Thursday, December 15, 2011

Change is good. I think.


My last post notwithstanding, I am excited about my new job. If you are an eager beaver and read the last post before 8:30 Thursday morning, go back and read the addendum I added that expresses my feelings a little more clearly. Talk to me in a month and I'll be on top of the world.

The upside of change is that (they say) it is as good as a rest. Not that fire chiefing in Upsala is a strenuous job on most days. Humdrum paperwork, vehicle and equipment checks, training, planning, record keeping, public education, and various projects and missions I've taken on to round out my days . . . these are the things that keep an Upsala Fire Chief busy. We do have fires occasionally, and respond to highway incidents more frequently, and some days can be crazily hectic and over-the-top stressful because we are very few in number . . . but hectic isn't the norm.

In the past nine months or so, however, I've had frequent urges to ditch the whole thing and escape to Tahiti to lie on the beach for a few decades and forget. You can read undertones of these feelings in my March 29 post "The Peril of Caring." 

Stress isn't always the crush-you-to-powder style that crashes down in one event. It can be, as the analogy goes, little stones piled into your stress-backpack over years, and if you don't figure out how to unload them, one day one more little stone added to the heap breaks your back. My back isn't broken, but I had a wake up call a couple months after I wrote the March 29 post.

Relax, this isn't going to turn into another soul-searching Oprah post, and I'm not going to talk about my wake up call. I said all that to say, I'm ready for change, even though it isn't what I expected. Again, talk to me in a month and I'll tell you if it is as good as a rest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Change

Change doesn't come the way you imagine. It just comes.

Take winter for example. Who doesn't imagine fluffy white snow, village boys playing hockey on glistening ponds, and ice particles floating through the crisp, cold morning air.

Then December rolls around and sleet plasters the fluffy snow, the pond ice gets crusty and useless, and your fingers and toes freeze on that crisp, sunny morning because your gloves are wet and you forgot to put your bama socks on under your turnout boots.

Change comes and winter comes and we make the best of it . . . and we try to prepare. What gets us through is that we know that more fluffy snow will fall (and eventually melt, come May), we can make more hockey ice with a little work, and if we dry out our gloves and tuck the bama socks into our boots when we put them in the locker we'll be warmer next time.

Change has come to my life, and it isn't what I expected . . . except that I expected change to come, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be what I expected. I accepted a position with Confederation College as the Program Manager, Pre Service Firefighter Program.

I've been job hunting for longer than I care to admit. I've even made it into the interview room a couple times, but I seem to have a knack for asking the wrong questions at the wrong time, which is bad when you are trying to impress a potential employer. My pie-in-the-sky idea of "the job" was something secure that paid a lot and allowed me to do what I like the best, which is instruct.

I imagined a job interview in which I wowed my potential employer with stunning presentations, nifty technology, and a sharp uniform. Instead I got a call on my cell phone while I was in town on other business, asking if I could come down and chat . . . which I did in my blue jeans and casual shirt. We had a solid, straight forward chat about the job. They learned about my background. I learned that the job was more managing than teaching, and that there was no guarantee it would last past the end of June (I already knew those things, but had hoped that reality was a little brighter than it looked on paper). I walked out not even knowing for sure if I wanted the job.

By the time I got the call to come finalize the details, I had decided that the time for change had come, and it didn't matter that it wasn't what I expected. I have been ready for change for a long time, and now was not the time to look a gift horse in the mouth.

My contract starts in January. We will stay in Upsala until the kids are out of school in June. I will keep my current position at reduced hours until the department can hire a new chief, then continue as a volunteer until we move. I don't like the idea of commuting to Thunder Bay (an hour and a half drive), but it's part of the change.

As for my future in the fire service, I haven't made any concrete plans. I told the other members of my mutual aid zone that I've invested fifteen years and a portion of my heart and soul into the service, and I would like to continue on in some capacity once we've made the move.

Besides, if I quit who will keep those imaginary anti-volunteer syndicates at bay.

Change is coming to the fire service. A journalist asked me what the Meaford trial could mean for the fire service. I said I didn't know.

The only certain thing is that change will come whether we like it or not. All we can do is make the best of it . . . and try to prepare.

After note:
Erinn read my blog this morning and said, "You don’t sound very excited about your new job." I am excited, but I’m also a combination realist/dreamer (a conflicted hybrid if ever there was one). I think in analogies, so here is one to describe my feelings right now:

Light years ago when I was a trapper, we’d wake up on a -30 degree morning knowing that we had to get out there and do our job. The thought of bundling up and strapping on a pair of snowshoes in those temperatures was not appealing, especially from the comfort a chair by a nice fire. I knew from experience, however, that within 30 minutes the blood would be pumping, my legs would be in gear, and I would be drinking in the Canadian wilderness like a fire instructor drinks a cold beer after a day in the tower (and my instructor buddies say in unison, "What does he know about that?).

I’m in that 30 minute transition period. I’ve been sitting by a figurative fireplace for a long time, but my trapper instincts tell me that the cold outside world will give way to new horizons, with lots to enjoy along the way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Politely Opinionated

I observed early in my online journey that the Internet was a magnet for rabblerousers who wanted to proclaim their views from the safety of anonymity.  Just visit the comment section of even a semi-controversial news story and you'll still find herds of bare knuckled, knock-em-down cyberphantom street brawlers that make Joe Fraser and Mohamed Ali look like partners in Dancing With the Stars.

I appreciate that Canadians lean toward politeness and tolerance in these situations. We have a similar disposition to the Japanese mosquito, which bites like its North American cousins, but folds its hands and says "please" first . . . giving the intended victim time to swat before being bitten (unlike the Japanese black fly, which is just as rudely ferocious as ours).

Perhaps this is why the online discussions I've seen on the Meaford story haven't degenerated into virtual fist fights of opinions. There is no lack of variance in opinion on the matter in the fire service, but so far we have been able to keep it civil for the most part. If there was ever a need to project a solid, unified voice, now is the time.

Speaking of Meaford, the trial is on hold until the presiding justice of the peace decides whether there is enough evidence to proceed with the charges. You can read an article by Laura King about the most recent developments here, and an update on the Firefighting in Canada blog here.

I was glad to find that I'm not the only one to question the Ministry of Labour's choice to prosecute a fire department for decisions made during an act of service. Defense attorney Norman Keith said that "if emergency-service personnel, including a firefighter, is injured because of uncontrolled or unforeseen circumstances, it’s disturbing to think that the Ministry of Labour might point the finger of blame" at someone who is working in the public interest.

Unpredictability makes the fireground different from any other work place. We counter that unpredictability with operational guidelines, but no one can write a guideline that foresees every situation. Put firefighters in a dangerous mix that includes trapped occupants, a narrow window of opportunity to rescue them, and few resources, and the "right" choice is not simple. As the well-known maxim goes, we have to make decisions in seconds that others will have the luxury of picking apart over the course of years.

 In my December 5, 2010 post I talk more about the part operational guidelines play at emergency scenes.

Taking a brief pause in this diatribe, Ontario Vol FF is a new blog about the Ontario volunteer fire service. Here is a link. Knuckles, as he calls himself, offers another perspective on the volunteer service. Add this to Jennifer Mabee's blog on the Firefighting in Canada site, and it's good news all around. The more voices we have out there, the better.
 The down side of Canadian politeness is the danger of slipping into apathy. We don't like to rock the boat. Without delving into the mysteries of psychology, I think it isn't that we don't care, we just don't care enough to stir up trouble about things that we feel are none of our business.

I'm all about keeping our noses out of places they don't belong, and treating our opponents with polite civility . . . as long as they don't see our niceness as an opportunity to slap us like a mosquito.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Contrariwise

I want to clarify that I have no bone to pick with the Ministry of Labour, or any other organization that honestly wants to make the fire service safer and better. If mistakes were made at Meaford, let's learn from them. I still have misgivings about the whole affair though, and you can read some of them at the CVFSA blog (if the link takes you to the home page, click "Volunteer Voice Blog" on the left side bar).

I remember when the media questioned Brunacini shortly after Brett Tarver died in a Phoenix supermarket fire in 2001. They wanted to know if something went wrong. I don't recall his exact words, but I'll never forget his tone. He said something to the effect of, "Hell yeah something went wrong. One of my firefighters died," [you idiots that had to ask such a stupid question].

Brunacini worked with Northern Virginia Community College afterwards to conduct tests as a result of the LODD, and the findings added much to our understanding of the challenges faced by RIT . . . and that knowledge is now incorporated into our training on the subject. I wonder if we will benefit from something similar as a result of Meaford and Listowel, or if we will be reduced to mere finger pointing and blame laying.

Be that as it may, the trial continues. Laura King wrote an informative piece on the proceedings, the only one that I can find out there in cyberspace so far. You can read it here. 

Leaving the topic of lawyers lining their pockets with tax dollars that could be better spent supporting the fire service, I observed once again today that a firefighter's life is full of contradictions, perhaps even more than the rest of this contrary world. A group of us took on the contract to make the hockey rink this year as a fundraiser, which means harnessing Mother Nature's help in making a large piece of smooth, level ice within the confines of the rink boards.

Here's the contradiction: cold and ice are the firefighter's enemies on the fireground, as you can read in one of my earlier posts, but we suddenly become best buds when we want a skating rink. We need that -20 weather to make a good foundation. If we let our guard down though, ice weasels it's way into our hoses and nozzles and fittings and mucks the whole process up. It only takes a  handful of slush to stop a nozzle, or a wafer thin layer of ice to freeze a fitting shut. Then we enlist the use of fire to fix the problem. Yes, that's right. Fire. Our arch enemy, harnessed in the nozzle of a propane torch, and directed carefully so as not to melt any rubber or plastic nearby. Fire, our enemy, becomes our friend against our other enemy Ice, which is also our friend when we make hockey rinks. I think I need a therapist.
You can learn more about how to operate in the winter here and here, and read a post on the Upsala (winter) Hydrant here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Controversy

Meaford Fire Department is having its day in court again this week. You can read a bare bones update here. I've already said as much as is wise for someone who knows little about the incident, but I will reiterate my opinion that 1.5 million dollars - which is the maximum fine the municipality could face - would be much more effectively diverted into the veins of the fire service, rather than squandered as a punitive measure against Meaford Fire Department. You can read some of my previous opinions about the issue here and here.

On another controversial topic (that is receiving much more attention than the Meaford trial), a Tennessee department responded to a fire, then refused to put it out because the owner had not paid the subscription fee. You can read the story here. The same department faced the same issue last year, and responded in the same manner. They showed up and watched the house burn. You can read my thoughts on that incident in my Fire Prevention Week post from last year.

I find it interesting that the owner didn't pay because she didn't expect her house to catch fire. Kind of like not wearing a seat belt because you don't expect to crash.

As can be expected, the world is polarized on this issue (just read the comments on the news stories). Also as can be expected, I see the merits of both polarized views. Upsala is surrounded by area not served by any fire department. We don't always respond to these areas when requested, but if decide to go, we always protect whatever we can. And we always send a bill for service. It's a bad system in more ways than I care to discuss here and now, but it won't go away without a legislation change. . . which is about as likely as Dalton McGuinty showing up in Upsala for a dunk tank fundraiser.

To sum up my opinions on this issue, the only final fix is to expand fire protection boundaries, and require homeowners to pay through the tax system. Some see it as a radical thing to even imagine, and others can't imagine that such basic protection isn't automatically mandated like police and ambulance. The firefighters on the ground don't care. They joined to serve regardless of politics and opinions. The worst part is when they are are dragged into the controversy.

Someday when I'm King of the World, things will be different. When three services are required, three services will be able to respond without fretting about legalities and money. Legalities and money have a place in the fire service, as they do in the rest of the world, but when they elbow their way front and centre at an emergency scene, they are a distraction at best and a hazard at worst.

To finish on a slightly less controversial story, a New Jersey department rescued a flying squirrel a couple weeks ago. Add it to the controversial list of mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds that firefighters are called to handle. Some say it isn't our job. Some say it is. Regardless, when firefighters are called, they will respond and do what they can . . . and sort out the legalities later. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Viral Lynx

Did you ever wonder what makes a post or web page go viral? After a little research I still don't know (and I'm not sure anyone else does either), but there are a few common themes. First, don't plan it. Next, be controversial. Finally, make people laugh, cry, or groan. You can learn more about creating viral sensations here, here, and here . . . or at least get some advice and opinions, if you aspire to Internet fame.

A data guy from Moncton got me thinking again about things viral. His snowblower ad, innocently posted on Kijiji last Wednesday, had been viewed 342,465 times as of Sunday. You can read his story here, and his blog here.

Attainment of fame isn't necessarily synonymous with attainment of your original goal, and most of the responders to Mr. Cho's ad had little interest in his snowblower. Success comes in many flavours though, and Mr. Cho has opportunities now that wouldn't have been possible pre-Kijiji. The sale of his snowblower ended up being a sideshow to his entry into the sensational world of cyber celebrity.


I have my own microscopic experience with unintended popularity. Last March I posted a photo of a lynx, along with my usual diatribes on things that interested or aggravated me on that particular day. For some reason the search engines took notice, and the post now gets regular visits from around the world. While it isn't viral, it did climb rapidly to the top of my "Popular Posts" list, and it's amusing to think of someone in Turkey, Croatia, or Indonesia searching for lynx photos and finding my peripheral edge of the universe blog. They don't hang around long, but in some ways, traffic is traffic. Except that my goal isn't to merely generate traffic, nor is it to become a leading voice for World Lynx Advocacy.


Smart marketeers study the things that turn our cranks, and harness them into ad campaigns that they hope will go viral. They appeal to our interests to expose us to their products. I've had fleeting thoughts of plastering every post with lynx photos so that the throngs searching for wild feline photography would be exposed to the wide world of firefighting as well. Perhaps this mass exposure would translate into swarms of new volunteers, and truck loads of added budget money. Or maybe people would continue on their merry Internet meanderings without giving us a second thought. If furry faces start appearing on my blog for no apparent reason, you'll know the experiment has started.


Here's the conclusion, at least for me. Things that go viral, like iPhones in blenders, and witty snowblower ads, all share one unifying factor that drives their promulgation: it costs nothing but a few minutes to view them.


Supposing I managed to dress a lynx in turnout gear and teach him to hold a hoseline (without getting my eyes clawed out, or having PETA dynamite the fire hall). I could post the video on Youtube and undoubtedly get thousands of hits. It might even go viral. Now that I had the world's attention, I could slip in a message about volunteer firefighting . . . and when people found out about the hard work, no pay, and sleep-deprived nights they would fall off the bandwagon faster than rats fleeing a sinking ship. And we would be left with the crazy, dedicated, select few. Just like we are now.


You can read about one of my attempts to make an idea go viral here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's a Small World After All

The world continues to get smaller, at least for those who use social media. What used to be six degrees of separation is now 4.74 degrees, according to a study done by Facebook

I can see how this advance in friendliness could be useful as a political tool. Think of it. A friend of my friend knows a friend of Stephen Harper's friend. If you are like me, and need help visualizing abstract ideas - and this is really abstract - here is a diagram.


.
Of course this assumes that Stephen Harper, and everyone in between, has a Facebook account. Assuming that they do - and assuming that I can figure out which of my friends' friends knows Stephen Harper's friend's friend - just think of the possibilities. "Hey Friend, can you message your friend who knows Stephen Harper's friend and tell him to ask his friend to meet with me and my friend so we can discuss funding for the fire service over a friendly cup of coffee?" Facebook just became a warmer, fuzzier place.

There's a lot hanging on this theory, so I did a little research. While I couldn't find that our First Minister is accepting friend requests, I did find his page, which you can visit and 'like' if you so choose. 67,320 people had already done so when I visited, which sounds like a lot until you do a little more research and find out that over 16 million Canadians are Facebook users.  That means only about .004% of Canadian Facebookers are fans of Stephen Harper's page. It's even less impressive when you dig a little deeper yet, and find out that an onion ring has over 162,000 fans.

I shouldn't be so harsh. Upsala Fire Department page only has 34 fans. But then, Upsala Fire Department isn't the leader of a majority government that manages the affairs of a G8 country. But if it were, I doubt that it would spend (almost) a billion dollars on a G8 summit, when there are small fire departments still driving 30 year old trucks.

Wow. I should research the degrees of separation between a light-hearted discussion about Facebook, and a political rant on perceived federal fiscal madness.

To get to the point (and there was a point) we have more tools at our disposal than ever before to accomplish the things we want to accomplish. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can be among those tools . . . but we have to figure out how to get people's attention. The fact that an onion ring can garner more support than the Prime Minister shows that Canadians have a quirky side. If we bore them, they will 'unlike' us in droves.

Tim Labelle talks about firefighters' aversion to things political in his recent column at FireRescue1. While I don't believe we all have the stomach or the need to be politically active, we can all contribute to raising our profile. The bottom line is that people care about things that interest them. If we can interest them, they will care. Social media doesn't make people care (as Upsala Fire Department has proven) but it can be a tool to spread the word about things that people care about.

Perhaps it's time to start selling onion rings.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Word Wizards

Good news! Pizza is still a vegetable. It's odd that I hadn't known that it ever was a vegetable, but nice to learn that I can count it toward my daily veggie quota instead of beets and turnips. I should add that pizza is a vegetable as defined by the US Congress with regard to school lunches. Minor detail.

It brings to mind a maxim my parents used when we were kids: if you call a sheep's tail a leg, how many legs does it have? I only fell for it once, and was swiftly informed that sheep only have four legs, no matter what you call their tails.

It also reminds me of the time I tried to convince my readers that messy-desk people (like me) were more efficient than organized, neat-desk people. It's still true, by the way. Click here.

Lastly, it brings to mind a book I just finished reading for the first time: George Orwell's 1984. If you've never read this famous classic, I don't blame you. I doubt that a darker book has every graced the shelves of bookstores. A key theme was that the Party owned truth. If the Party said it was true, then it was true regardless of fact or history.

Here's the point. Words are powerful if used skillfully . . . for good or evil, for truth or deception. I doubt that anyone believes that pizza is a vegetable, but a handful of frozen food lobbyists convinced a handful of Congress men and women, who convinced the House of Representatives that it was, and legislation was passed that will boost the frozen food industry. Millions of dollars are made and lost daily by words, depending upon how they are used.

Words alone aren't enough, however. Words are to language what flour is to baking. Flour is the main ingredient of baked goods, but the sugar, spices, milk, and other ingredients give the cake or bread or muffins (or pizzas) their personality. Language is the same way.

Words are dry and dusty by themselves. To make literary cake, or verbal muffins, or linguistic pizza, you have to blend ideas together with emotions and feelings and passion. You also have to know your audience's likes and dislikes. Lobbyists know that US Representatives don't care as much about pizza as they do about votes.

We need to learn from the pizza story. Firefighters are plain speakers, which isn't bad, but politicians haven't paid much attention to the unleavened bread we've offered them.

"We need decent equipment."
"Help us with recruitment."
"Why can you spend a billion dollars on a G8 summit, but can only afford to give us crumbs at election time?"

Perhaps we need to bake them a verbal black forest cake to get their attention.

As disappointed as I am that one of my favourite foods is not a vegetable (legislation notwithstanding) I am encouraged by one thing: if the US House of Representatives can be persuaded that pizza grows on vines, we can persuade Parliament Hill that firefighters are the very core of public service . . . and that they need to care more about us.

Time to recruit more language chefs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shotgun Approach

Politics isn't my forte, but I have written a few thousand words on the topic, and I will undoubtedly write more when the urge strikes again . . . usually around election time. You can read some of my thoughts on the topic here and here.

Paul Combs takes a shot at politics once in a while too, but he does it with deadly accuracy in the form of artwork. Click here for his latest masterpiece. They aren't kidding when they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Click here to see a gallery of his artwork, and here to visit his web site.

Speaking of words, my next Spontaneous Combustion column will appear in the February issue of Firefighting in Canada, instead of the January issue of Canadian Fire and EMS. You may not care, but I did on October 31st, which was the day the switch was made . . . and which also happened to be two days before the deadline for the January column.

I am usually at least mildly panicked when I feel the hot breath of a deadline on the back of my neck, especially if my mind is still as blank as the computer screen, but this time I was strangely calm. I had an irrational feeling that a thousand words would magically find their way into a semi-orderly arrangement on my screen within 48 hours, no problem. It may have been delusional, but it was at least peaceful delusion.

So when editor Laura King emailed a suggestion that the column be run in the February issue of FFIC - with a writers' deadline of December 6 instead of November 2 - I decided it must be Karma. Or perhaps Laura was a mind reader and knew I was helplessly stuck in literary lala land. Or maybe it was just a happy coincidence. Regardless, the switch gave me breathing room to corral my recalcitrant thoughts into a semblance of order, and the February column looks more promising by the day.

The birthing of a new article always amazes me a little. A week ago it didn't exist. A few days ago, it looked like someone fired a dictionary out of a shotgun . . . words and phrases splattered across an MS Word document like graffiti on a boxcar, only less artistically. A few hours of cut, paste, delete and rewrite (which I affectionately call "slash and burn"), and it's almost ready to launch. Saying it "just happened" would be like saying the stork brings babies, but I'm still not sure I understand the biology of writing.

One thing for sure, writing, like most things including firefighting (and babies), starts with passion.

Speaking of passion, I saw this as I left my parents' place today.


It's a path of water across the frozen lake by their house. My 86 year old father is a passionate fisherman, and when he saw a patch of open water on the other side of the lake, he had to break across in his 17 foot canoe for one last fling before winter.

There's passion, and then there's fanaticism.

To finish off with something at least partly connected to firefighting, Intel Labs has produced a ball-shaped electronic gizmo that can be rolled into a burning structure to take readings of important data like temperature, oxygen levels, and chemical levels, then send them to a smart phone so firefighters can know what they are getting into before they enter. Click here for an article and short video on the "fire ball."  You can read my musings on other gizmos here.

The great thing about blogging is that you are allowed to write like you fired a dictionary out of a shotgun.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Choices

A person in pursuit of money or power or fame doesn't select firefighting as a career path. At least not for very long. Plenty of other professions serve those ends without causing one to be awakened at 2:00 AM to muck around in turnout gear. Firefighters may want money, power, and fame, but our chief motivator (at least in the beginning) is a desire to help others.

It's this altruistic side of the firefighter that views red tape and liability as nuisances that impede the pursuit of our calling. We are solution driven people. Our goal is to get to the scene, fix the problem, and get home. When someone tells us we can't do this or that because of policy, or because it's litigiously risky, it drives us nuts. That is, at least until we become fire chiefs. Then the world starts to take on a different colour.

As a small department chief that pulls his fair share of hose, my firefighter perspective is alive and well, but I also see the legal hazards that hang like a guillotine blade over our heads. In May of this year I wrote a post about these sometimes conflicting viewpoints of pragmatism and prudence. Here is an excerpt:

I've been a fire chief for just over fifteen years now, and I believe I am finally beginning to think like one . . . or at least I'm developing a dual personality of sorts. The practical, caring, Firefighter Jekyll in me is sometimes challenged by the cautious, liability-minded Chief Hyde. We arrived at the scene of a grass fire last week to find a young man walking his dog within a few feet of a very obviously live hydro line. The firefighter side of me said, "He's an idiot, but I'm glad he didn't get fricasseed." The chief side of me said, "Get that idiot out of there before he gets fricasseed and someone says it's my fault." 

You can read the rest of the post here.

It turns out that Chief Hyde wasn't too far off the mark. A New Jersey fire department was found to be 60% responsible for injuries suffered when a man stepped on a downed hydro line in his home driveway . . . which means they are responsible for 60% of 20 million dollars. You can read the story here.

Even without knowing all the details, the New Jersey story is different from my story, but we did both leave downed hydro lines unattended. In my case, I faced liability issues whether I stayed or left. The incident was about 10 km outside of Upsala, which was close enough to be considered our back yard if it caught the bush on fire, but far enough that I would be in serious trouble if something burned at home while I was away with our only pumper. But such are the issues we face out here in the boonies.

On a similar topic, and in keeping with my love of analogies, I compared the volunteer service to a panda bear in a post last month that was reposted on the Fire Within blog. If you haven't read it yet click here.

The bottom line: right and wrong choices are not always as clear as day and night. Sometimes they are a foggy, dusky gray colour that only turn black or white after we've made an irreversible decision.


Firefighters might not be in hot pursuit of money, power, and fame, but there are plenty of folks out there that are . . . and you can be sure they've got their microscopes and scalpels ready to dissect our motives and actions when the opportunity arises.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The proper time

It seemed like the ultimate statistical conundrum. What if we were paged at 01:15 hrs on November 6, and then again exactly an hour later (after the official change back to Eastern Standard Time). The second call out would also be recorded at 01:15 hrs on November 6 . . . even though it happened an hour later. Such an occurence would be inconceivable in the mathematically rigid world of chronological record keeping.

I was nearly convinced that the problem was unsolvable until Erinn suggested that I would simply write "EDT" or "EST" after the notation to clarify the proper chronology in the annals of dispatch history. Come to think of it, busier departments deal with this issue every year at the fall time change. Only fire chiefs that live on the peripheral edge of the universe (who have never been paged during that one-hour time period) even give it a second thought.

Speaking of time-related puzzles, the village of Upsala lies in Central Time Zone, but we operate on Eastern Time because most of our business is done in Thunder Bay. This can cause complications even without the convoluted spring-forward, fall-back shenanigans we play twice a year. All points west of Upsala lie firmly in Central Time Zone, but I record our calls in Eastern Time regardless of direction. I had a mildly heated discussion once with a police officer about our page out and arrival times at a fatal crash. My notes just didn't jive with her notes. Fortunately one of us finally figured out that she was running on Central Time and I was running on Eastern.

On a semi-related topic, I'm told that many years ago a municipality near here chose not to adopt Daylight Savings Time because they thought messing with daylight might cause the tomatoes to ripen more slowly. Council's discussion of the matter is reportedly recorded in all its paradoxical glory in the archived meeting minutes.

To finish off this downward spiral to incongruity, John Lennon's tooth just sold for $31,200.00. If I ever become famous, I'll have to remember to will my teeth, hair, and fingernails to my kids so they'll have a rainy-day fund in case times get tough.

I'm not quite sure how a supposed firefighting blog digresses this far into absurdity.

In an effort to redeem myself, here is a post by the Fire Critic that gives a short history of Firefighter Close Calls, and the Secretlist. Check out the Firefighter Close Calls Facebook page here. I've been a Secretlist subscriber, and a Billy G admirer for a lot of years, and my respect for this fire service icon increases the more I learn about him. I wonder how much his teeth will be worth in fifty years.

To finish off on a sane, normal note, check out volunteer firefighter Jennifer Mabee's blog over at Firefighting in Canada. A new perspective from the volunteer service is always welcome.

You may not find volunteer firefighter teeth on the auction block in fifty years, but life would not be the same in 80% of Canada's landmass without them.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

various and sundries

I would talk about a volunteer fire department in Pennsylvania that is facing a lawsuit for not making an aggressive interior attack on a furniture plant, but there isn't much to say that has not already been said. You can read about it here and here. If you really want to know my opinions about litigation against volunteer firefighters, click here.

My brother posted his Northern Lights photos. Here's a few.



The last one was taken nearly straight overhead. You can see more of his pics at his Facebook page (scroll to the bottom for the most recent Northern Lights pics).

I just got back from an overnight with my daughter and a passel of her friends at the cabin that Phillip and his buddies built the summer before last. In the evening we had a campfire. I dusted off a few of the stories that I plan to write someday (lots of good intentions, little progress), and reworked them for a fresh audience. In the morning I cooked a gourmet breakfast, which they inhaled (helps to take a long time cooking so they are starving). Here's a photo of the group for the file:


The kids thought roughing it in the bush was lots of fun. I found the experience to be much like my trapping days, only 30 years older. It's always fun to see kids have fun though, even if the joints and muscles hurt a little more than they used to.

To finish off, here's another recipe, hot off the press.

Indo-European Enchiladas
  1. Arrive home and put all the camping gear away.
  2. Crash on the couch, then realize that it's nearly dinner time and you haven't thought of anything to make (kind of like realizing that it's nearly Halloween and your column that's due the first week of November isn't started yet).
  3. Take a quick look in the fridge and find some leftover rice and ham that doesn't look like enough for four people (steps 1-3 are optional).
  4. Dig a package of tortilla's out of the freezer.
  5. Lay four of them on the counter.
  6. Spread a row of rice down the middle of each one, leaving space on the ends.
  7. Spoon a couple tablespoons of ham broth on the each row of rice.
  8. Slice the ham into thin strips and lay on the rice.
  9. Lay some sliced or grated cheese on top of the ham.
  10. Place a layer of chopped fresh tomatoes on the cheese.
  11. Sprinkle some spices on top (I used basil)
  12. Fold the sides of the tortilla over the rice, then fold the ends to make a neat package. Hold it all together with toothpicks.
  13. Give your wife a blank stare when she asks what you are making.
  14. Hope that she doesn't start asking questions because the element of surprise is important when serving unorthodox, invent-as-you-go meals.
  15. Turn on the oven. 350. Should have done this at the beginning.
  16. Bake them for about fifteen minutes, or until the cheese melts and the edges start to get crispy.
  17. Pull out the cookie sheet, spread grated cheese on each enchilada, sprinkle the spice or herb of your choice, and put back in the oven until the cheese melts.
By the way, here's why it's Indo-European Enchiladas. The tortillas make them enchiladas. The rice makes them Indian. The ham and cheese make them European. If I had just thought of that when Erinn asked me what I was making, I might have convinced her that this was a real recipe . . .

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I'm not superstitious. It wouldn't bother me to step on a crack in the sidewalk while walking under a ladder with a black cat under each arm on Friday 13th. And no, I didn't knock on wood after writing that sentence.

In spite of my fervent disbelief, I almost converted this past weekend. We were paged to a plane crash on Friday (it turned out that no one was injured). On Saturday we responded to a vehicle crash. On Sunday I mentioned to a friend that our calls seemed to come in groups of three, and in spite of my non-superstitious convictions, I half expected to get another page in the next 24 hours.

Monday morning the pagers went off again. A vehicle upsidedown in the water with someone still inside. What a way to perpetuate the myth.

We got to the scene and found two Good Samaritans standing on the shoulder, wet to the waist. They had witnessed the crash, waded into the near freezing water, got the door open and pulled the driver out. I guess if someone has to fulfill Upsala Fire Department's destiny, they might as well have the good luck to do it when a couple of quick-thinking MNR employees happen to be driving by. Thanks Kip and Dave. We owe you one.

I don't believe in luck either, by the way.
   
It's the Northern Lights season again. Not that the Aurora Borealis is fussy about the time of year, but our short summer nights offer fewer opportunities to see them. Last night was a particularly brilliant show, and was reportedly seen as far south as Atlanta and Memphis. If you missed them, click here for a video. My brother is a camera guy and captured some nice photos, which I'll share once they are uploaded.

Here's some Youtube footage from New York.


Folks in the Middle Ages thought the Northern Lights portended plague or war . . . but there was so much plague and war going on that anything could have been thought to portend them.

Far from doom and gloom, I have fond memories from my teens and early twenties of wandering around on winter nights staring at the dome of lights that extended from north to south, and east to west. I remember feeling like I was standing in a celestial cathedral, listening to a choir that sang in rythm with the flickering, quivering  light show.

This is supposed to be a good year for Northern Lights, by the way. I think it portends a mild winter. Hey, if I'm going to perpetuate a myth, I might as well perpetuate one I like.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Volunteer Pandas

The volunteer fire service is like a panda bear. It is black and white . . . and it’s an endangered species.

The world is full of people who live a pastel existence of non-extreme colours. Such people rarely do anything black (really bad) or white (really good). They get up, go to work, come home, have supper, watch a show, and go to bed . . . then do it all over again the next day. They don't make waves, they don't stick out like a sore thumb, they are just there. This isn't a criticism. On the contrary, we need these folks. They're the ones that make the world turn.

The volunteer service, on the other hand, is far from pastel. I wish I could say we were an all-white, do-no-wrong breed of people, but I know it isn't true. When volunteer firefighters are white, they are whiter than freshly fallen wilderness snow. When they’re black, they are blacker than a moonless night in the boreal forest.

The white portion of this panda-like service is by far the largest portion, but it goes mostly unnoticed. The black portion is far more attention grabbing. When we screw up, people get injured or killed . . . and whether it's civilians or our very own, the world knows that we failed.

NIOSH released a report last month about a firefighter fatality that occurred a little over a year ago in Ohio. It’s a black story if ever there was one. A self-made, pressurized water tank exploded, killing a young volunteer instantly. You can read a summary of the NIOSH investigation here. Topping the list of recommendations was this:

Fire departments should ensure that fire suppression equipment is properly designed and safe for its intended use and refrain from using self-made equipment that does not meet applicable safe design standards and practice.

Yes, we certainly should. The problem, as Adam Thiel writes, is that we are "can do," solution-driven people. We see something we need and we go for it. If we can’t afford it, we find something similar and retrofit it. If we can’t find something similar, we fabricate it. In a perfect world, public emergency services wouldn't have to beg, borrow, or steal to get equipment that meets applicable standards. But the world is far from perfect.

The scary thing about this black and white story is that it’s everywhere. It isn’t just a small department in Ohio. They just happen to be the ones in the hot seat right now. The panda is alive and well in many (if not most) small volunteer departments, in all its contrasts and contradictions.

The other scary thing is that innovation is often the lesser of two evils. We  convert a FedEx step van into a rescue . . . or we haul our equipment to the scene in the trunks of our cars and the backs of our pick ups. We use a street washer as a tanker . . . or we fight the fire with only a pumper, and spit on it when we run out of water. We wear fifteen year old breathing apparatus . . . or we go without.

I'm not advocating that we pursue a volunteer crusade to save the world at the cost of endangering our firefighters with unsafe work practices, but it reminds me of an old adage about freelancing on the fire ground. Establishing a strong incident command system is the best way to counter it. In a similar manner, the best way to prevent mickey rigging innovations is to provide fire departments with the equipment they need. Small communities are often unable to produce the dollars to do it, and outside help is needed.

I haven't even addressed the endangered species analogy yet, but it will have to wait. For now, I'll leave you with a story about Wisconsin firefighters successfully performing mouth to snout rescusitation on a dog.

Call it black or white, it's at least an example of firefighters stepping up to the plate to provide a service no one else is willing to give.

We are, after all, can-do, solution driven people.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The last course of the year is over. I could be sad because instructing is the second best job in the world (next to Fire Prevention Weeking with the school kids of course). I might miss raking volunteer firefighters over the coals each weekend, and I will definitely miss the old friends I've made among the instructors, and new friends among the students. But there is always next year. And Facebook.

I won't be sad though, because I have a weird thing about liking a couple days off every so often, and I won't miss the aches, pains, long days, and hotel rooms that go with instructing. I would make a worse workaholic than a criminal defense lawyer.

I didn't get any training photos with my lousy cell camera, or any other camera for that matter. If the students or instructors out there in cyberland have some that they'd like to see blasted across the Internet, let me know and I'll post them.

I tried to talk the weather gremlins into sending snow on Sunday, not because I like snow in October, but because I wanted Andrew from Toronto to have the full Northern experience. It didn't have anything at all to do with his gloating on Facebook about the balmy temperatures in Toronto last week. 

The gremlins didn't accommodate though (they seldom do), and except for a bit of rain, the weather held nicely until the drive home. Then it snowed in Upsala. 


It was just enough to give the landscape an icky pre-winter look . . . a sort of ugly hybrid cross between fall and winter. I'd say it was Karma for me wanting snow for Andrew, but I don't believe in Karma.

Speaking of snow and Toronto, Rick Mercer has a great piece on the subject. I've shared it before, but it seems appropriate to share it again in honor of Andrew and the last course of the year.



Here's hoping we have a very long Indian Summer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fire Prevention Week (without the rant on criminal justice)

Fire Prevention Week presentations make me feel like a grandparent. You swoop in, entertain the kids briefly, hype them up with gifts and handouts, then swoop out, leaving the teachers (or parents) to wrangle them back into some semblance of order. It's very satisfying.

Of course, as a side benefit it's gratifying to know that you are influencing a future generation toward fire safe behaviour (provided that the munchkins are actually listening). Some of the kids I'm teaching now are the kids of kids I taught when I first started. Now I really feel like a grandparent.

Of all my favourite things firefighters do, my favouritist are these Fire Prevention Week visits (yes, I know that "favouritist" isn't a word, but hey, it's my blog). It turns out that I'm not alone. Will Wyatt, over at FireRescue1 wrote an entertaining piece about the 4 Kids You'll Meet During Fire Prevention Week. The "I Can't Remember My Question" kid is by far the most prevalent in my neck of the woods.

Kidding aside, it is without question the most enjoyable hour and a half of my work year. I almost think I'd like to do it full time, but then I'd be the one trying to wrangle the kids back into some semblance of order. I think I'll stick to psuedo grandparenting.

On another firefighting topic, Firefighters1st has a new website now. You can check it out here.

We're teaching another recruit course for volunteer firefighters this weekend. Instructing is my second favouritist thing to do, by the way. I'll try to get some photos with my wimpy phone camera, but no promises. 

Speaking of volunteer firefighters, here is a video clip about a young woman who became a volunteer firefighter. I've  gone on the record as saying that we need advertising dollars to promote the volunteer service. Who knows, maybe someone is listening out there after all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fire Prevention Week, Criminal Justice, and other unrelated topics

I should begin this post with a sermon on Fire Prevention Week, but I'm confident that all of my learned readers will certainly test their smoke alarms, review their escape plans, tend their cooking properly, and dust off their fire-safe behaviours in memory of Mrs. O'Leary's cow without my exposition . . . so I'll talk about Bloomer Bomber instead.

You do remember Bloomer Bomber, don't you? (more commonly known as "underwear bomber"). Click here and here for news stories about his trial, which began today. In my January 10, 2010 post I rationalized why he was pleading not guilty. Now I'm trying to rationalize why a person smart enough to be a lawyer is defending him. Maybe Mr. Chambers read my post (if so I want a cut of his fees for the case . . .). Or maybe he's smart enough to know that lawyers who successfully defend guilty people can make lots and lots of money.

In the United States everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and all are innocent until proven guilty. Canadians hold the same values. However, you'd think a defense attorney would want some explanation of his client's innocence before taking on a case. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Mr. Abdulmutallab explained to Mr. Chambers how his pants accidentally caught fire during a Trans-Atlantic flight. Mr. Abdulmutallab might be able to pass as an insane radical, which would at least explain his thought process, but I doubt that Mr. Chambers can use the same excuse.

Now you know why I chose firefighting instead of law as a career. I'd have starved as a criminal lawyer.

Leaving the (alleged) terrorist and his attorney to sort things out, and moving on to fire stuff, my latest post at Canadian Fire and EMS Quarterly is up now . . . which reminds me, the deadline for the January column is approaching . . . and I'm not sure I have a topic yet. Maybe if I spent more time researching and less time bashing radical nutcases and their lawyers, I'd be better prepared. Don't worry Laura, I'll pull myself together and get 'er done just as soon as Fire Prevention Week is over.

Speaking of Fire Prevention Week, you will test your smoke alarms, review your escape plan, tend your cooking properly, and dust off the rest of your fire safe behaviours, won't you?

For more information about fire safety, click here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

various and sundries

The Crown has dropped half of the charges against Meaford. You can read more about it here. I hope the prosecuters come to their senses and drop the rest, and that no more firefighters will have to walk in those moccasins.

Tomorrow is the big day . . . or at least the medium sized day. Ontarians get to choose their next leader. I'm not in the mood to talk politics, so I'll refer you to my latest CVFSA blog post, which discusses a survey I sent to the candidates, and their replies.

Moving on to more pleasant topics, here are a few photos of the kids blasting off rockets the Saturday before last.








And here are some cranberries that Erinn and I picked the same day.




Sometimes you just have to enjoy the day and forget the rest.

Moving on to fire related topics, here's a video clip of a fully involved chemical plant in Texas.



You may have seen it already at the Fire Engineering or Firegeezer sites. It would be easy to make a self-righteous quip about proper positioning of fire apparatus, but the saying that you shouldn't judge until you've walked a mile in the other guy's moccasins applies here. I've fought some big fires, but I've never walked anywhere in those moccasins.

This post is wandering aimlessly, not unlike the way I like to wander in the woods this time of year. Sometimes you just have to enjoy the day and forget the rest.

While I'm wandering, I may as well give you my latest psuedo recipe:

Gyoza Meatballs over Rice
  1. Remember that your wife and daughter are gone for the day, which means you are on supper duty.
  2. Dig through the freezer and find two chicken thighs that aren't enough to feed you and your 16 year old son.
  3. Keep digging, and find a half a pack of ground beef that also isn't enough to feed you and your 16 year old son.
  4. Decide that the beef and chicken together would be enough.
  5. Invent a new recipe to prove that ground beef and chicken thighs can be eaten in the same meal.
  6. Put a cup and a half of rice in a pot, add three cups of water, some garlic, chopped ginger, soy sauce, and salt. Toss in the two chicken legs for good measure, and because you can't think of any other way to work them into the recipe.
  7. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  8. Wonder if your 16 year old son (who is now starving) will forgive you if the meatballs you are about to make are inedible.
  9. Chop up a bunch of Chinese cabbage (about a quarter to a third the volume of the the ground beef). I used a food processor.
  10. Press out most of the liquid and set it aside (I used a cheese cloth, but any strainer would work). Stir some soy sauce and garlic powder into the liquid.
  11. Mix the chopped Chinese cabbage with the ground beef, then add soy sauce, some chopped ginger, garlic and onion powder, and salt.  If you have sesame oil, now is a good time to add it. If you don't it's fine, because you've already departed from the real gyoza recipe by using ground beef instead of pork. Mix well.
  12. Form the mixture into meatballs and fry them on all sides in a small amount of oil over medium heat.
  13. Add a bit of chopped ginger to the pan and fry.
  14. Turn the heat down and add the Chinese cabbage liquid mixture. Add a bit of water or broth if necessary.
  15. Cover and cook the meatballs until they are nearly done.
  16. Chop more Chinese cabbage, and part of a red bell pepper. Add to the pan and cover for a few minutes until the vegetables are bright and still crunchy.
  17. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch.
  18. Serve over the rice, with the chicken on the side.
  19. Breath a sigh of relief when your 16 year old son says you can make this meal anytime.
Note: this recipe is no substitute for real gyoza, but it is much faster and easier to make, (from start to finish, about 40 minutes). Ground turkey mixed with the beef works as well.



Wandering along to yet another unrelated topic, Erinn and the kids ganged up on me for my 50th birthday, and I found this when I came home from work.

I did briefly consider how un-chiefly I looked out there . . . but sometimes you just have to enjoy the day and forget the rest.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Various and Sundries

Now that I've offered practical solutions to a few of the world's most pressing problems, I can move on to lighter, happier topics. This blog is supposed to be the metaphoric equivalent to ice cream, after all.

(Side Note 1: If that last sentence mystifies you, check out my profile.)

We're hanging out in the fair town of Emo, Ontario this weekend, teaching the finer points of pumper operations. As always, fellowship with volunteer firefighters, who are the salt of the earth by the way, is one of my favourite occupations. Next to being home with my family, there are fewer things I'd rather do.

(Side Note 2: You can read my further thoughts on the salt of the earth here.)

Here are a few pics of today's events. Thanks to Dan from Fort Frances for the last one. It's proof that I actually did something today.






As you can see from the hints of orange leaves, autumn is creeping in on us.

I'm falling down on my blogger duties. I promised the Red Lake crew weeks ago that I would post pictures of their melted entry control tags . . . which were supposed to be handed over to an officer before entering the burn chamber. Here they are, for the record.


Speaking of fires, here's a video clip of a fire blowing the roof off of an ambulance. I know from personal experience that oxygen tanks hide in vehicles that aren't ambulances as well. One more reason to wear your gear and not assume that vehicle fires are routine.

Speaking of Meaford (and I was speaking of Meaford yesterday . . . weren't you paying attention?), Andrew from Toronto encountered two Meaford firefighters in courses he taught at Gravenhurst this year. Part way through he found out that one was on the RIT crew that rescued the two downed firefighters . . . and the other was one of the downed firefighters he rescued. They are both still active in the fire service and continuing on with their training.

Here is where I should jump onto my self propelled bandwagon and talk about how a volunteer firefighter that nearly died has chosen to continue training so he can continue helping others . . . and how we should support these people, not hammer them. I won't though, because I am likely preaching to the choir. And this post is supposed to be ice cream.

Speaking of Andrew, he's coming to Thunder Bay in a couple weeks to help teach a firefighter recruit course. Graham the Shark and Frank the Killer Whale will be there too, as well as Jason and DJ who don't have nicknames yet. Should be fun, especially since Aime the Rainman will still be in Europe, which guarantees that we'll have nice weather (btw, that's why the sun is shining so brightly this weekend. . . Aime is in Europe, where it's probably raining cats and dogs).

I bumped into an interesting link over at Fire Engineering today. It's a free training video for first responders who have experienced the death of a child while on a call. It was helpful to me and may be helpful to others, so pass the word.

To finish off this hodgepodge ice cream post, here is a shot of the Northern Lights, taken by my brother Paul a few nights ago.




You can see more of Paul's Northern Lights pics at his Facebook album (scroll to the bottom).

The Ontario provincial election campaign is drawing to a close, but since this is an ice cream post, I will refrain from commenting . . . for now.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Of Heroism and Injustice

The Meaford Fire Department hearings were cancelled today and rescheduled for the week of December 5-9. I hate to see the agony prolonged, but if it gives the good guys' lawyers a chance to build a better case, I say go for it. As for these "good guys," rest assured that I refer to the fine folk of Meaford Fire Department.

I don't know them personally, and I don't pretend that they ran a flawless response on that fateful day. I do know the nature of the firefighter mission, and I see little benefit in brutalizing public servants that volunteer to crawl into burning buildings. Identify problems? Yes. Fix them? Absolutely. Allow a pack of overpaid lawyers to drag our best citizens through the muck and mire of court hearings, fines, and who knows what else? You've got rocks in your head. If our best fix is to kick a guy when he's down, something is terribly wrong with our system.

Here's an addendum to my previous suggestion that the prosecution pursue the case pro bono: if, in your infinite wisdom and understanding of justice, you decide that fines are necessary to make the wrongs right, so be it . . . but take the money and roll it back into the fire service. Better still, double or triple the money. If you are sincerely interested in making firefighters safer and smarter (and I would be with you heart and soul on that, by the way), do something positive for a change.

Whew. Nothing like coming in with both guns blazing at an opponent who neither knows, nor cares to know my opinion. But at least I feel better.

Speaking of heroes (and I was speaking of heroes), two firefighters in Mogadore, Ohio made a daring rescue last week. A true meeting of courage and opportunity if ever there was one. If you follow firefighter news, you've probably already seen the footage taken from a police video, but in case you haven't, here it is.

Such is the maddening enigma of our line of work. Two Mogadore firefighters tackled a rescue and fire attack without a RIT team, and possibly without an accountability or command system. They could have easily been injured or killed. They made two rescues and were rightly hailed as heroes. Two Meaford firefighters tackled a rescue and fire attack (allegedly) without a RIT team, proper accountability or command. They were injured and nearly killed. They found no one to rescue, and their department is villified. Does no one see the irony of these parallel stories?

I have no intention of lessening the heroism of the one, but I am frustrated by the hell-bent, tunnel visioned blindness that can't acknowlege the heroism of the other. It puts a new and sinister twist to the old saying that justice is blind.

I don't even like the word hero, by the way, but since we're on the topic, you can see CNN's top ten heroes for 2011 here. Whether you agree with their choices or not, it shows that hero, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Part of my self-proclaimed mission, by the way, is to change the perspective of the beholders. It's an impossible task, but I would be doing an injustice the firefighters of Meaford, Mogadore, and thousands like them across North America if I didn't give it my best shot.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Virtue vs Villainy

Meaford Fire Department will have its day in court on Monday. You may remember the incident that happened in September 2009, in which two Meaford firefighters entered the upper level of a burning restaurant to search for occupants reportedly still inside. The short version of the story is that both firefighters got into trouble and had to be rescued. One showed no vital signs and was resuscitated. The Ministry of Labour investigated the incident and laid six charges against the fire department. You can read about the incident here, and see another story that includes a list of the charges here.

Like usual, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

It’s true, two firefighters nearly died. It may be true that there were problems with the response, and with Meaford’s equipment and training. I agree that the Ministry of Labour has a duty to investigate fire service injuries and deaths so that future occurrences can be prevented. I grudgingly agree that charges might be a necessary part of the process. We must learn from our collective mistakes.

I disagree with a provincial government that steadfastly refuses to support the municipal fire service with funding, but eagerly hops on the enforcement bandwagon when there is an opportunity to lay charges. The Province says funding doesn’t fit their job description, and I say that their job description must change. Our operational deficiencies are directly connected to funding deficiencies. It doesn’t make sense to hold the purse strings tightly closed in one hand, while swinging a baseball bat with the other.

Taking a short detour from the main point, there is a fine line between virtue and villainy. If people had been trapped in Reed’s Restaurant as was reported, and if the brave Meaford firefighters had rescued them, they would have been rightly hailed as heroes . . . even though the same problems and deficiencies existed for which they are now charged. Guilt or applause is directly influenced by the outcome rather than mere facts. 


Back on track, I took a cue from one of the comments in the heated debate that raged over at FireHall.com in July 2010, and came up with an off-the-wall, from-the-hip idea for funding the fire service. Let the MOL investigate and prosecute volunteer fire departments if they must – and they certainly will, regardless of my permission – but let them donate their time, and their lawyers’ time pro bono. It makes sense that volunteer departments be investigated and prosecuted by volunteers. The funds saved would then be diverted into the fire service. I have no idea how much taxpayers’ money the province will spend on this and other similar cases in the next few years, but I do know that it would be put to good use by thousands of firefighters that are currently underfunded. Supporting them now is the best way to prevent future occurrences.

Note: If you live in the area, the Meaford Fire Department could use your support. The proceedings will start at 10:00 am on Monday, September 26th at the Provincial Offences Court, 595 - 9th Avenue, Owen Sound, Ontario.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Of Weather Gremlins and Heroes

It's snowing again. That's twice in September. You'd think the weather gremlins would know they only have to bring the white stuff once this month to make their point, whatever their point is.

[Side note: Here's where you email me a photo of the world's smallest violin playing, "My Heart Bleeds For You," and tell me it's my own fault for living on the far-flung peripheral edge of the universe.]

On the bright side, it's supposed to be sunny for at least five days straight starting Friday. You'd almost think Indian Summer had arrived, except that my strict definition of Indian Summer states that the ground has to be completely white at least once before any nice weather qualifies. All sunshine before the first blanket of snow is simply a beautiful fall day.

On a different topic, you can help a Nova Scotia fire department win $5000 from Munro Insurance (thanks to Laura from Firefighting in Canada for the heads-up). Go to Munro's Facebook page and click 'like,' then go to the contest page, click on the department(s) of your choice and click 'like' again. I scrolled through the photos and clicked 'like' for the ones that looked like they needed the cash. There were quite a few. Stephen Harper and Darrell Dexter should take a cruise through to see the state of the brave men and women that protect our country from fire.

Speaking of brave men and women, I've been thinking about the term "hero," which gets bandied about quite a bit in relation to firefighters. Politicians in particular like to talk about "brave firefighters" and "courageous volunteers," at least until it's time to include them in the budget. Michael Perry, of Population 485 fame, identifies heroism as the place where courage meets opportunity. The fact is, many of us will never have that meeting, nor do we even know how we would react if we did. That doesn't make our organizations any less worthy of support though.

There is a different kind of courage that is evident in volunteer departments across the country. It won't make headlines or turn heads, but it is courage nonetheless. It's what makes firefighters show up on a Monday or Wednesday night for training, or crawl out of a warm bed when it's -30 to respond to a neighbour's fire, then go straight to their day job afterwards. This kind of courage takes a ragtag menagerie of equipment, combines it with a ragtag group of people, and makes the best out of a bad situation.

There are most certainly members among our ranks that meet the strict definition of hero as well, but it's the everyday firefighter that makes the volunteer service worthy of esteem . . . and tangible, dollars-and-cents support.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weather or not (continued) and other ramblings

It's a good thing I didn't waste time feeling sorry for the Upsala firefighters that are taking vehicle extrication at Fire Con this weekend. It turns out they won't be out in the rain tomorrow after all. They're scheduled to learn equipment maintenance in a nice dry warehouse.

Here's a couple shots of them ripping vehicles limb from limb in the nice September sunshine.





Frank the Killer Whale, Aime the Rainman, and Jason (who doesn't have a nickname yet) are teaching pump ops in the rain, but I won't feel sorry for them either, mostly because I am certain they wouldn't feel sorry for me if I were in their boots.

Graham the Shark taught fire suppression today with the Dryden crew, and has the day off tomorrow (if I remember correctly).

I've never confessed that my nickname used to be Tim the Torch, a designation I earned during a couple of ill-fated vehicle fire training evolutions. I won't give details now, except that they involved gasoline and an ignition source. I've since reformed my ways for the most part, and I think the torch label has been laid to rest.

As you already know, I'll be in a comfortable classroom tomorrow not feeling sorry for anyone . . . and coaching future fire service instructors. It's tempting to miss the excitement of live fire, but then I remember the scalding heat, the sore back and knees, and the smoky wet turnouts, and I don't feel so bad. Besides, there are correlations between instructing live fire and training trainers. 

For example, the terror in the eyes of some students performing their first-ever presentation is not unlike the terror in the eyes of some recruits entering their first-ever live fire. It's a whose-idea-was-this-anyway look that mirrors that of an acrophobic taking skydiving lessons. The pleasure of seeing a future trainer gain confidence is equal to the pleasure of seeing a timid firefighter nail a fire attack (and ask to go in again) as well.

Fire service instructors are not all evil-to-the-core like I implied in my April 5 post. Pump ops, live fire, search and rescue, trainer facilitator, it doesn't really matter. All of our harassing, egging on, and pushing are aimed at making the participants safer and smarter firefighters.

At least, that's our story and we're sticking to it.

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