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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Couch to 5K

I have never been a very good runner.

Let’s be honest… I hate running.

But unfortunately, if I ever want to get hired on as a full-time firefighter, it is something I need to learn to love. If you make running fun, I am all over it. Like obstacle races? Yes, please! I love Spartan races! But when it comes to just running to run… ew.

So on top of my current gym plan for weight lifting, which just had me doing one day of cardio a week, and boxing, I have started using an app called Couch to 5k. It starts you out slow, running mixed with intervals of walking and gradually works you up to more and more actual running. I started doing this with a fellow firefighter, but joined part way through his program in like week 3, so I decided to do things right and start myself from the beginning (this is partly due to him sleeping through the run we had planned this morning, thanks Mike :P).

Today I completed the official Day 1 of C2-5K. The intervals were one minute of running followed by a minute thirty of walking for a total of thirty minutes. I was reminded of the fact that running is 90% mental for me. It would be so easy to make excuses for why I didn’t need to run, or other things I could be doing, but once I get started and get into stride, I have to admit that it felt good. I started off the first running intervals doing a light jog and by the final intervals was going at a full run. Running feels good. It feels good to see what your body is capable of. I look forward to seeing my running improve and want to run a 5k race this fall. I’m not sure which one yet, but I will try to find something fun. If you have suggestions for a fun 5k in the Calgary/Canmore area, drop your suggestion in the comments!

Ready To Rumble

20229084_10213688362753063_205585877112026510_nRecently I have been putting in a lot of time at the gym and following an awesome workout plan (thanks Workout Labs!!!! ), but I still wanted to spice things up a bit, find something fun and try something new.

So say hello to boxing. I have always wanted to try boxing and I finally decided that there was no time like the present. I had started following a boxing studio in Calgary called Rumble on Instagram a few months ago, and seeing their posts was the final push that I needed.  About a month ago I logged into their website and on a whim booked myself into a class.

20229113_10213688363273076_7391214987261958464_nI will readily admit that I was nervous walking into the studio. I had no idea what to expect. Was everyone going to be better than me? Would I be the only new person? Was I going to look ridiculous? The answer to all of these questions ended up being yes, but I still had the most fun that I have ever had in a workout session.

I got there and their friendly staff helped me get checked in and gave me a quick tour. I was handed gloves and hand wraps and scampered off to the change room (which is frigging beautiful!!!Seriously the most modern and sleek change room I have ever seen) to get ready. I quickly realized I had no idea how to wrap my hands, but luckily the instructor Janice was there to help me. She walked me through the process and then welcomed me into her class.

So the studio at rumble is a black room with white accents and when class starts and the lights go down… it all makes sense. This is like dance club meets fight club (according to their website) and it sure lives up to that expectations. The music was pumping and quite frankly the perfect workout playlist. Between sets of punches, the instructors have you doing squats, pushups, sit ups and all other sorts of moves to keep your heart pumping and give you an incredible all over workout.

Since starting boxing, I have been going 2-3 nights a week and I absolutely love it. It is such a great stress reliever and such an awesome environment. Everyone is very friendly, helpful and non-judgmental.

If you have ever contemplated trying boxing, I urge you to give it a go! You will have a blast! You can find out more on Rumble’s website, here: http://rumbleboxing.com/

 Check out some of the photos that I have snapped over the last month or so:

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I dragged my BFF along for a class and despite his protestations, he ended up loving it!

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You seriously get so sweaty!

 

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20246085_10213688364233100_8104410159704949854_n I learned how to wrap my hands! And got some badass pink camo wraps…

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Getting my @$$ in Shape


Part of me focusing on things that matter has meant that I have been actually working at getting into the best shape of my life (not that that is saying much LOL). This has been something that I have been working here and there for a couple of years, but instead of just casually working out now, I am training with intention (and goals!).

I was starting to overwhelm my main instagram profile with gym and firefighting stuff, so I started a secondary profile to keep fitness and fire stuff separate from all my nature and adventure stuff. In my first post on my profile, I explained what was going on in my life. I’ll copy it over here so you can see:

Hey all! This is a new account for me with a bit of a lengthy reason. Curious? Read on. 
I feel like I have struggled with my weight and being fit by entire life. This is something that's hard for me to even say 'out loud' (or in writing, same thing.). I have hated my body for most of my life. And unfortunately I know a lot of people feel the same way. 
Growing up, I always sucked at coordinated sports. I was clumsy, awkward and had zero confidence. When I was towards the end of being a teenager, I discovered being active wasn't all about being good at the usual things, that there were ways to be active that even I could do. And so began my love for the outdoors. I fell in love with canoeing, hiking, fishing and all those good things and I went on to become a park ranger for 6 years. 
I then found myself moving to Alberta, where 3 years ago I became a firefighter. As soon as I became a firefighter, my focus on physical fitness shifted. It was no longer an option, it was necessary to be fit. A friend introduced me to weight lifting, I started running obstacle races and have even competed in 2 Firefighter stair climbs. But I've still felt like I hate my body.  I have wanted to compete at Firefit for the last 2 years, but have been too nervous (scared) to even try. 
I've made the decision to stop being scared to try, and to train harder to actually reach my goals. Instead of just casually going to the gym, I have been inspired to train with intention and to commit to a plan. A plan that involves healthy eating as well as working out. If you follow my main Instagram account (@ThatCanadianGirl1) then you've probably seen a lot of my gym posts and food posts from the last couple of month, but there's a lot more I want to post but didn't want to overwhelm that feed for people who were following me for my nature photos. Feel free to follow me along here, but in all honesty this is more of a fitness diary, a way for my to track my progress and my journey.

firefitmissHey all! This is a new account for me with a bit of a lengthy reason. Curious? Read on.

I feel like I have struggled with my weight and being fit by entire life. This is something that’s hard for me to even say ‘out loud’ (or in writing, same thing.). I have hated my body for most of my life. And unfortunately I know a lot of people feel the same way.
Growing up, I always sucked at coordinated sports. I was clumsy, awkward and had zero confidence. When I was towards the end of being a teenager, I discovered being active wasn’t all about being good at the usual things, that there were ways to be active that even I could do. And so began my love for the outdoors. I fell in love with canoeing, hiking, fishing and all those good things and I went on to become a park ranger for 6 years.

I then found myself moving to Alberta, where 3 years ago I became a firefighter. As soon as I became a firefighter, my focus on physical fitness shifted. It was no longer an option, it was necessary to be fit. A friend introduced me to weight lifting, I started running obstacle races and have even competed in 2 Firefighter stair climbs. But I’ve still felt like I hate my body. I have wanted to compete at Firefit for the last 2 years, but have been too nervous (scared) to even try.

I’ve made the decision to stop being scared to try, and to train harder to actually reach my goals. Instead of just casually going to the gym, I have been inspired to train with intention and to commit to a plan. A plan that involves healthy eating as well as working out. If you follow my main Instagram account (@ThatCanadianGirl1) then you’ve probably seen a lot of my gym posts and food posts from the last couple of month, but there’s a lot more I want to post but didn’t want to overwhelm that feed for people who were following me for my nature photos. Feel free to follow me along here, but in all honesty this is more of a fitness diary, a way for my to track my progress and my journey.

 

19875130_10213533065990741_7799063700447856623_nSo don’t be surprised if you start to see more fitness related posts on here, over the past few months it has become such a huge portion of my life. Sharing my journey with people helps me hold myself accountable and the feedback I have received from people has been overwhelmingly positive. Its reassuring to hear that I’m not the only one who feels like this, and who has this struggle. Sometimes its nice to just not feel alone. A big thank you to everyone who passed along some love!  So if this is something that interests you, or something you can relate to, then feel free to follow me along on my journey here on my blog or on my instagram (@FireFitMiss)

Focusing On the Things that Matter

In the past couple years, my life has changed a lot.

We all have that road map in our heads, the ‘game plan’ for how things are supposed to go. For most people, myself included, it goes something like:

  • Go to post secondary school
  • Get a ‘real’ job
  • Fall in love
  • Get married
  • Have kids
  • Live Happily Ever After

So what happens when that doesn’t exactly work out…

I thought I had everything figured out, that I was on track. Steps one-four were done. I was married to a good man… but… Things there didn’t quite work out. So here I am, 25, divorced and childless.

And it has taken me awhile to realize that that is okay.

So what happened, why did things fall apart? Well long story short we both ended up wanting very different things.

About 3 years ago, I became a firefighter. This is the part of my life that I didn’t know I was missing until I found it. I fell in love with firefighting and I fell in love with my life in Kananaskis. I want to be the absolute best firefighter possible, and that meant putting a hold on having kids (along with some health complications in that regard, but that is a whole other story).

When you find that one thing that sets your soul on fire, that completes you, your reason for waking up in the morning, you follow that. Chase that. If you walk away from something that lights that passion in you, I fully believe you will live to regret it for the rest of your days. I was not prepared to live with regret for the rest of my life.  If someone tells you to choose between them and the thing you are most passionate about, it is no choice at all.

So while I cried myself to sleep for my share of nights, mourning the loss of what was and what could have been, I know I made the right choice. The right choice is rarely easy, and it is one I will live with for the rest of my life, but I am okay with that. I am self-aware enough to know what I need in life and what I am not capable of living without.

My message to other people going through difficult relationships is this:

Know yourself. Know what you need in life and know your limits. Do not give up on yourself to make someone else happy. You do not want to live with regret for the rest of your life, you only get one life to live. You must be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else. Find someone who is prepared to truly be your partner, who will support your dreams as you support theirs.

As a side note, a relationship ending does not make either party ‘bad’, it just means you were not right for each other. To my ex-husband, I wish you nothing but happiness. I hope you find something to be passionate about and that you can find someone with whom you will be happy and with whom you share your dreams.

Moving forward from a rough couple of years, I am focusing on the things that matter and on pursuing my dreams. While married to an RCMP officer, I could not really look at having career dreams or aspirations of my own, since we would be moving every 3-5 years for the rest of our working lives. Now that I am on my own, I have the freedom to pursue my own career. And that is exactly what I am doing!

I want to become a full time firefighter. This is my dream since the day I became a firefighter. When I stepped into that bunker gear for the first time, it felt right. I knew that that was what I was meant to do. I could help people, make an actual difference in the lives of people who needed assistance. And since I started training, I have wanted to do more, to be able to help more. Over the last 3 years as a firefighter, I have taken some amazing courses to make me a stronger rescuer, and I look forward to taking many more over the course of a long career. I will write more about my career aspirations later, since that could be a blog post in and of itself…

I know that this post has been a little loopy and non-linear, but these are all things that I have been struggling to put into writing for a long time. I can’t even tell you how many times I have sat down to write about this, or about things that are currently happening in my life, but felt a block because of the dark shadow of my failed relationship. They say you have healed when you can talk about what hurt you and you no longer cry. If that is the measure for healing, then I am doing very well these days.

I want to say a huge thank you to all the incredible people in my life who have been there with me through all of this. To my parents, thank you for raising me to be strong and for supporting me when I am not. To my fire family, you guys have been my rock. You guys got me through a time so tough that I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but here I am, out the other side and stronger than ever. And finally, to KM. You have been there for me as my best friend through all of this. I don’t know what I would do without you. I love all these incredible people in my life and am so lucky to have them.

Cheers to moving forward, to living your dreams and to becoming the best version of yourself possible.

 

Kananaskis Area Photography Contest

I was incredibly excited to place first in the Kananaskis area photo contest, hosted by the Kananaskis Improvement District.

On top of the usual prizes, the winner of this years contest is to have their photo printed, framed and hung in the brand new Kananaskis Emergency Services Centre (aka my firehall.) KESC is to begin construction this summer and be finished some time in 2018. I am so excited to have a piece of my work hanging in the new hall. The firehall has been my second home since the moment I joined the department and I’m excited to feel like part of me will stay there even after I move (not that I have plans to move right now, just as an eventuality).

My photograph that won was taken in May of 2016, during the most incredible northern lights show that I have ever seen. It was a 10 second exposure of a show that had me enthralled for hours.

This is my winning photo (you need to see it in high res, not compressed like wordpress makes it, to really love it). This has not been photoshopped in any way shape or form, this is what the sky looked like that night.

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Lots of amazing photos were entered into the contest, and I’d like to share the runner ups:

Third-2017

Shoutout to my fire captain, CPT Corriveau for placing third with this beauty. Check him out on Instagram for more gorgeous shots: @martin.corriveau

 

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Second Place: Ernest Botham took this gorgeous elk portrait.

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And this one, the People’s Choice, was taken by another firefighter, Mr Graeme Rydl.

Calgary Firefighter Stairclimb 2017

I know that I havent posted on here in.. months… but life has been pretty insane over the last little while. It feels like pretty much all I do is work and workout and try to cram some sleep in there along the way. Brace yourself for an onslaught of posts and photos now that spring is upon us. Over the winter, I was honestly too busy or sick (nasty flus went around this winter!) to even get out and do much in the way of photography but now that things are greening up and the wildflowers are coming out.. that is changing! In the meantime, let’s talk about the YYC Stairclimb…

Today is exactly one week since the Calgary Firefighters Stairclimb and I finally have time to sit down and post the photos from it.

What a day! This year, Kananaskis Emergency Services had a team of 9 firefighters representing our valley, while my friends over at Redwood Meadows had the largest team, with 16 firefighters at the climb. Here are some photo highlights from the day:

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All of Kyles and my gear packed up and ready to go the night before the climb

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Standing under the Bow Tower, looking up and knowing that that is how high you have to climb… it’s a little intimidating

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The opening ceremonies on the morning of the climb

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Part of our team just prior to the climb

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This was taken on the 18th floor of the climb

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Kyle and I at the halfway mark! 

 

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Looking down at the Calgary Tower from the top of the Bow

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Selfie from after the climb; I was a pretty gross sweaty mess, but it felt great to be done!

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Our official team photo from after the climb!

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This challenge coin was awarded to everyone who completed the climb

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A couple of the Redwood fire guys getting ready for the climb