Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Two volunteer firefighters lost their lives yesterday in Listowel, Ontario in what is reported to have been a roof collapse during suppression operations in a dollar store. You can read about it here.

Now is not the time to play armchair quarterback and talk about all the things that might have gone wrong. There isn't enough information and it isn't fair to the families and colleagues of the fallen firefighters. I can only hope that those investigating the tragedy will do so without prejudice. We need to learn from these disasters, and if training or equipment or staffing had any impact on the outcome, we need to bring those issues to our politicians' doors. It isn't enough for them to talk about fallen heroes for thirty seconds, then waltz on their merry way.

By the way, MP Rafferty is still promoting his motion in support of volunteer firefighters. If you haven't written your MP yet to lend your support, there is no time like the present.

Everyone has a unique perspective. I think of myself as a big picture person, but at the same time, my view is firmly fastened to real events that happen on the ground. That brings ideological conflict with people higher up in the political food chain who have their own big picture perspectives without the benefit of a ground view. They see budgets and deficits and public opinion and multitudes asking for money. I see ancient trucks in front line service . . . and volunteers who don't have time to train . . . and understaffed fire departments expected to work miracles with crumbs dribbled from provincial and federal coffers.

This "from the ground" perspective affects the way I view world events as well. When I watched this video from Japan, my attention was drawn to the Japanese volunteer firefighters doing what all volunteers do - helping as much as they could with what they had - and I felt for all the first responders that are most assuredly overwhelmed right now. These folks are not machines. They're humans that are going to need a lot of help for a long time after the disaster is over.

Some leaders see the world as a gargantuan chessboard. Tsunamis and earthquakes and Gadhafi and rebels and Sendai and oil prices are all pieces that can be maneuvered and placed in strategic manner to accomplish a goal . . . with little regard for the humanity that resides in each individual. We need these big picture players that stay focused amidst the cries of children or the pleas of the oppressed. We also need them to listen to the thousands of first responders on the ground that have intimate knowledge of the human side of the game.

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled and highly opinionated diatribe to show you a not-so-new photograph of me in my Japanese volunteer firefighter regalia, circa 1985.

I didn't fight any fires or respond to any disasters during my four years in Japan, but I did attend a little training. Incidentally, the village in which I lived had an interesting take on volunteerism. If you lived in Subundo and could hold a hose line, you were automatically a volunteer firefighter. Even a clueless gaijin like me.

If you want to help the Japanese first responders, this Facebook page will donate ten cents to the Japanese fire service for every new "like" before March 24th. It will take 50,000 new likes to reach their target of $5000, so pass the word.

You can make a direct donation to the Japan Firefighters Association here, and you can donate to the aid agency of your choice here.

The world looks like a pretty dark place right now. I hope the ones trying to cast some light in the darkness will get the help they need.


  1. Still praying for the victims of this tragedy.

    Is that a happi coat you're wearing in that photograph? Or whatever the official uniform equivalent would be?

  2. I can't remember what they called the coat, but all the villagers wore them during drills, along with the white helmet. The coats have the village brigade name printed on the front. In the news footage you can see volunteers wearing similar jackets, as opposed to the career guys that have turnout gear or specialized jump suits.


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