Taking the heat – a day in the boots of a firefighter

Guest Editorial byNaomi Yamamoto - Taking the heat - a day in the boots of a firefighter

Guest EditorialĀ  by Naomi Yamamoto

Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness

As fire chiefs from across Canada assemble in Victoria lastĀ  week for the annual Fire Rescue Conference, I donned the same heavy gear and breathing apparatus that firefighters do when rushing in where most others would rush out.

I felt the sweltering heat of the equipment and saw the blinding haze of a smoke-filled building. Wearing 30 kg of gear, I tried to push down the feelings of unease that welled up inside me as I navigated an unfamiliarstructure threatened by flames.

For me, during the fire ops training at the Vancouver Fire training facility, the flames were real but the conditions controlled. Yet firefighters all across British Columbia, responding to the real threat, face danger in the eye each time the garage doors roll up and the fire trucks roll out. I had the opportunity to see, first hand, what these exceptional men and women face when they have to meet the challenge of courage every time the call of service comes in, and I felt such gratitude, that I know is shared by all of us, for the safety net that all first responders provide in our province.

The event is meant to replicate the challenges confronted by firefighters every day in the line of duty, and while mine was only a test and I was safe, the work was hard in conditions that were tough, and the challenge to perform under pressure was immense. It was strenuous, both physically and mentally.

I am reminded by this experience that we must take the opportunity to thank those among us that routinely stand up, and stand out, as heroes when disaster strikes. One way we can consider thanking local firefighters for their selfless effort to help make our communities safe is to nominate them for the Medal of Good Citizenship.

As the new minister of state for emergency preparedness, responsible as well for the BC Office of the Fire Commissioner, I am committed to helping elevate fire prevention awareness and fan the flames of fire safety. October kicks off Fire Awareness Week, an opportunity for us to review our evacuation plans and practise our fire drills, test the batteries in our fire alarms and ensure our fire extinguishers are serviced.

Here in B.C. the number one source of residential fires is stove top burners, but other top ignition sources include electrical, fireplaces and chimneys, as well as cigarettes. Many fires are preventable, yet statistics show that on average, fire kills eight people each week in Canada, with residential fires accounting for 73 per cent of those fatalities.

Join me in thanking a firefighter for the service they provide to public safety, and the best thanks of all comes by refusing to be a statistic by simply becoming better equipped and fire safe at home.