Debrief: CAFC Fire Rescue Conference 2022

14 mins read

I spent the first half of September pacing my office practicing a presentation I’d been selected to give at the CAFC Fire Rescue Conference spanning September 11-14. With a trade show, multiple speakers and an immense opportunity to connect with our nation’s fire service leaders, I’m taking some time to reflect on my visit to Ottawa and the lessons learned from the conference through a short debriefing.

From a VIA train in Toronto, I made my way into Ottawa early into the evening of September 11. The weight and gravity of that day would be enough, but to be traveling to a fire service leadership conference at the same time was really something to consider. I managed to get to the hotel and found my room, but thought along the way that I was a fish-out-of-water. I felt that I was out of place – a new firefighter in a hall full of brass. What would I have to offer that hadn’t already been said?

Our nation’s capital. Note the half-mast flag.

An Evening in Downtown Ottawa

I walked through the downtown area of Ottawa, trying to get my bearings. From a pre-recorded audio file, I listened to and rehearsed my presentation at a local watering hole and wondered who I might have bumped into when the conference began. That’s when it dawned on me – you can’t connect with people if you aren’t in front of them.

Despite the encouragement from my family, friends and fellow firefighters at my home station, knowing I was junior to the average attending officer by several years (and in some cases, several decades) kept me slow-moving to join the festivities. Eventually, I made my way to the ‘hospitality suite’ hosted by Fort Garry Fire Trucks and met Taylor, a regional sales rep from Alberta.

He told me all about their line of trucks – a company that produces fire apparatus in Canada and proudly family-owned. I still definitely felt a little out of place, but Taylor helped me course-correct. The night ended in a wash of par-can lights and a little band. A great introduction to the CAFC Fire Rescue Conference.

Monday Morning

Heading into the main hallway where the ballrooms housing a speaker stage and the trade show hall, I was eager to hear Chief Pegg from Toronto Fire Services speak on his experiences managing the COVID-19 response at the provincial level. I took my journal – and I’m glad I did. My scribbled notes from his session are something I’m going to go back on later in the week – after all, we can learn from what’s been done by our peers just as much as we can from our own experiences.

An awesome slide from Chief Pegg’s presentation.

Chief Pegg entitled his talk ‘Good sleep requires shiny shoes’ – a nod to one of the coping mechanisms he used to disconnect from the tornado of thought and effort required to stand between the public and the COVID crisis. He mentioned his uniform being a reflection of ‘the sense of calm’ it drives with the public. How, despite the frantic nature of the emergency – and all emergencies we attend – our uniform is ‘about production’. It’s about making things happen.

Building on the idea behind his ritual of shining his shoes to help disconnect from the day, Chief Pegg urged the audience not to ‘disregard or disrespect mental health’ in their practice. From his ‘personal health care team’, Chief Pegg pulled a valuable lesson on keeping distance between his work and his wellbeing – he set a rule to never work in his sleeping room. Trapped in a hotel room for the duration of the COVID show (I don’t want to give away too much of his talk), Chief Pegg would literally leave his bedroom to answer a work call. Sometimes hard rules are needed to create a boundary.

Be bright, be brief, be gone!

Another big lesson I pulled from Chief Pegg’s talk was an idea lending to deferral of tasks, leadership and decision making. In a scenario where he had to make rapid calls with many people attached, Chief Pegg was told a simple rule for having a direct approach to making decisions rapidly; be bright, be brief, be gone.

Figure out what you need to do. Do it. Get out.

I like that – I need to work on that, too. It’s hard to not get stuck in analysis paralysis. It’s even more difficult to drop those calls at a moments notice and move on.

His example here resonated in a way I’ll remember for a long time.

With two types of communication, he gave an example that kind of looked like this;

“There’s a person entering the door behind you, who appears to be male. He stands 5 feet, 10 inches or so and has a pale complexion. His black sweater has a logo on the front with white lettering. In his right hand, which has tattoos running up the side, he holds an object with a handle that has a cylindrical end running away from his hand. I believe he could be holding a weapon and may be thinking about deploying it in aggression.”

or,

“Gun!”

Architect of How

Finally, Chief Pegg left us with an awesome idea.

By and large, agents of change are abrasive to people, groups or organizations that are threatened by progress. They look for ways to poke holes in ideas. They vy for the easy out.

Even so, Chief Pegg asks us to be ‘an architect of how’. Instead of pointing out how something won’t work, ask how can we make this happen?

Take a moment to reflect on that – as I did, and see how you might incorporate that into your thinking.

A run through the city

Later into the afternoon, I laced up my sneakers for a run through the city. The CAFC Fire Rescue Conference was luckily positioned at the Delta in the middle of downtown. A short run up one of the main roads, and I was able to see the sight of our nation’s capital. Specifically, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stood where it always has. I stopped briefly to pay my respects.

I ran out toward the Firefighter’s Memorial, too. When I arrived, I made sure to pay some sweat respect with several sets of pushups and burpees out in front of the monument. Markedly, an array of flowers spread over the stairs to the British High Commission building, shadowing the death of the Queen and mirroring the half-mast flags spread through the city.

I rounded out the day with dinner and another visit to the Hospitality Suite where I met Joel – a friendly and approachable Chief from BC. That’s the real benefit of this conference to the unacquainted – the sheer number of people to meet. Indeed, the CAFC Fire Rescue Conference stands as a beacon for our country’s fire service leadership, beckoning them to a shared cause – moving our service forward. Here, I would go on to meet a handful of helpful, encouraging and trusted leaders in the Canadian fire service, and that’s what you should really consider if you’re weighing the value of taking a trip to Halifax for the 2023 version of this conference. Unquestionably, the access and attention to our leadership personnel is really unparalleled by any other event.

A cool new RIT pack.

Tuesday started off with a quick breakfast at a local diner. I took some time to tie up a few loose ends before visiting the trade show floor. There, I met up with Steven Rittenhouse of 3M / Scott. I was drawn – unabashedly so – to the brightly coloured RIT packs on display under the Scott canopy. I stopped for a moment to hear about the new rescue packs and was honestly impressed.

Steven showed me some of the latest technology for rapid action packs in the Scott lineup. Of particular interest to me was the way the packs have been engineered to have tactile components designed for the rescuer with limited vision and sensory input. Imagine you’re in a blackout scenario with bulky gloves – Scott has developed a pack that has different knobs and levers to represent specific compartments on the pack. So, without looking – you can feel the ball that holds in a specially designed RIT face piece, or, on the other side of the Fast Attack pack, you can feel the T-handle grip that opens a high-pressure compartment. Hoses to connect to modular Scott packs pull out easily from the pack, too – a feature that is especially interesting to me – everything seems very easy to operate and conducive to a fast-moving scenario like a firefighter rescue.

Talking on goal-setting.

Finally, later into the day on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to speak to a room of ranked officers from across Canada. I elected to speak on the subject of goal-setting and the relationship that aiming correctly has to being in a position of leadership. Through the talk, I covered a number of ideas I’ve written about in fire-service magazines and was greeted with quite possibly the best compliment I’ve received; I was told by a few attendees that I was very passionate.

Thank you – I’m aiming to be passionate.

The crux of my talk was surrounding The Wedge – a free and open source goal setting program available at timeandeffort.ca – you can download it for free, here.

A gala in every sense of the word.

Lastly, the conference ended for me by way of a formal gala. Awards, speeches and impressive dress uniforms were highlights of the night – second only to the pipe and drum band that brought all the heritage of the Ottawa Fire Department for the attendees to witness.

The CAFC Fire Rescue Conference is a treasure to our national interests. Here, we can share and grow together. The investment toward moving our service forward comes from the people who dot the tables and chairs of the conference floor. After all, we’re in this fight together – and together is exactly the feeling this conference imprinted into my journal. I’d like to thank the conference organizers – Tina, in particular – for the opportunity to speak here. In due time, I’m looking forward to whatever the CAFC is working on for next year.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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