«Before FireCon The 1980’s saw rapid growth in fire departments throughout the northwest as the provincial government launched its Northern Fire ...»
20 Years and Counting
FireCon: 20 Years and Counting
The 1980’s saw rapid growth in fire departments throughout the northwest as the
provincial government launched its Northern Fire Protection Program organizing and
supporting the development of fire teams in unorganized communities while many
municipalities experienced growth and increasing need for larger and more modern fire departments. The need for more fire training and networking opportunities amongst Northwest fire teams was increased with this growth.
The common pattern for fire training and staying current at the time was to train locally and access conferences and training available mostly in Southern Ontario in order to learn advanced techniques and stay current with technological advances in fire fighting.
Distance and time commitments involved in these out of region opportunities limited the access by northwestern Ontario fire teams.
The regional Fire Chiefs of the day and the Fire Marshal Advisors were interested in having the fire teams in the region receive the best information and training possible.
Even for many Fire Chiefs the greatest opportunity for exchange of ideas and garnering new techniques lay in annual meetings of the District Mutual Aid Associations with the 10’s or 20’s of other district Fire Chiefs who attended the one day sessions. While certainly better than no exchange many of these events were limited to the sharing of recent incidents and lessons learned with the larger group. While essential to sharing of best practices the meetings remained fairly insular involving only those from within the individual district.
It might have been that November is one of the gloomier months in northwestern Ontario. Summer is long gone, Fall is becoming a memory and Winter has not yet arrived with its clean blankets of white cleansing snow. In November the air is remembered for its rawness rather than the crisp freshness of winter, and the sky all too often in November sits grey on the windowsill, infrequently spitting out snow pellets and cutting winds.
But November can in its bleakness spark the desire for sunnier days and warmth and sharing and we may have November in all its grayness to thank for setting a mood at one of the District Chiefs meetings in the late 1980’s to make things better, to bring all the regional players together in one place to hear directly from fire service leaders and share in modern and progressive training and discussion about the fire service and how it can provide the best possible service to the residents of northwestern Ontario communities.
FireCon Takes Shape It is impossible to lay the thinking at one pair of feet but story has it that during the course of at least one district Mutual Aid meeting in the fall of 1989 the suggestion arose to join forces across the Northwestern Ontario Fire Service to develop an annual conference that would have the scale and resources to attract participants and speakers alike.
There was great support among the regional fire chiefs and their municipalities for just such an event and throughout the rest of 1990 great effort went into creating the first event
FireCon was off to a good start and had found a home in Thunder Bay where it has remained for the past 20 years, first at the Nor’wester and as it grew eventually to the Airlane Hotel.
Partnerships have continued to be important to the success of FireCon. The changing needs and priorities of the Northwest Ontario Fire Service has done much to dictate the
The incredible support that the OFM was able to give in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was fantastic and well appreciated Ken Kurz Dryden FireCon Grows The early format of networking, idea exchange, regulatory updates and keynote speakers was to be the pattern for FireCon events for the first 5 years of its existence.
Headline speakers were diverse and included many out of province and out of country
• Alfred C. Haynes, the Captain of and Dennis Fitch the off duty Training captain on the ill fated United Airlines Flight 232 that crashed at Sioux City on July 19,1989 and became and remains one of the classic study cases for emergency communications and coordinated response training.
• Doug Popowich – Fire Commissioner of Manitoba
• Gene Carlson - pioneer in hazardous materials emergency response training, Gene Carlson served at Fire Protection Publications at Oklahoma State University By 1995 the need to add more to FireCon in the form of ‘hands on’ fire training became apparent and for the first time the agenda included some training sessions. The response was very positive and more hands on training was added to the agenda for Firecon 1996.
Special training increased rapidly and significantly with portable fire and flashover trailers being brought in from the US initially and then developed within the province.
The late Charlie Turgeon from Fort Frances was an early leader in this regard and he and his search and rescue trailer where a regular feature at FireCon for many years.
Originally focused on core fire fighting activities such as fire suppressions and search and rescue, the training offerings have grown beyond the wet stuff on the red stuff. The training tracks offered at FireCon have come to reflect the realities faced by fire departments in serving their respective home communities.
September 2010 Page 5 FireCon: 20 Years and Counting Training tracks at FireCon have grown to include: Fire Prevention and Public Education, Leadership, Auto extrication, Hazmat, aircraft and hydrocarbon fires, Fire Cause and Determination, wildfire, and First Responder training including triaging of mass casualty incidents such as bus crashes and aircraft accidents.
‘……….. and our Firecon 2007 airplane experience...We still regard that as an awesome, awesome training experience’ –VFF/FR participant
And the response from fire departments and fire fighters has been immense.
To date some 5,000 firefighters in NW Ontario have benefited from the opportunity to learn practice and share fire knowledge at the 20 FireCon events held in the region since its inception in 1990. ..20 years later it is amazing to look back and recall the breadth and depth of the training FireCon has provided to the NW fire service and the assistance that has been in transitioning the service to where it is today. – Wayne Bennet OFM
Emergency North Training Inc. was incorporated on September 23, 1997 and had the stated objectives of: developing and delivering, alone or in co-operation with others, educational programs and services for members of the public and persons who respond to emergencies in Northwestern Ontario. The corporation’s main activity is production of the annual FireCon event.
The original signatories to the application for incorporation and the first Board of Directors for EMTI included representatives from all three Districts in Northwestern Ontario: Ralph Fulford – Fort Frances, James Hamer – Thunder Bay, Henry Mattas – O’Connor, Darryl Herbert – Dryden and Kenneth Kurz – Dryden.
While these five individuals played an enormous part in bringing the fire service together from across the region to create FireCon they enjoyed strong and steady support from other collaborators within the municipal and provincial services and the regional fire service. People such as Ken Potter, Dan Koroscil, Wayne Trimble, Mo Douglas, Art Booth, John Hanna, Aime Spencer from the OFM; Warren Brinkman, Gerry Armstrong and Garth Dyck from the municipal fire teams, long term secretary/treasurer Janice Ross and her diligent band of volunteers who kept it happening year and after year and of course Willis Mattas and the rest of the FireCon clothing ladies are all notable by their commitment to the success of FireCon in past years.
Some Fun With 300 firefighters descending on Firecon each year for some serious training over 3 days in mid September the stories of heroics and silliness are endless and play an important part of the regional camaraderie that has developed amongst the fire service across the Northwest since FireCon began.
Who can forget the time that:
• 300 firefighters did not want to have their banquet disturbed by the fire alarms at the host hotel, or
• the overly boisterous crew decided to take a fire truck on a late night ride with lights and sirens going just to see how they worked, or
• the night that a hungry crew from Rainy River District decided to cook their own steaks in the Nor’wester hotel long after the kitchen was closed, or
• the Ignace crew setting off the smoke alarms in the hotel when they decided to practice with their smoke machine Special Relationships Special relationships have developed over the 20 years of FireCon. Some are personal, some are professional and there is little doubt that Northwestern Ontario has become much better known and respected in the fire service outside the region. But one of the most special and enduring relationships is the relationship of FireCon with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Muscular Dystrophy has been close and personal to a number of members of the NW fire family making it all the more real as fire teams from across the region run a variety of fund raising events to support MD each year.
The MD Association is also a proud participant in the supplier’s forum at FireCon raffling off contributed items by ticket sale. One of the more exciting additions to the MD fund raising effort has been the auctioning of supplier provided items after the banquet on the final evening of the event. This auction took on a whole new light since 2008 when the auction became ‘competitive’ amongst sections of the banquet hall and considerably more funds were raised than in past. With a regional population that doesn’t quite reach
And like with the original Rendezous with its exchange of furs for goods the suppliers have played a key role in the success of FireCon. It was the suppliers who sponsored the keynote speakers in the early days and it is suppliers who have provided the products that have made the Muscular Dystrophy fund raiser such a success.
But most importantly it is the suppliers who bring to Northwestern Ontario the new knowledge and technologies and the equipment that continues to make fire fighting safer and more effective.
FireCon is more than just an event it is the Rendezvous of the fire service in Northwestern Ontario. FireCon is people networking to exchange knowledge and ideas, meet, hear of news from afar and exchange goods.
Fire Fighting is a business of inherent risk. The key to staying alive is to ensure crews are well trained and well equipped and that apparatus is well maintained and suited to the task at hand – Unknown. Special Thanks A Special Thanks to all those organizations, businesses and individuals who have directly or indirectly supported FireCon over the years providing; volunteer time, infrastructure, equipment and so many other direct and indirect means of support.
FireCon was formed in a vision of cooperation and survives and grows on the strength of the ongoing collaboration of the volunteers, sponsors and communities that continue to believe in a strong fire service in Northwestern Ontario.
Your Emergency North Training (FireCon) Board for 2010:
Warren Brinkman - Kenora Owen Cranney - Manitouwadge Gary Gazankas – Ear Falls Gerry Armstrong – Fort Frances Garth Dyck – Atikokan Rod Hurdon -Thunder Bay
Thank You to all those who provided input and pictures to bring FireCon: 20 Years and Counting to life – Dale Ashbee