helmet bag that has served me well for several years now. It’s durable and is just the right size to hold what I might need; and not too big to get in the way in the front or back of the fire engine. I take it with me on every call; because, you know, I want to be prepared.

So, what’s inside? Nothing groundbreaking, I just keep a few things that have helped me when things didn’t go as expected. First, there are the basics: something to change into or additional layers if I get cold and/or wet. There are two pairs of socks, one thick pair and one thin. And they’re good socks that I enjoy wearing; not the stretched out, scratchy ones that I had way back when. There’s also a long sleeve t-shirt and a sweatshirt, which have come in handy in both warm and cold weather.

I keep a fresh supply of water and some kind of nourishment. Currently living in the inside pockets of my bag are two bottles of water that I change out at least every six months and two or three granola bars and/or other non-coated energy bars. I found out the hard way that the chocolate-coated protein bars are a bad idea due to their low melting temperatures. You may think that keeping food and water in a personal bag is a dumb idea if your apparatus always has water and some snacks on it – like my trucks do. But what happens if a problem arises for some reason and you find yourself not attached to that particular apparatus anymore? What if you are hungry or thirsty and the rehab wagon is still some time away? Always be prepared.

My personal bag also contains one spare pair of fire gloves and a spare fire hood. Like the socks, these items are quality and both are brand new. They are the same style and size that I use daily. In the rare occasion that your company ever finds itself going to back-to-back fires or long incidents, a dry pair of gloves and a dry hood can make a big difference for your personal comfort. And, if you lose your frontline gloves or hood, you will still be prepared to respond.

Finally, and probably most importantly, I keep a pack of baby wipes. Current research tells us that firefighters need to decontaminate their faces and necks ASAP after a fire call. Using a baby wipe after a call can help limit exposure to the harmful soot that makes its way through our gear. Also, if nature calls and you’re out in the middle of nowhere, they are a lifesaver.  

Whether or not you decide to take advice is up to you. But I encourage you to ready yourself and your equipment, because in today’s world, you never know how long you’re going to be out when the call comes.

Tim Llewellyn is a firefighter for the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, Pa., and an instructor for a number of fire academies and training faculties. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Written by Beth McKay and Laura King
No one signs up to be a firefighter to do what crews in Vancouver’s downtown east side do every day: administer lifesaving anti-overdose drugs to opioid users – sometimes several times a day and sometimes to the same user twice in one shift.
Written by Tanya Bettridge
One has only to consider pop culture to conclude that the thin line of appropriateness has changed significantly in the past 20 years – from movies such as Deadpool and The Hangover, to Cards Against Humanity, to the acceptable words allowed on mainstream television.
A single episode of Game of Thrones raises (or lowers?) the benchmark of graphic violence on screen. Fifty Shades of Grey floated topics to the pop-culture surface that were previously considered downright deviant. 

It’s no wonder that the fire service struggles to balance its feet on that fine line between what grabs people’s attention and what puts them off. As we yearn to adopt the approach of corporations that have successfully lured audiences with racy, sexy, raunchy and borderline offensive campaigns, our mindful gaze also recognizes that the red tape of municipal professionalism demands a high level of G-rated, approved-for-all-audiences messaging. 

This precariously thin line is also the difference between messaging that is skipped over by the people we are trying to reach, and campaigns or promotions that prompt behaviour changes. In case you’re asking, “Why does it matter?” look no further than movements such as the ALS ice-bucket challenge or the recent Pokemon Go craze to see that when something is new and cool, it prompts people to act. In our case, we want to prompt mom or dad to insist on a home-escape plan, Sally to check her smoke alarm or Tom to replace his expired CO alarm.  

How does a fire department balance on that line? Good news: there are companies that do this with everything they produce; they create G-rated products that kids go crazy about, and cleverly insert just the right dash of adult-oriented content; they have names such as Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks. You can sit with the whole family to watch Shrek, Finding Nemo and Toy Story; the kids will laugh at the characters’ antics, but the parents will catch the clever adult-humour insertions that have become a go-to ingredient for production companies. 

Toy Story is one of the most successful family movie franchises and is also brimming with parent-geared messaging. When Bo Peep says to Woody, “Whadda ya say I get someone else to watch the sheep tonight?” we all know what Bo Peep means. In the mutant-toys scene, when they come alive in front of toy-bully Sid, Woody turns his head 360 degrees, a comical tribute to the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Family movies today are packed with adult-oriented punchlines and references in disguise (in Despicable Me, under the sign identifying the Bank of Evil, it states “Formerly Lehman Brothers”). 

Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks realized a long time ago that while the target audience for their movies is primary-school-aged children, those audience members don’t go to theatres by themselves – they are always accompanied by parents or older siblings.  Movie studios also realized during the VHS and DVD eras that if they had any hope of parents wanting to bring those movies into their homes, the parents must not mind watching. 

Lessons I have learned:
  • Messaging approved for all audiences does not have to be boring, nor does it have to appeal only to toddlers
  • Public-education programs and events need to offer something for everyone
  • We can balance on the line by being creative and clever in our messaging
  • Stale, generic messaging will not prompt anyone to act; we have to present stuff that is new and cool
  • We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; there are plenty of ways to piggyback on pop culture and still get the message across
Applying the lessons
It seems unattended cooking is still a big problem. Unfortunately, the generic “Watch what you heat” messaging doesn’t seem to capture people’s attention. So, using a little creativity-and-clever-humour disguise, maybe we can twist the message into something that elicits a response. Post a tweet featuring a photo of a romantic dinner for two, a second photo of a pot on a stove, and a third of a house on fire, accompanied by the message “There are great ways to heat up a romance. Unattended cooking isn’t one of them.” Chances are good that the message will be retweeted by people other than just fire-service colleagues. Post a similar message about flameless candles.

Pop culture offers so many funny examples of events gone wrong. For example, instead of issuing the same old water-your-Christmas-tree message, insert an image from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie and tease people about ensuring they have a Griswold-free holiday season (and add the watering tree tip afterward). Or say something about making sure cousin Eddie is the only unwanted guest this holiday season by ensuring you have working CO and smoke alarms. 

Humour is the quickest and most powerful way to engage an audience. Production companies such as Disney have proven that there are ways to produce a message approved for all audiences but that captures the attention of those who are responsible for taking action, such as buying a DVD or changing a smoke alarm battery. While fire services many never experience their own super-cool movements, there are plenty of opportunities to capitalize on fads and crazes and twist our messages into something new and cool.

If only Nintendo had included “Carry Pikachu home and test your smoke alarms” in its Pokemon Go game.
Written by Tanya Bettridge
October 2015 - You can see them coming. It’s almost comical that they think you won’t notice their evasive manoeuvres. There are the power-walkers who blow by your entire row, there are the if-I-don’t-make-eye-contact-I’m-safe folks, and then there are the ones who glance in your direction, their sensors picking up the safety aspect of your display and they high-tail it to the next area of booths. If my chief would let me, I’d post a sign that says, “We see you. We know you’re avoiding us on purpose.”
Written by Margo Tennant
Three Breast Friends put one foot in front of the other and set off on an adventure they never expected.
Written by Margo Tennant
How do we help every member of the fire service educate the public about fire safety?
Written by Ken Sheridan
Earlier this year, the National Geographic channel aired a six-part documentary, titled Inside Combat Rescue.
Written by Ken Sheridan
Being in the fire service seems to imply to others that we are tough and armour plated.
Written by Ken Sheridan
It’s a little-known fact that on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire there was another huge fire the United States: a fire burned so out of control in Peshtigo, Wis., on Oct. 8, 1871, that 2,500 people died
Written by Ken Sheridan
As I wrote this in late November, all thoughts were on the approaching Christmas season and fire departments were focused on holiday safety.
Written by Ken Sheridan
This past summer I watched more of the Olympics than I ever have before.
Written by Mahendra Wijayasinghe
Canadian fire statistics are elusive: the last available analysis of nationwide fire losses in Canada is the 2002 Annual Report of Fire Losses in Canada, published by the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners (CCFM/FC).
Written by Ken Sheridan
I’ve been intrigued by the story of Hélène Campbell, a double-lung transplant recipient. Campbell, suffering idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, made headlines after appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show a few months ago.
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