From May 24 until May 27 more than 200 Alberta fire chiefs, fire authority leaders and first responders gathered at the Sheraton Red Deer to network, learn and be inspired. As in any other industry, the opportunity to compare notes and discuss innovative ideas on what matters to them is precious to those who have served as firefighters and now lead and train their comrades.
On Day One of this 38th Annual Alberta Fire Chiefs Association Conference (AFCA), an impressive ceremony recognized 68 Alberta firefighters for their long-time, selfless service. Among them, three Alberta fire services members received their “third bar” for 50 years of service. In Alberta, close to 18,000 firefighters and officers serve in municipal, rural, military and industrial fire services and wildfire crews.
Day Two was Tradeshow Day. More than 100 exhibitors gathered to display many critical elements of firefighters’ safety and development. The Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation was created in 2003 to ultimately design and build the Canadian Firefighters Memorial in 2012, an imposing statue and memorial wall erected near Parliament Hill in Ottawa (www.cfff.ca). In September, many regional fire officers and members will be attending the Canadians Firefighters Annual Memorial Ceremony in Ottawa. Joanne Barton of Muscular Dystrophy Canada was grateful in explaining that since 1954, Alberta firefighters have raised more than $3 million for this organisation through their boot drives and rooftops campaigns, and an amazing $70 million has been raised by 600 fire services across Canada.
The AFCA Bookstore, dynamically run by the AFCA’s CFO Allen Mercier in Bonnyville (and online), displayed an impressive collection of training manuals and firefighting-related books, including books of cartoon art by iconic author Paul Combs (afca.ab.ca). The Alberta Safety Code Council and the Canadian Red Cross were among many others that showcased their connection to those who save lives and property.
Gerald Haakenson, Manager of Emergency Services Equipment for Leduc County, was proud to discuss his department’s contribution to a program led by Victor Fernandez of St-Albert that re-purposes fire equipment and vehicles to countries in dire need of it, such as Chili and Guatemala. Since fire equipment has an “expiry date”, it is critical to find recipients who will appreciate and use it: it also creates a spirit of good will between our countries.
Behind the tradeshow hall, a large display of firetrucks, extrication equipment and ambulances saw a constant stream of visitors. Mike Feduniw of Red Deer-based Rocky Mountain Phoenix offered rides on the Rosenbauer T-Rex fire truck’s articulating platform, reaching a height of 115 feet. This reporter was one of the lucky delegates who got to ride to the maximum height, experiencing a magnificent view of Red Deer and feeling minimum wind motion, due to the heavy construction of the Rosenbauer T-Rex.
Day Three was packed full of informative sessions. Recruitment of dedicated individuals to serve their communities and rural fire departments is an ongoing challenge: the AFCA has developed a model for volunteer firefighter recruitment that has earned keen approval from other provinces and national associations. It is a dream for many youths to become a firefighter. Despite the current statistics telling us that firefighters are exponentially more likely than other citizens to experience heart attacks, cancers and hearing loss, even mature adults give in to their dream of being a firefighter; when work and family duties allow, they sign up for a life of service and endless training.
Town of Calmar Fire Chief David Brooks and Lt. Stephen Zerr were enthusiastic delegates; both officers were extremely pleased with this opportunity to network with their peers, and both agreed that the most valuable session for them was “10 Commandments for the Company Officer”. Among the ten topics they plan to share with their crews, they particularly liked “No excuses” that dealt with the full completion of necessary tasks. Others on the list were “Humility” and “Do things others won’t do”.
Other sessions dealt with the mandatory and complex paperwork that follows a workplace injury or death, safety codes, a report on the Calgary floods, critical incident stress debriefing and more. Interestingly, these topics would be valuable to leaders of various industries.
On the last day of the Conference, outgoing AFCA President Brian Cornforth retired to pursue a deputy chief of planning position with Edmonton Fire and Rescue Services and passed the reins to Camrose Fire Chief Peter Krich. Thanks to the Organizing Committee’s excellent planning and the Sheraton Red Deer’s hospitality, the 2015 Alberta Fire Chiefs Conference was a success, a rich opportunity to gain improved leadership skills.