Training That is Far From Ordinary

Looking through my photos from the last year, and seeing all of the photos from the different training days, I realized that to somebody who isn’t a first responder, and specifically a first responder in a challenging mountain environment like the one in which I live, our photos make us look insane.

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Our training officer demonstrates what different quantities of blood look like as blood puddles…

I have been lucky to have incredible instructors, who bring decades of experience to the classroom. They teach by the book, but more importantly, by real-life lessons and experience.

 

When most people think of firefighters and the types of calls that we respond to, they automatically picture structure fires or wildland blazes. However, the reality is that we are also often first response, or responding alongside EMS, for a wide variety of medical calls.  As first responders, we need to be able to provide a certain level of patient care; that is the least we can do for the people in our community. To meet the growing demand for firefighters to be medically trained, our department implemented a Medical First Responder program for all POC firefighters. The training was done in-house with a variety of instructors, and the program was developed alongside Alberta Health Services protocols.

Here are some highlights from our MFR training:

 

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Practicing using different kinds of splints

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Scoops are used for situations where log rolls can’t be used to put a patient on a backboard, for example when there is a fractured pelvis.

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Removing helmets while maintaining spinal control is important in an area where there are lots of skiers, mountain bikers and motorcyclists.

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Log rolling a patient onto a backboard while maintaining spinal immobilization.

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Practicing with a Seger splint, used to apply traction to femur fractures.

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Kendricks Extrication Devices are used for situations where a spine board cannot be used, but spinal control needs to be maintained.

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KEDs are perfect for vehicle extrications with spinal concerns.

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With new scientific research and a huge spike in mass casualty incidences in North America, the tourniquet is back in use. 

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What a great place to practice taking vitals 😉

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Practicing applying different kinds of bandages

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Lets play ‘guess how much blood ___ holds.’

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More blood splatter fun…

 

Aside from the MFR training, as part of my personal development plan, I attended the Banff Wilderness Care Conference, a weekend of interactive training and seminars all about medicine and first aid in an austere environment. You can check out some of those highlights here:

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Running wilderness rescue scenarios (yes, I had purple hair at the time 😛 )

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I got to learn hands on about helicopter rescue operations

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And how to package patients for helicopter transportation

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Alpine Helicopters are trained and certified by Parks Canada for rescue flying. These guys are incredible pilots.

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Configuring a helicopter to carry a stretcher

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Bundled up and ready to be slung (slinged? Whats the proper term??LOL)

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For slinging patients who do not have spinal concerns

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And while there was some ‘classroom’ time at the conference, they made sure it was interesting and hilarious.

 

There was a call this summer, that without going into details, changed my personal direction within firefighting. The call challenged my, and my teams, abilities and put all of our knowledge to the test. While we kicked butt on the call, it made me want to get better (and just MORE) training. I had toyed with the idea of going back to school to get my PCP, or primary care paramedic, certs and that call solidified my decision.

With a job application that I was submitting this fall, I needed my EMR, or Emergency Medical Responder certificate in order to be competitive. This certificate also entitles me to write the Alberta College of Paramedics examination and to register with them as a professional. I decided to wait to apply to PCP school until I finished this course since it would give me a better idea if I was sure that this is what I wanted. After the first week, I knew that I wanted this. I love the challenge that medical calls provide and I love the feeling that you are helping someone NOW.

So while I am seeking out more medical training, it is with the intention of becoming a better firefighter and rescuer. I have been pursuing technical rescue training over the last couple of years, and the medical training will tie in well with that.  It is incredibly exciting to feel like I have a path in front of me, one about which I am passionate. The future definitely holds some exciting things…

 

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High Angle Rescue training with Raven Rescue in Canmore

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Ice Rescue Training with Raven Rescue in Canmore

 

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Giving Wildland Firefighting a Try

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Rudy: The first time I ever saw someone with a piss pack

Up until this summer, as far as I knew, Wildland firefighting was an all in, full-time summer position. It is something that has interested me since living up in Northern Ontario (which is very much a wildfire environment) and my first time seeing a ranger with a piss-pack, 8 years ago, back when I was a park ranger. But I had a full time, year-round job (or three) and couldn’t exactly take 4 months off to go work wildland. Nonetheless, I was fascinated.

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When I was given the opportunity to do my NFPA 1051 Wildland Firefighter course through my fire hall, I jumped at it. I was fascinated by the tactics that go along with a Wildland/Urban Interface and the fire behavior of wildfires had me hooked.  Shortly after the course, our fire department worked with RCMP, Alberta Wildfire and a number of other agencies to run a full-scale mock wildfire exercise in our valley. The exercise was such an incredible experience that it stuck with me.

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I have a large number of friends who work a variety of jobs under the Alberta Wildland job title; Jordan, who repels out of helicopters, Johnny (who I’m pretty sure mostly just drinks) and Zach who is on a unit crew, to name a few. Hearing these guys talk about their job, hearing the passion that they have for it, had me hooked. But there was still that whole disappearing for a season thing that I just couldn’t do…

21686397_10214179524111790_8319898552321689680_nBut then… I found out that there was such a thing as Wildland Contractors. Finding out was a complete accident. I happened to meet the owner of one such company at a BBQ over the summer, right as his company was looking to expand operations and hire more firefighters with wildland certs. I put in a resume, and next thing I knew, I was a team member on an engine crew. I was lucky enough to work a number of shifts with the Wildland company and got some experience with wildfires as well as well as some pretty spectacular ‘office’ views. I also learned that prairie dogs will steal your lunch if you look away for 10 seconds…

Here are some photos from my brief foray into wildland firefighting:

And while I would never wish a wildfire on anyone, I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to go back to wildland firefighting next season!

The Accidental Firefighter

This weekend, being Thanksgiving, has me thinking a lot about the things for which I am thankful. I am obviously incredibly thankful for my amazing family, but I am also very thankful for a happy accident…

Firefighting as a whole for me has been somewhat of an accident. I meet people on the job now who are third generation firefighters (Zach 😛 ) or people who grew up knowing exactly what they wanted to do their entire life, people who have never even questioned their life path.

And not going to lie, I am a little jealous of these people.

I never grew up wanting to be a firefighter (mostly because I honestly didn’t think it was ever going to be an option for me).  It wasn’t exactly a female-oriented job, and I never had a lot of exposure to people in the fire service. The only firefighter I knew growing up was the father of a set of twins with whom I was friends, and I remember thinking it looked like an awesome job, but impossible for me.

544761_4766742976217_1432125662_nI was 18 the very first time that I put on a uniform for work; I had been hired as a park ranger for Ontario Parks and wearing a uniform gave me a sense of purpose that had been missing from my life. I loved my job, but it was not quite as fulfilling as I could hope for since I was looking for a job to spend my life doing. But I knew from day one that I wanted a job where I could serve the public. Since then, I have tried on different uniforms in different positions, trying to find the job that left me feeling fulfilled and satisfied. I tried ski patrol, and while I loved that volunteer position, it was still not quite right. I tried community policing as a precursor to applying to the RCMP, but enforcement still wasn’t quite the service role I was looking for.

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When I moved to Kananaskis, AB,  I didn’t know anybody, it was the quiet shoulder season and I was honestly more than a little lonely. I wanted a way to feel like part of the community. So when I heard that Kananaskis Emergency Services was hiring paid-on-call firefighters, I thought about it long and hard. The commitment that they were asking for was huge (especially because at that point I wasn’t planning on staying here long term, whoops!LOL), but so was the training and sense of community that they were offering. At the suggestion, and basically a physical push from my boss, I submitted an application.

 

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My first day at the firehall; I didnt even have boots yet!

The best thing that has ever happened to me was joining the Kananaskis fire department. Training to be a firefighter taught me just how much I was capable of, both as an individual and as part of an incredible team. The people that work with have changed my life. I pushed all my personal limits and was astounded by how much I could achieve. I overcame my claustrophobia, pushed through my mild fear of heights and was inspired by the incredible people I work with to get into shape.

 

My team encouraged me to be the very best version of myself, and to me, that is what firefighting is all about: working with incredible people and making each other better so that we can serve our community to the best of our ability.  

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12140729_10214179527751881_7077181427623146505_nThis summer, I was lucky enough to start working another job as a firefighter, this time doing wildland firefighting. This was, surprisingly enough, another ‘accident’.  I happened to meet the owner of a wildland company while over for a BBQ at the house of a mutual friend. He mentioned that they were looking for people with wildland certs and firefighting experience, and suggested I put in a resume. A week later I found myself as part of a wildland engine crew.

Through all these happy ‘accidents’ I have met people who have come to form a second family for me. The sense of community within my firefighting world is overwhelming. I have come to love these people like blood relatives. They have been my support system through some tough times and continue to be there for me, no questions asked.

While I am incredibly thankful for my past, and the people who have helped me get to where I am now, I am also thankful for the opportunities that I am building for the future.

Initially, firefighting may have been an accident, but every decision I have made since has been made with intention: the intention of becoming a full-time firefighter and the best first responder that I am capable of being.

22045673_10214250461165172_1502594673688479763_nI have just completed my Emergency Medical Responder course, the first step on the path to me getting my PCP (Primary Care Paramedic) certificate. I have applied for PCP school for next year and look forward to being able to offer a higher level of patient care on medical calls. I love the challenging nature of medical calls and have known that this is an area in which I wished to develop my skills since my ski patrolling days.21034308_10213991861660346_4957954942336826487_n

 

 

I have also applied to a full-time fire department, which shall remain unnamed on here. Their process is long and they have a large pool of excellent applicants, but I am excited for the challenge and experience of going through their application process, even if I do not get hired the first time around.

Life has been nothing short of a thrill ride these last couple of years. I am thankful for the people who have made everything possible.

 

I am thankful for the people who have offered their unconditional love and support.

I am thankful for the beautiful place I call home, and the people I share it with.

Everything that I am thankful for really comes down to the people in my life. Because it doesn’t matter what you do for work, where you live, or what you have, if you do not have incredible people to share it with.

Oh and I am very thankful for happy accidents 😉

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