Tuesday, April 5, 2011

of sharks, killer whales, and goldfish

Fire service instructors are evil people. Sort of. On Sunday I was floating off the edge of an ice floe waiting for a crew of students to come "rescue" me. As I watched them tiptoe their Fortuna craft across the rotten floe, with several unplanned plunges into the icy water, my evil instructor nature surfaced. I turned to the other instructor who was laying comfortably on the floe, muttered something about this being too easy, then wedged my way deeper into the gauntlet of ice chunks wrapped around the edge of the floe.

The rescue students approached. They followed their training to a T, and tried to sweet talk me into swimming back to the floe. I swam the other way. They tossed me a rope. I ignored it. Finally, they slipped the Fortuna into the ice-chunked water and the fight began. Paddling through heavy floating spring ice is like climbing the wrong way up an escalator through a jostle of Sumo wrestlers coming down. Lot's of effort, little forward movement. They persisted, and finally hauled me into the craft, where I was promptly rewarded with a face full of falling snowflakes and the occasional "accidental" splash of water while en route to the shore. Fire service students have an evil side too.

Here is a long distance photo of me and the other instructor.

Yes, we're out there. Here's a closer shot.

You may remember my water rescue training post from last summer, where I likened two of my fellow instructors to a killer whale and a shark. I, on the other hand, am a beached goldfish trying to swim through the sand, or in this case, the snow. At least there's plenty of room for personal growth.

Here's a shot of the killer whale overseeing a launch of the Fortuna.

And here's the shark supervising a throw rescue.

And here's me, the goldfish, demonstrating a self rescue.

Here's Jason, another instructor, getting hauled into the Fortuna.

It was a fun course, evil instructors, evil students, and evil weather notwithstanding.

Here is what's called a "go" rescue.  

And then time out for a little ice surfing.  

On a sadder note, here is a story of a Japanese firefighter (who I think was a volunteer) who lost his life warning his village of the impending tsunami. His story was undoubtedly one of many, most of which will never be told. Firefighter heroism is often romanticized to the point that the rest of the world doesn't grasp the personal pain that goes with it. The Japanese are resilient, but it will take years to recover from the economic and emotional damage they've suffered.

On another sad note, a man was killed in Winnipeg early Sunday morning when he was run over by a responding apparatus. He was lying on the road in the dark, and it appears that the accident was unavoidable. A story like this is sad in so many ways. Sad for the family of the deceased, sad for the department members that risk life and limb regularly to protect their citizens, and especially sad for the driver. Firefighters face enough emotional trauma without having to sort through this kind of emotion.

To end on a happy note, my April column is posted over at Firefighting in Canada. Editor Laura King asked me to write about the background of M-635, the parliamentary motion in support of volunteer firefighters. The motion is now dead because of the impending election, but I am hopeful that it will be reincarnated in some form or another.

On the bright side, firefighters are getting at least a degree of attention in the election campaign. It isn't official yet, but the Liberals are promising a $300,000 benefit for families of fallen firefighters. Both the Conservatives and the Liberals are saying the volunteer tax credit is a priority. Let's just hope that after the election, they turn their promises into action.

If they don't, we'll just have to invite them to an ice rescue course and feed them to the sharks. Now there's an incentive to support volunteer firefighters.

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