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From the Editor: July 2014

I wouldn’t normally write a story – particularly a cover story – about a product or service.

July 2, 2014
By Laura King


Topics

I wouldn’t normally write a story – particularly a cover story – about a product or service. But when Karen Gillis of Breton Smartek called me last summer about the FireQ-RVS response verification system for volunteer fire departments, she was convincing, and I was keen to meet the fire captain who created this intriguing  software and app.

When I left Coxheath, N.S., after a three-hour interview and demo last August, I had been roundly convinced by Capt. Ian McVicar that FireQ is to the fire service what iPhone is to communication – a game changer.

The Coxheath Fire Department is part of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Fire & Emergency Services; there are 750 volunteer firefighters in the CBRM’s amalgamated region, serving a population of more than 97,000 out of 36 stations.

Being a Cape Bretoner, of course, I knew there would be a connection

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McVicar, it turns out, is part the McVicar clan with whom I went to school in Sydney, N.S.; his uncle, Art McVicar, owned the pharmacy in the Ashby neighbourhood next door to the house in which I lived in the early 1970s – across the street from the Ashby fire hall. I learned to ride a bike on the sloped pavement in front of the hall, and quickly got used to the sound of sirens – maybe that explains some things! That hall closed a few years ago after mould was found inside; the municipality has yet to rebuild due to a shrinking tax base and lack of funds.

McVicar is ex-military and talks faster than I could take notes – part passion for his product and the job, and part rapid-fire Cape Bretoner.

After years of arriving at fire calls and not knowing who else would show up, McVicar designed the FireQ system – a response, tracking, data management and communication program that simplifies every aspect of the fire department for firefighters and officers.

What’s more – and this may not have occurred to the developers – FireQ addresses a long-standing issue for municipalities: service levels. With municipal budgets continually strained and consultants recommending composite response models as affordable alternatives to career departments, it’s difficult to justify full-time staff in areas with low call volume.

The argument that a volunteer department creates more risk because of the uncertain response becomes moot with FireQ. Not only does the officer on scene or at the fire hall know exactly who’s showing up and when, the system is designed to reduce unnecessary responses to false alarms (see story page 8) so that volunteers – and their employers – grow to trust the program and will show up when they’re most needed.

As McVicar traipses to fire conferences to show off FireQ – he was in Grande Prairie in June at the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association show when I was there, and will be at the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association in Pictou this month (the 100th anniversary of the MFCA!) – more and more departments are testing and then implementing FireQ.

There is always talk at fire shows and conferences about the most significant change in the fire service in the last 10 or 20 or 50 years. I think we’ve found it.

***

Months ago, I approached Margo Tennant about writing a column on public education. I knew Margo through her previous job as an administrative assistant with Caledon Fire & Emergency Services. After accumulating all the necessary courses and training, Margo was hired in 2012 as a fire and life-safety educator in Brampton, Ont.

Like many of the people I approach about writing who I know can produce great content but need some encouragement to go public, Margo was skeptical. But I’m fairly persuasive, and over lunch and coffee and some calls and emails, I convinced Margo to put her passion to paper and offer the wealth of resources at her disposal in Brampton to our readers.

Margo’s debut column is on page 22. Please give her some feedback so she can tailor her column to the needs of departments from coast
to coast.  


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