This column is the first in a two-part series about dealing with patients involved in motor-vehicle collisions (MVCs). The next column, in January, will address research that has led to changes to how crews respond to patients at extrication incidents,.
In the April issue, we discussed roles of each responder and how to set a plan at a scene. No matter how simple or complex the incident, rescuers must start with a plan to assess the severity of the scene and the condition of the patient(s).
No two motor-vehicle collisions (MVCs) present the same: differences range from the vehicles involved to speed, the numbers of patients involved, and their positions in the vehicles. While it’s impossible to manage every collision scene the same way, a simple, modular approach that is scalable and uses principles of the incident management system can be applied to size-up every incident.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Some questions are being asked in the fire-rescue community about the use of carbon-fiber material in new vehicle construction. Although carbon fiber has been in the aircraft industry for many years, it is now being used in many late-model vehicles coming off the assembly line. It’s important that rescuers understand how carbon fiber is made and its properties in order to safely and efficiently predict and deal with this materialCarbon fiber is a lightweight, strong alternative to common steel. It is used in everything from an airliner fuselages to racing-bike frames and protective cell-phone cases. Carbon fiber was invented in the United States in the late 1950s but it wasn’t until a new manufacturing process was developed at a British research center in early ’60s that carbon fiber’s strength and lightweight potential was truly realized. Carbon fiber reinforced polymer, or CFRP, is a process of combining strands of acrylic yarn together and baking the material to 1,400 F, which activates the carbonation of the yarn, hence the term carbon fiber. Each carbon fiber has roughly 10 layers of fabric; it is  placed in a heavy press, air is extracted, a chemical resin is injected under high pressure and heated again for a specific time; then the fiber is cooled and the part is formed. When the part is removed from the press, the edges are very jagged so they are trimmed and sanded. The outer layer is the product’s final color and finish, which is a dark grey or black; the parts can be painted any colour, but are often left in the original colour, which has a unique, professional high-tech look. One of the main advantages of this material is the strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber after the above process is completed; the actual weight of the component is a fraction of that of the same part made of steel. This transmits into reduced weight of vehicle parts which, in turn, can result in an overall increase in fuel economy of 20 to 30 per cent; that saving really motivates the auto industry to include carbon fiber in production lines. As a result, there will be a big push in the next few years of carbon fiber and aluminum combinations mated with other lightweight materials in modern vehicles. Anywhere the manufacture can reduce weight results in better fuel economy. Another area that has undergone change is inside the vehicle passenger compartment, where structural strength is not important but cosmetic appeal is desired. Carbon fiber, with its sleek, stylish, eye-catching look really complements the interior of even the entry-level vehicle and is well suited for door panels and handles, outer seat contours and dash parts. These components do not have to conform to structural standards and can be made slimmer, quicker and cheaper for this reason.On the structural side of things, auto manufacturers have established methods to give carbon-fiber parts more strength in a specific direction, for example, increasing strength in a load-bearing direction, but not doing so in areas that bear less load. Developments are underway that allow for omni-directional carbon-fiber construction, which applies strength in all directions. This version of carbon-fiber association is mostly being used in the safety cell unibody chassis assembly. Another advantage as time has passed; carbon fiber reinforced polymer has proven to be very corrosion resistant; this is a very important characteristic in both the outer body panels of the vehicle and the structural makeup of the framework or safety cell. Let’s look at one popular vehicle that uses versions of CFRP and aluminum that’s cutting edge technology. According to the engineers and stakeholders at the Beamer camp, “The new 2016 BMW fifth-generation 7 Series uses a passenger cell called a ‘Carbon Core’ to improve performance and fuel economy, which cuts the weight by 86.kilos (or 190 pounds.)”While the BMW carbon core is not a complete carbon-fiber, reinforced plastic tub or a series of panels as is used in racecars or hybrid supercars, the BMW efficient lightweight technology combines carbon fiber with lightweight, high-strength steel, and aluminum body panels. There are some carbon-fiber brackets and stiffeners, such as the cross-member at the top of the windshield. CFRP is inside the steel roof pillars to keep the cabin intact in a rollover or severe side impact. More 7 Series body panels are now aluminum, including doors and the trunk lid. The brakes, wheels, and suspension have lightened by 15 per cent, BMW says; savings to the so-called un-sprung weight parts have a much greater effect on performance than taking the same weight out of the gearbox or seats. BMW liberally reinforces the already strong metal/aluminum passenger cell with CFRP in critical places. The 15 CFRP reinforcements include the header above the windshield, door sills, transmission tunnel, front-to-back and left-to-right roof reinforcement tubes and bows, the B-pillar between front and rear doors, the C-pillar, and rear parcel shelf. Most of the discussion around CFRP from a rescuer’s perspective concerns actual tool use and the dust that is created when breaching or cutting into the material. Testing done by rescuers has shown that there can be a fair amount of CFRP dust when using  tools such as a fine tooth reciprocating saw blade. Although each CFRP manufacturer uses different chemicals and resins to make its product, most of the material safety data  sheets call to protect your airway with either a respirator or N95 particulate mask when working around CFRP airborne dust. In discussions with the companies that make or work with CFRP, all workers have stated that when cutting, sanding or in any situation in which they are creating dust particles, they have either worn the proper PPE as mentioned above or if operating in a close environment, have done the work under a ventilation hood fan. It is my belief that rescuers should adopt these same protocols, err on the side of caution and wear N95 masks when working around the CFRP dust.   View the embedded image gallery online at:  Another challenge worthy of mention is the fact that manufacturers may paint over the carbon-fiber components and thus give rescuers no indication whether the component it is steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber. The 2016 BMW7 series upper A-pillar is an example of this; the indicator in this case is the carbon-core stamp on the top of the B-pillar.One method firefighters in the United Kingdom use to determine if a component is made of carbon-fiber material is to place a small, pocket-sized magnet on the suspected component; if the magnet doesn’t stick, the component is most likely carbon fiber or possibly aluminum, and therefore rescuers know to protect their airways accordingly with approved respiratory measures.    In terms of hydraulic rescue tools breaching CRFP material – the material is not a challenge to sever as it simply crushes the part, such as a B-pillar, with relative ease. When cutting or spreading, the material simply breaks apart into small fragments. Rescuers will have no problem cutting the material with hand tools such as reciprocating saws and air chisels; doing so would be similar to cutting fiberglass.Most vehicle manufacturers are investigating, testing and using carbon fiber in some form or another. Ultimately, use of carbon fiber will help manufacturers meet stricter fuel-economy and crash-safety standards. The use of carbon fiber in a vehicle can significantly reduce the weight and size of the framework; this will allow engineers to design and create more passenger compartment space. Using more carbon fiber in the manufacturing process also reduces the volume of water and electricity used to build vehicle components and chassis. Advancements in carbon-fiber technology will trickle down to the mainstream, just as airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control have done. Staying abreast of the changes to vehicles will allow first responders to stay on the top of their game. Randy Schmitz is a Calgary firefighter extensively involved in the extrication field. He is the education chair for the Transport Emergency Rescue Committee in Canada.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   @firedog7
Rescuers should be aware of government rulings that affect the construction of vehicles so that they can adopt new extrication strategies.
My series on firefighter survival (see part 1, Canadian Firefighter, July 2017) focuses on the mayday call. A mayday call is for firefighters only, never for patients or for any other fire-ground emergency. When a mayday is called, everyone on scene knows a firefighter needs help.
In each edition of Tim-bits, I select a topic or technique that was introduced in recruit academies and became engrained as fire-service doctrine, then offer a field-tested and street-smart modification to make the practice easier, safer or more effective.
As the first-due engine company responds swiftly to a confirmed bedroom fire, the company officer in the right, front seat scans the GIS map on the engine’s iPad for locations of nearby fire hydrants. The company officer finds that the best hydrant is six houses past the incident address, and the second-best hydrant is a block before the incident, but is on the opposite side of the street.The company officer knows that a charged, large-diameter supply hose snaking up the street will likely block access to the next-arriving companies, so she ranked that hydrant second. As the engine approaches the second-ranked hydrant, the officer shouts to the emergency-vehicle operator: “You’re going to hit the hydrant up there, past the address. Stop in front of the house, we’ll drop our leader line and two attack bundles. Reverse lay the leader line to the hydrant. Send water as soon as you get it, don’t wait for us to call for it!” The operator nods and sails past the first-encountered hydrant. As soon as the air brakes are set in front of the burning house, the company officer and her two firefighters disembark the engine, retrieve their assigned hand tools and both ladders and drop them all in the front yard. The officer heads to the rear hose bed and pulls the leader-line bundle down to the street, while each firefighter shoulders and disconnects the top two sections of both of the engine’s mid-mount minuteman, crosslay hose loads. Once the  firefighters are clear of the engine, the company offer kneels on the leader-line bundle and shouts for her driver to begin the reverse lay toward the hydrant. The situation in this story occurs all too often, but based on my knowledge gained from instructing locally and internationally, the decisions made and the actions performed by the company officer are rare. Firefighters, as creatures of habit, think securing a water supply means laying our supply hose from the hydrant and driving the fire engine toward the fire – a forward lay. Leader-line reverse lays are taught in recruit academies, but are rarely put to use and seldom trained on (and only if the fire engine is equipped to perform them). I’ve even witnessed a well-equipped fire engine drive past the fire, perform no fewer than six three-point turns on a single-lane road, just to turn around and perform a forward lay from the hydrant to the fire. A reverse lay with a leader line would have sent water to the fire much faster.A leader line is a dead load of 77-millimetre (three-inch) hose packed flat-load style in a hose bed from the female coupling. Typically, the hose in the bed will be no less than six lengths, and will terminate on top at the last male coupling with a water thief or other gated, reducing wye. A leader line’s function is to extend a larger diameter hoseline further than would be practical to stretch smaller lines, and then attach smaller attack lines to the appliance on the end. As much hose as needed is removed, and the line is then broken and attached to a side or rear discharge for supply. We have devised a unique way of packing our leader lines that enable an effective reverse-lay operation, or simply extend our attack lines further from the truck than our pre-connected hoses will allow. The idea is to form a bundle of 77-mm hose that contains one length and a water thief. Our members use a 1.8-metre (six-foot) piece of old large-diameter supply hose to form the base of the bundle; we purchased some cheap utility straps and pass them through the width of the large-diameter hose at several spots to hold the bundled section of hose and the appliance. The purpose of the large-diameter hose base is to ensure the bundle stays packed together neatly and to enable an easier removal from the hose bed with less friction. We also attach a rope pull handle on the bed end to make retrieval easier. Our district has a lot of properties with deep setbacks, so it is imperative that the water thief makes it well into the front yard, if not just short of the front door. Our practice of removing the top sections of our minuteman pre-connects gives us just 30 metres (100 feet) of working hose length and the nozzle – a water thief in the street is useless as the majority of our attack hose will be laying in the yard. The one-section leader-line bundle can be dropped and unstrapped in the street, and advanced one full length toward the structure; this helps to ensure that the firefighters will have almost all of the attack hose length at their disposal for use inside the structure. Our version of the leader-line bundle works well for our department and has proven to be a versatile tool. Give it a try – it might be a fit for your department. Now get out there and practise with your leader lines!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
Peer pressure is present in every fire station and can contribute to dangerous situations.
For the past eight years, this column has explored the rapid intervention team (RIT) and the many aspects of that important fire-ground assignment. As we begin a new year, I want to turn our attention from rescuing other firefighters to rescuing ourselves.
In the world of technical rescue, the Stokes basket is a main piece of equipment. The basket is used for patient packaging and transfer from one elevation to another during a rope rescue, confined-space rescue, or even water rescue if it is equipped with floatation devices. Many fire departments carry Stokes baskets on their fire trucks for rescue scenarios, but this versatile piece of equipment is also valuable for the rapid intervention team (RIT).
Oct. 11, 2017 – One single ounce of oxygen. That’s all it would have taken for an explosion to have occurred at Pacific BioEnergy’s Prince George, B.C. facility in August 2017. It was Thursday, Aug. 24 when chairman and chief executive officer Don Steele found out that one of the wood pellet fuel company’s silos began smoldering overnight.Steele was hosting a group of seven guests who had flown from Nagoya, Japan for a tour of the facility. “I advised them," he explained. "I said we could go up and have a look. We might even go on the property and they wouldn’t see much. But, at that point in time we were evacuating,” Steele said.Although reported as a fire in mainstream media, the incident was a smoldering situation. Wood pellet consultancy company FutureMetrics’ John Swaan founded Pacific BioEnergy Corporation in 1994. His direction on-site is one of the main reasons why an explosion didn’t take place.What was the winning solution? Nitrogen injection. In an industry where the potential for explosions is all too common, this was the first time that a North American pellet operation successfully put out a smouldering issue. “We have a number of incidents that have happened in our industry, mostly in Europe, that have not gone successfully,” Swaan said.“There were some references that I shared with Don and his key people on-site,” Swaan recalled from the day. “And then his VP of operations gathered his key people around and took a look at what the options might be and looked at the references,” he explained. “I shared the report about how best to handle these [situations], that was done in a research centre in Sweden.” “So we did some calculations, and based on those calculations, a decision was made with Don and his people to say ‘OK, let’s bring in the nitrogen.’”“A simple reaction would be to try and open [the silo] up to put out the fire, which would have been catastrophic,” Steele said. “Any oxygen entering would have been disastrous. It was a tremendously risky proposition.”The silo holds 3,500 tonnes of pellets. Steele said that’s the energy equivalent of about 10,000 barrels of oil. The incident had the potential to have the entire surrounding city evacuated.The nitrogen injection equipment was brought to the facility from neighbouring Alberta within eight to 10 hours. Alberta’s oil fields have prompted the province’s first responders to be prepared for fire suppression missions to prevent explosions. The smouldering material in the silo was injected with nitrogen for a few days until it was safe enough to remove in small amounts. The nitrogen arrives as a liquid and needs to be turned into a vapour.“I think the first principle of it is, liquid nitrogen is an inert gas,” Steele said. “In other words, it can’t explode or burn. So you use it to push the oxygen out of the container and then try and seal it off. We tried with foam and various things, but once you’ve got the oxygen content below a certain level, [about] 10 per cent, you’ve minimized the risk of an explosion. So then you can start pulling the material out.”“We basically wetted it down, and over a course of seven days eliminated the risk, moved the material out, quenched the fire risk and then stockpiled it over in another part of our property,” Steele said.“I think the key thing is nobody overreacted… I don’t even think there was a Band-Aid.”Swaan and Steele said the cooperation between industry and first responders was what ensured a safe outcome.“This kind of incident has the potential of major, major injury. Our people knew how to safely handle the material and the first responders and fire department knew how to look after our people to keep them out of harm’s way,” Steele said. “They had the respiration equipment, they had the fire hoses, they had the ability and the technique for putting out a fire. Our people knew how to move the material through and safely evacuate the silo.”Half a million dollars-worth of material and product was destroyed and a lot of equipment was damaged, but Steele says everybody’s safety makes the situation a success. “It’s a happy beginning actually, because we’re beginning now to refit and add to our knowledge of our product and how to handle it,” he said. “And I think the whole industry is going to learn something from it too.” “I say anything that can be fixed with money is not a problem. You can’t fix people with money, particularly if they’re severely injured or killed.” “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ [a silo fire could happen] it’s ‘when,’” Swaan said. “But the good news is that we now as an industry have a lot of new learnings. We have experience that we can now share with the industry so that we can make it a safer industry for these types of situations.”Steele said, “The key thing is, think before you act, use other information, use your judgement, move deliberately, keep everybody safe.”This story was originally published in Canadian Biomass. 
In the April issue, I reviewed the general flow and pressure characteristics of standpipe systems based upon the year of their installation or upgrade. For review, standpipe systems installed before 1993 are designed to produce a flow of 500 gpm at 65 psi – which produces a good combination of volume and pressure for a 65 millimetre (2.5 inch) hose with a smooth-bore tip.
In the last few issues, we have built a foundation of key firefighter survival skills and an understanding of the importance of having these skills. We will now build upon that foundation with some integral survival strategies, beginning with mayday calls.
The dispatcher’s voice crackles loudly over the pager through the late-night silence: “Possible structure fire, 2 Gilkey Dr. – Penn Mar Plaza in Mars Borough. Caller on the 7th floor can hear smoke alarms going off and reports black smoke filling the hallway – unable to evacuate. Responding units will be Engines 42, 19, 20, 21 and 22, Truck 42, Truck 228 and Rescue 16 for the RIT.
In the January issue, we examined the first three points of the basics or foundations of fire fighting that every firefighter should know: your equipment; your crew; and your response area. The last two basics are size-up and training.
In the October edition of Tim-bits, I focused on a method of leader-line deployment that has served our department well; its versatility and ease of use has found favour with our firefighters when it’s necessary to extend attack lines.
Editor Laura King spoke with Chris Fuz Schwab, the deputy chief in Smoky Lake, Alta., after he returned from Fort McMurray. This is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Editor’s note: Chief Jamie Coutts’ perspective on the fire that ravaged Fort McMurray, burning 10 per cent of the city, is unique. Coutts, chief of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service, took his experience from the 2011 fire that decimated 40 per cent of his community to Fort Mac on May 3, with firefighters Ryan Coutts and Patrick McConnell, part of the department’s FireSmart team that was developed post-2011 and is trained in wildland and structural fire fighting, structural protection, ICS 200, emergency preparedness and other disciplines (see Tackling the interface). Coutts provides a first-hand account of his first 24 hours in Fort McMurray.We had been watching the Fort McMurray updates on our Alberta Wildfire app for a couple days, keenly aware of the fire’s proximity to the City of Fort McMurray. As the fire grew we started to wonder if anyone would call for our structure-protection trailers or crews.  Monday evening, May 2, at 10 p.m., we received a call: “Do you have a structure-protection trailer? How much do you charge per day?” And so the conversation went for about an hour back and forth. I could tell at this point there didn’t seem to be much of a worry; people in Fort McMurray were just trying to look ahead. I called in a couple of the FireSmart crew guys and we got a trailer ready, and rigged up a one-ton with a tank and pump. The call came that the Regional Emergency Operations Centre (REOC) would decide at 7 a.m., and let us know.At 7 a.m. exactly on May 3 we received a call. The REOC would like us to deliver a trailer to Fort McMurray and drop it off. After that, we would be released to head home. Patrick McConnell, Ryan Coutts and I decided we would pack a bag and take our wildfire gear; we had been down this road before and decided better safe than sorry. We were on the road by 8 a.m. and drove straight to Fort McMurray, listening to broadcasts about the fire and changes from the previous night as we went. There were so many similarities to the Slave Lake fire in 2011 that we started to talk about what deploying the gear would look like, and what challenges we would face from all the people and organizations involved. We discussed the fact that we would be heading into a situation that people still felt was under control and that we would have to sell our way in.We arrived at 12:30 p.m. and headed into the REOC: it was like walking into an ant hill – people were everywhere, maps, updates, Smart Boards. We were asked to drop off the trailer and lock it up. Keys would be given to operations and we could go. We went out to the trailer and turned our radios to the Fort McMurray frequency for agriculture and forestry and started listening to the reports.  Things were definitely heating up. We went back in and asked to do an orientation with the crews that would be using this equipment. The ops manager said he would call them all up, and we could do the orientation right in the parking lot. Shortly after 1 p.m., about 40 people showed up; we talked briefly about being prepared, having LACES (lookouts, anchors, communications, escape routes, and safety zones), talked about what could be saved and what couldn’t if the fire hit the city, and what the conditions might be like. From there Patrick and Ryan did a quick orientation on equipment, setup, and systems. I saw Fort McMurray Chief Darby Allen walking back into the REOC from outside, caught up to him, introduced myself and said, “You will be under immense political pressure during this event – evacuate, don’t evacuate, priorities will be shifting. Follow your heart, follow your gut and do what you know is right.” We left it there and he went back inside. The media was humming around, and you could tell from the smoke column and radio traffic that things were going sideways. The projected wind at the morning briefing was out of the south east, switching to a stronger wind out of the south west. We could see outside that the wind would push the fire past the city limits and then slam the whole side of the fire into the southern neighbourhoods.We went back into the REOC and told Assistant Deputy Chief Jody Butz at operations that orientation was done and that the Fort McMurray firefighters were taking the trailer. He thanked us and then Chief Allen asked if we would stick around and discuss some of what Slave Lake had been through and look at some operations with the team. (I didn’t tell him at the time but Patrick, Ryan, and I had talked about this outside, and with conditions the way they were, there was absolutely no way we were going anywhere. We had even put our wildfire gear on already.) We waited inside with one of the deputies for a chance to talk to Chief Allen. The forestry manager, Bernie Schmitte, and the operations chief, Butz, were having a briefing meeting while the deputy chief talked about the layout of the city and the neighbourhoods in front of the fire. As we looked out the second storey window at the fire, I excused myself and headed to the operations briefing. I excused myself again and asked the gentlemen if I could interrupt. I had been watching the conditions and hearing the radio chatter and said that I knew we needed to hurry with structure protection; they handed me a map, listened to the plan, immediately endorsed it, and told us where to go to get more help. We left immediately and headed to Station 1 downtown.At Station 1, fire-service personnel were trying to get organized and keep a helicopter pad free. Firefighters from the city and region were assembling, and gear was being organized. We dumped overnight bags from our one ton, grabbed cases of water (we knew we would need lots) and were assigned another seven firefighters to go with us to meet other firefighters and our structure-protection trailer in Beacon Hill (the first area to be slammed by fire front). Evacuated people were streaming down all lanes as we tried to slowly creep to Beacon Hill. Once we were on Beacon Hill Drive, we tried to find our structure-protection trailer, which was with our friend Dave Tovey from Fort McMurray Fire. We stopped by a park that would provide some distance from where the fire would hit and, along with dozens of Fort Mac firefighters, we started evacuating people (some were still in their houses, others were trying to load motorcycles and campers). The Fort Mac firefighters with us quickly rounded up animals that had been left behind or had been trapped with no owners able to get to them. Then, the set up and fire fight started. The wind picked up, and the sparks started landing. This was the point at which our experience in Slave Lake started to come through for us. It was simple: save the houses that aren’t on fire yet. Hit the spot fires, but once a house goes up, move on – there are just too many to fight. This is an impossible thought to process when you are a firefighter: we put house fires out, period; so when we are asked or told to let some homes burn so others can be saved, it’s tough to absorb and accept. Patrick and Ryan left and hooked up with the Fort McMurray crews that had our structure-protection trailer. It was too late to deploy in that area so they fought the fires they could, set up hoses where they could and worked with the Fort Mac crews. I didn’t want to be separated from my guys, but I knew their training and experience was needed where they were. I was lucky to be with a large group of volunteers called in from smaller Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo halls – the new recruit class (five weeks in, I was told) and a few captains and training officers. It was all a little overwhelming and I remember thinking “Were these the looks on our faces when Slave Lake burned?” I just kept telling them, “Keep up the good work, fight the fires that need to be fought, what you are doing is saving lives and houses; just keep going.” At one point there was an evacuation and we had to work through that; it was very stressful working through the fact that we were safe, yet surrounded by dozens of burning homes. We worked it through command, and were able to stay in the area. (When I went back days later there were houses left right where this group of firefighters had been fighting fires. It was nice to know we won the battle for a few dozen homes.)After a couple of hours of working in Beacon Hill, I called Patrick and Ryan and we headed up to the REOC. We talked briefly with Chief Allen and Chief Butz about critical infrastructure and what has to be left for a city to survive. Somehow, through all of this, the city crews had kept the water going to most of the hydrants, and dozens of fire departments were on the way to help. We were tasked with protecting the hospital. We went back to Station 1, grabbed a few guys from Albian Sands Fire and headed to the hospital. Short on gear, we talked with people from the hospital, and received help from the security and maintenance staff. We were able to use a small amount of equipment that Albian had brought and hoses from the hospital to get good coverage of the entire roof of the hospital. You could hear, and see, that just like in Slave Lake, this fire had turned into dozens of small battles across a rather huge battlefield.Just as we finished getting the roof covered, Capt. Pat Duggan of the Fort McMurray Fire Department came up to the hospital to take command of this area. (Duggan had been married to my cousin, and quickly recognized Ryan and me; funny how small the fire world is. We talked about whether all his family members were out, and they were.) Duggan spotted smoke and fire in a nearby neighbourhood and left with Ryan and Patrick in our one-ton truck: the three of them started that fire fight with a garden hose and a booster reel off the small tank in that one-ton. Duggan quickly called in reinforcements and within minutes had started a fire fight that would last hours and save an entire downtown neighbourhood. From there, we went to a backyard fire with another Fort Mac officer and knocked that down with a garden hose and booster reel again. I was so impressed with the Fort Mac utilities people – all that water being used and yet they somehow kept it going. We went back to the hospital where ash was falling constantly now while the Abasand neighbourhood burned. (Along with half our structure-protection equipment – we didn’t find that out until later). It sounded like a war zone – fireworks from the store going off, propane tanks, oxygen/acetylene torch tanks going off. The smoke was thick and the ash was intense. Duggan called me right then; we talked about the area he was in and hung up. I didn’t get a chance to see him or talk to him again during our time in Fort Mac, but I’m proud to say we worked together.   View the embedded image gallery online at: While we waited for trucks to arrive from Slave Lake, we stopped at Station 1 for some water and a bite to eat. As I was walking to the washroom I almost ran smack into a horse.  That’s right – a horse. The owners could not get to their trailer so they evacuated with their two horses to the hall. Add that to the list of things I’ve never seen before. At about 11 p.m. our two trucks arrived from Slave Lake. We checked in at Station 1, picked up firefighter Chad Grunow with Fort McMurray Fire, and headed up into Thickwood for our next assignment. (Grunow stayed with our crews through our entire time in Fort Mac, guiding us, saving his beloved city, even letting our firefighters stay with him in his home; a true friend and a heck of a firefighter.) This assignment was to assist with putting out some wildland fires that kept sneaking up to fence lines and starting structural fires. That completed, we assisted in a neighbourhood where about 10 trailers were on fire. From memory, I believe there were crews from Fort Mac and its new recruit class, Syncrude, Albian Sands, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Slave Lake and Anzac, and I’ve probably missed a few. It was amazing to see all of these people working together trying to save this neighbourhood. This went on until 4 a.m. ,when we finally headed down to MacDonald Island. We parked our trucks, found cots, and stayed there breathing in thick smoke for a couple hours.  I never thought I’d see something like Slave Lake again – we trained hard, shared the lessons learned and participated in every after-action review we could find to make sure an it wouldn’t happen again. I believe the days, weeks, months and years ahead will be even tougher on the people of Fort McMurray than they were here in Slave Lake (it’s hard to believe but I’m sad to say I’m sure of it), and that the after-action reviews will be gruelling, but always remember this: no one died in Fort McMurray (although there was a tragic loss during the evacuation and those young adults will never be forgotten) and 90 per cent of the city was saved, including all critical infrastructure. The people of Fort McMurray will rebuild. A small piece of my heart will always be with them. As terrible as it was, as scary as it was, there is nowhere on Earth I would rather have been that day than in Fort McMurray, trying to help save a city with my brothers and sisters of the Fort McMurray Fire Department. Chief Allen and Chief Butz were amazing to work with; they listened and respected our views based solely on stories out of Slave Lake. In the days that followed as we took on different roles and different fire fights in the city, we worked with hundreds of firefighters from across the province. It was a different experience from Slave Lake as we were there to help in a different way – it wasn’t our city burning. The lessons captured this time will be different, will be from another perspective and will no doubt lead to new ideas and solutions.  Looking forward, we need to examine evacuations. (Mandatory needs to mean mandatory, and the RCMP need legislation to enforce the evacuation.) How, and who fights these urban interface fires needs to be reviewed, and the proper training, equipment, and trucks need to be developed and purchased. Unified command between fire services and forestry needs to be solidified and adopted by all. Healthcare follow-up needs to be implemented for all people who stayed behind and came from afar to assist in extinguishing this fire. The toxins from this type of urban interface fire are not fully understood yet.In July 2011, I wrote in Canadian Firefighter: “The biggest lesson learned is we have to plan farther – when you’re in wildland areas the world is changing, the weather in the world is changing, and we have to plan with that change.”This outlook has changed the way our whole fire department operates. We were always a stay-ahead department – if one truck is good we send two, if two trucks are good we send three, and we can, because we’re a regional fire service.We can add extensive FireSmart operations to this now. I had even said if we had 300 fire trucks lined up we could not have stopped Slave Lake because of 100-kilometre-an-hour winds. If we had that many trucks lined up in Fort Mac could we have saved it all? There is no way to know for sure, but I will say these words one more time: get ahead, stay ahead.As the wildfire continued to burn, we heard the stories from firefighters involved and critical pieces that were learned from Slave Lake: use of heavy equipment to separate homes saved hundreds, or maybe even thousands of other houses; having water through thick and thin was huge – the utilities people were incredible; transportation folks made sure routes were clear and trucks were fuelled – just amazing. There will always be more to learn, but there were some lessons learned from previous fires.For our crews here in Slave Lake it had been an active spring with multiple deployments and many busy days; we think of our fellow firefighters in Fort McMurray and hope that they remembered to take care of themselves, and to take care of each other. To Chief Allen, and Chief Butz – remember to go easy on yourselves; you did a great job in an extreme environment. Jamie Coutts is the fire chief of Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service in Alberta. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @chiefcoutts
On Tuesday, May 3, we had heard that things in Fort McMurray were getting bad: people were being evacuated and the threat to the city was huge. In the afternoon, I had been talking with one of my captains with the High River Fire Department, Brent McGregor. McGregor had been a training officer in Fort McMurray before moving to High River Fire, and he was concerned about the city and the guys up there as this had been his home for a number of years.
The County of Grande Prairie in Alberta, in early conversations with Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership (GPREP), had committed personnel for deployment for the incident occurring in Fort McMurray. This commitment was for roles specific to the Incident Management Team (IMT). (GPREP is an emergency response partnership comprising the County of Grande Prairie, the City of Grande Prairie, the Town of Wembley, the Town of Beaverlodge, the Town of Sexsmith and Village of Hythe.)
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the September 2015 edition of Fire Fighting in Canada. It has been updated.
Vaughan Fire and Rescue Service (VFRS) was the first department in Ontario to have all its firefighters certified to the province’s firefighter curriculum after the program was introduced in 1993. Now that Ontario has transitioned to NFPA professional qualifications, Vaughan has become the first career department in which all firefighters are certified in NFPA 1006 core competencies for technical rescue – all 300 of them.
When firefighters in Come By Chance, N.L., were called to the scene of a traffic collision in October 2016, they responded, as usual, with lights and sirens. But a puzzle-piece sticker on the car’s back windshield – the international symbol for autism – alerted rescuers to change their approach.
Your crew gets a call for a working fire at a low-rise apartment complex with a person trapped. Within minutes, you are on scene. You’re told over the radio the resident is trapped on the top floor. As you and two colleagues enter the building, your core temperature begins to climb. You’re getting hot, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. You think you’re fine but you become flustered. You’re not sure why, because you’ve done this before. Your temperature begins to rise further and you can no longer focus on the search. You need to get out.
In January 2016, I was tasked to  update the Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service (VFRS) standard operating guideline (SOG) for elevator rescue and creating a training program.
Much work has been done over the last three decades to improve the quality of firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE). We are long removed from the minimal protection provided by hip waders and rain coats that were used by some of Canada’s largest fire departments up to the early 1990s.Today’s PPE ensemble, combined with the latest in respiratory-protection devices, affords firefighters the best available opportunity to survive the hazards in a modern-construction dwelling containing materials that burn much more quickly and hotter than they did just 30 years ago. Even with the latest and greatest in available technology, there are situations in which firefighters are seriously injured or killed as a result of acute exposure to the intense heat associated with hotter and faster-developing structure fires.I first heard Winnipeg firefighter Lionel Crowther’s story at the 2015 Canadian Burn Symposium in Toronto. While working an overtime shift on the evening of Feb. 4, 2007, a response to a house fire produced results that have changed Crowther’s life. We now know Crowther and his crew likely encountered a change in fire conditions as a result of flow-path dynamics. Crowther suffered burns to 70 per cent of his body, 30 per cent of which were full-thickness burns. Captains Harold Lessard and Thomas Nichols died on scene and firefighter Ed Wiebe suffered injuries that put him in critical, but survivable, condition. Firefighters Darcy Funk and Scott Atchison sustained minor injuries.Crowther was exposed to extreme heat levels for an extended period of time as he was unable to make an exit when fire conditions changed; he sustained burns that may have been caused by the compression of superheated gasses trapped in his bunker gear. (For more about Crowther go to 1971 sets the minimum performance requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) and also specifies the test methods by which the PPE is measured. The newest test is the stored energy test, which was added in 2013. Industry experts recognized the thermal protection offered by bunker gear also results in heat being stored in bunker gear. The trapped, superheated gas, when compressed at pinch points in the suit at the knees and the elbows, causes burns. Another common place where superheated gases are trapped is behind the backplate of the SCBA. Crowther’s story closely resembles that of Winnipeg firefighter Barry Borkowski, who suffered significant injuries on Oct. 9, 1994. Since retiring as a captain in 2005, Borkowski has worked to implement design changes to bunker gear.The evolution of engineering of bunker gear has resulted in significant improvements in protection of firefighters; NFPA 1971 has evolved as a result of different types of firefighter injuries, and now measures more factors. But with the improvements have come some challenges: the retention of superheated gasses inside the PPE envelope has resulted in burns during the handling of firefighters who have been removed from fires. ***Representatives from the International Association of Fire Fighters were invited to attend the 2015 Toronto burn symposium and participate as presenters. At the 2014 symposium, much of the information presented contained American-specific details. In 2015, I was asked to co-present – from a Canadian perspective – with Judy Knighton, a registered nurse and burn specialist at the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Knighton and I were tasked to identify best practices in handling and managing the care of responders who sustained burns. Knighton handled to the transport and treatment priorities in her presentation titled Emergency Management and Outpatient Care of the Person with Burns. I addressed management of the patient immediately following removal from the hazardous environment in my presentation, Managing the Handling of the Rescued Firefighter.Emotions among fellow firefighters run high when a firefighter is rescued from a fire. As with all hazardous situations in which patients are involved, the primary concern should be rescuer safety. It is important that the rescuers wear full PPE when managing care for a rescued firefighter, and be purposeful and careful when handling the super-heated firefighter. The rescuers need to: Avoid off-gassing from firefighter; Avoid skin contact with hot bunker gear. Considerations and steps to safely remove the PPE ensemble: Have the firefighter remain standing• Allow some time for the PPE envelope to passively cool and off-gas or use a positive-pressure ventilation fan to speed up the process• Do not use a hose line to cool the firefighter while he or she is in the PPE ensemble.• Use two rescuers to facilitate the removal of the PPE ensemble• Protect the rescued firefighter from the stored heat in the bunker gear• Avoid sitting, laying down, bending limbs prior to dissipating stored heat Loosen the SCBA shoulder straps; communicate your planned actions and co-ordinate the loosenin Disconnect the chest strap Loosen and unbuckle the waist belt Remove and replace the neck flap Open the front jacket flap while unclasping/unzipping the coat Open the jacket Remove the stage 2 regulator Roll the coat and the SCBA over the shoulders Remove gloves and the remainder of the coat Unclasp the pants, and remove the suspenders, letting the pants fall Roll the pants over the boots, and assist in removal of boots. Remove helmet, balaclava and mask. Initial burn treatment: Rapid access to definitive care ASAP Use water to cool small minor local burns Cut away clothing if necessary to avoid debriding when fabric remains in the burned tissue Protect open burn wound with dry sterile burn dressings Facilitate rapid transport to definitive care Initial assessment of burns on scene are quite often not overly reliable; some burns that appear to be minor end up being severe while some burns that seem to be significant end up being less severe.   View the embedded image gallery online at: All regions in the country have burn centers associated with leading-edge hospitals that are best suited to manage the care of burn patients. It is worthwhile to ascertain where your firefighter will go when they sustain significant burn injuries. Our partners in emergency medical services will facilitate movement of firefighters to these facilities.  Fire services are very good at preplanning occupancies so they are aware of the different hazards. Situational awareness training is also helping firefighters recognize and react when fire conditions are about to change. These are initiatives designed to limit the risk to firefighters when emergencies occur. Through articles like this and presentations at conferences such as the Canadian Burn Symposium, we hope to spread the word about how to manage the superheated firefighter to limit injuries to the rescuer and the rescuee. These are low-incidence, high-risk situations that need to be planned for before they happen.  Ken Webb is a 22-year career fire fighter at Toronto Fire Services who is also paramedic trained. Ken served 15 years as a captain in the professional development and training division. For the last eight years, Ken has been the manager of the firefighter pre-hospital care program at the Sunnybrook Centre for Pre-hospital Medicine in Toronto.
Editor’s note: Sue Henry is a deputy chief with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency. Editor Laura King spoke with Henry following the deployment of the all-hazards Canada Task Force 2 to Fort McMurray.
What are you when you put your uniform on? Are you a fire officer, a firefighter or do you even contemplate how many different hats you wear in one shift? What if I told you that you are salesman, a communications officer, and a customer-service clerk all wrapped up in a fire helmet of whichever colour you just happen to wear? Several years ago I wrote a paper for a fire-prevention management course I was taking at the Justice Institute of BC; Rita Paine was my course instructor. I had an opportunity to use some customer-service skills the other day and it reminded me of the fictional paper on which I just happened to get an A. The purpose of the paper was to write about customer service in the fire service and describe what it meant to each of us.
I remember a few years ago one of my out-of-province firefighter colleagues telling me his fire department had just put dog and cat resuscitation kits on its rescues.
In October, insurance-industry executives told participants at a conference in Montreal that climate change is to blame for the increase in the number of storms, floods and hail events that have resulted in a surge in insurance claims filed in Canada. Martin-Eric Tremblay of the Co-operators Group Ltd.
With the closing of the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing, it is little more than a year until Vancouver and Whistler take centre stage. As the Olympic torch was extinguished in Beijing, VANOC was hosting a celebration in Vancouver, marking the final countdown to 2010 and introducing new emblems and colours. The public face of the 2010 Olympics is about shiny new buildings, public celebrations and fluffy mascots but under the surface is the hard reality of planning for the security and safety of the Games, the participants and the local communities.

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