Fear, intuition and common sense make most of us flee danger and threat to life. Yet as we flee a burning building another set of souls run in. Bravery, duty and a desire to save lives drive Firefighters into situations the rest of us dare not go.
In Caledon our brave family of Firefighters are led by Fire Chief David Forfar. Forfar, who replaced retiring Chief Terry Irwin, came to Caledon in December 2013, just days before a very memorable ice storm.
“That storm, as you’ll remember, was in part the instigator for our new Emergency Response Plan” he said, as I sat down with him at Caledon Town Hall. “I’m very proud and excited about the new Plan. It is based on the Incident Management System (IMS) model. One difference, for instance, during a large scale emergency, would be that within our Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) rather than have everyone at a single table working on everything at once, we now would have “pods”, specific groups for different aspects of the emergency. Then the leaders for each pod all converge at one table to communicate, engage and determine the best way to prioritize what needs to be done.”
Forfar, who married Ann, his sweetheart from Agincourt High School, had his start as a Firefighter in Markham in 1981. “I had been running my own business as a heavy equipment operator” he explained. “Interest rates rose sharply and when they hit 21-3/4% I decided it was time to step away and do something else for a while, hoping they would cool. One day I opened the paper and there was an ad for Firefighters, I applied and was hired.”
“I realized quickly that I loved the job as well as the feeling that I was really making a difference when it mattered most to people’s lives” he admitted. “And you can only define the camaraderie as amazing. It’s like having a second family, it really is.”
“We had fun calls like a kid with his leg struck in bicycle sprocket, but most of the time if people are calling it’s because they are having what you’d consider a really really bad day. On those calls you truly are saving lives.”
Forfar was District Chief, Acting Platoon Chief and Fire Prevention Officer while in Markham. He went on to Deputy Fire Chief in Barrie and was thrilled when he was offered the position of Chief in Caledon. “I was very honoured, that was a fabulous career moment for me” he beams.
Caledon Fire and Emergency Services is made up of almost 290 personnel spread over 9 stations within the roughly 700 square kilometres that make up Caledon. With the exception of one full-time team of career Firefighters in Bolton the rest are all volunteers. “You couldn’t wish for a better group of people to work with” says Forfar.
“In 2014 there were just over 6 average calls per day, about 188 per month. And while I don’t have all the stats in front of me I suspect that 50%-60% of those calls are tiered response. Tiered response refers to police, fire and ambulance all being summoned to a call. “Medical calls and many traffic accident calls are often tiered response; the goal is to get help there as soon as possible” he goes on to explain.
Forfar talked about the huge importance he puts on training. “It’s what will keep you alive” he says. “And other aspects like learning about the Golden Hour. If someone is trapped in a car with a traumatic injury you have to get them out as quickly as possible. From time of injury to hospital care is the Golden Hour. Beyond that hour it’s believed that chances of survival may start to diminish more rapidly.”
“In Caledon we are very fortunate to have excellent extrication teams” he adds, “which is good because the number of Multi-Vehicle Collisions (MVCs) here is quite shocking.” Forfar speculates that the number is high due to the lack of medians on roads like Hwy 10 and due to the need for better driver education, in particular with how to share the road with trucks. “People need to remember that a driver can’t stop a truck in the same distance that they can stop a car. There is a lot of weight there. You need to give them space, not cut them off and not pull out in front of them. And I see it happen.”
Another situation the Chief cautioned about was not to swerve for wildlife. “No one wants to hit a racoon or a bird but I can say without a doubt that if you swerve you risk your own life and quite possibly that of someone else. As well, of course, distracted driving, use of phones and texting, is extremely dangerous. You only have to look away for seconds to put yourself into harm’s way.”
Asked if he had a scariest moment that stands out Forfar recollects a fire when he was stationed in Markham where he and his Captain were on an upper floor of a huge house and they fell, hit a wall and lost their hose line. “That’s a scary moment because in that darkness its your hose line that leads you out. We eventually found it and made it out uninjured. On another occasion I fell through a roof and landed on another Firefighter. I was OK but unfortunately he was off for several months with injuries.”
For 2016 Chief Forfar is looking forward to working on the Master Fire Plan as well as breaking ground on the new firehall in Bolton which should take about 12-18 months to build.
“Any additional advise for homeowners?” I ask.
“Be careful in the kitchen,” he says. “Many fires start with kitchen fires. Get your chimney cleaned regularly. Clean your dryer vents, not just the lint trap, the actual vent because lint accumulates in it. Have working carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in all areas as required by law and replace the batteries every six months. When the time changes is a good way to remember. Even if you have one that is hard-wired make sure it has battery back-up or it won’t work for you if the power goes out.”
“Don’t forget that with all of the laminates, plastics and foams that are in the modern home there are sufficient chemicals that will be released in a fire to render you unconscious in as little as 3 minutes. You and your family need that smoke detector to wake you if you are going to make it out in time.”