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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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

 

 

What Makes For A Great Leader

Recently, I have had some really good conversations with friends and co-workers about what makes for a great leader. We all know when we have a bad leader (or boss, supervisor, etc) but it can be difficult to define just what it is that makes someone great. So lets reverse engineer this:

The worst leader you can imagine:

  • Talks down to people
  • Brags about being the leader/boss/supervisor
  • Isn’t approachable
  • Doesn’t coach their team, but just gives orders
  • Doesn’t inspire confidence
  • Doesn’t know how to do their job well
  • Is judgemental
  • Doesn’t ask for help (everyone needs help sometimes!)
  • Is two-faced
  • Not trustworthy
  • Offers only criticism
  • Creates separation in the team
  • uses favouritism
  • Micro-manages

So if those are the qualities that make for a bad leader, what makes for a great leader?

A great leader:

  • Is kind and compassionate
  • Is humble and knows they have worked hard to get where they are
  • Is someone you can turn to for help
  • Inspires confidence
  • Knows their job and role, inside out and backwards
  • Is respectful of everyone around them
  • Is constantly working to be better, knows that there is always room for improvement
  • a good role model, someone you want to be like
  • Offers constructive criticism, wants their team to be the best it can be
  • Hold their team together
  • A good leader should push every member of their team to be the best version of themselves.
  • Empowers their team to make decisions and trains them to make the right ones

Personally, I think the difference between a good leader and a great leader is the ability to inspire. Have you been lucky enough to be around people who drive your passion?  Who make you want to be the best you possible? When you wake up, are you excited to keep working towards a goal? Having people like that in your life are what make life worth living. They push you, they inspire you and they take you out of your comfort zone. These are people, the leaders, we need more of.

Having strong leaders is important in pretty much any job, so when you read these lists, where does your boss/supervisor fit? What other qualities should a leader have (or not have)?

 

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect.

How many times, over the course of your life, have you been told that? If you grew up with parents like mine, it is probably something that you have heard a lot. It is a simple statement that rings true, especially when it comes to firefighting.

As firefighters, we can often spend more time training than we spend on actual calls, and that can be a great thing. Odds are, your local fire department trains together at least one night a week, year round, to make sure that they are in tip-top shape, always waiting and ready for the next call.

Despite the name, a lot of the calls a firefighter respond to are not fire related; they are car accidents, medical calls, and even occasionally chasing bears. So we obviously spend a lot of time training for those calls (except the bear chasing thing 😉 ). However, I think it is safe to say that training for fire calls is the most fun.

So how do we train for these events? Obviously we can’t go around lighting fires just anywhere! We use specialized facilities to create realistic fire scenarios. My department visits the Burn Tower in Calgary a bunch of times every year; this large concrete structure allows us to light fires, smoke up the building and run real drills in a controlled environment.

I wanted to share some photos from our last training day at the Burn Tower. These are the days where we really get to bond with our crew and practice all the different techniques that we learn in textbooks and classrooms.

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Staging the truck outside the Burn Tower

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SCBA bottles 

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Firefighter have lots off cool tools to make their jobs possible: the Thermal Imaging Camera, or TIC is a vital piece of gear.

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Redwoods newest firefighters getting ready to go into the Burn Tower for the first time.

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Coordination of different attacks is vital to keep everyone safe.

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Group shot from our last day at the Burn Tower

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That’s me!

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Firefighting is messy work

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Group selfie: I love these guys!

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Two probationary firefighters from Redwood Meadows protect exposures

 

I would like to thank Chief Evans of Redwood fire for the group photo and the close up of me. 

Combining Passions

Some people find it hard to balance work with what they love, but I am pretty lucky in that I love what I do and am finding ways to combine my passions. I have recently been working on putting together my professional photography portfolio and was looking through what I have shot over the last year and breaking it down into categories and unsurprisingly, I have photographed a lot of firefighting (training days and courses, etc). Obviously I am not photographing when out on calls, but a lot of what we do, even in training is pretty spectacular. I am also moving into photographing more rescue academy training (stay tuned to see what September brings 😉 ) and would love to keep the momentum rolling by lining up some photography work with different departments.

Do you, or someone you know, work on a fire department that would like to have some photos done? Photos taken will be shared with the department for use on their website, social media, or however they like. 

Send me a message on the bottom of this post to chat about photography opportunities with your department!

The Calgary Firefighter Stairclimb

So as a lot of you know, on Sunday, May 1st, my team and I participated in the Calgary Firefighter Stairclimb. The climb was a fundraiser for Wellspring Calgary and involved over 300 firefighters running up the Bow Tower (1204 steps!!!) in full bunker gear.

I just wanted to take a quick moment and update my followers on the how the stairclimb went.

I am so incredibly proud of my team. Look at us. Look at those smiling faces.13100812_1575789782718395_3165533962216552659_n

And this picture was taken post-climb. That shows you what the people on my team are made of. We kicked butt. All of us successfully completed the climb and we were overall the second highest fundraising team for the event.

So what does it feel like to climb over 800m straight up with 60lbs of gear on in a greenhouse of a stairwell? It felt hot. Really, really hot. The heat was definitely the biggest challenge. As one volunteer so kindly pointed out to me, it got a degree hotter for every floor we climbed.

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This was me on floor #26, just under half way. At this point. Yup, I was as sweaty as I look.

You know whats harder than handling the heat and the stairs? Fighting cancer or losing someone to cancer. It is almost one year ago to the day since I lost my grandmother to cancer. I dedicated my climb to her, and carried a photo of her (chosen by my grandfather) in my bunker gear pocket.

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All in all, the stairclimb was an incredible experience, and I am already looking forward to doing it again next year! Thank you to everyone who supported my through donations or emotionally; I couldn’t have done it without you guys!

On a side note, I was blown away by the support and love we got from the members of our fire family who weren’t competing; one of the captains, Martin, from our hall came out and volunteered with his family. Hitting the 47th floor and seeing a familiar and friendly face cheering us on was awesome! Also a big thanks to Rob for bringing your lovely wife and children who cheered us on and to my cousin Breanne for coming out with your friends to be waiting for me when I got back to the ground. You guys are what keep us going.

FireFighter Gift Guide (Part 1)

It should never be hard to shop for a firefighter, we are all gear junkies. But just in case you are having some trouble, I have created Part One of the ultimate gift guide for the firefighter in your life.

Cool T-shirt:

How do you know if someone is a firefighter? Because all their shirts say so.

But seriously, firefighters love cool t-shirts. And nowadays there are so many cool firefighter owned companies making wicked t-shirts. Don’t settle for boring. This is an easy gift-able item, as sizing is pretty easy to find out or guesstimate.

Here are some of my favourites:

You can check them out/shop here:

Black Smoke Apparel

Black Helmet Apparel

Salty Dog Apparel

 

Recycled Fire Hose Belt:

Maybe your firefighter needs something to hold their pants up? There are all sorts of awesome belts on the market made out of retired and cleaned fire hose, but my favourite is from The Rustic Firefighter.

They have all sorts of different belts, ranging from casual to belts that, dare I say it, could be worn with dress pants.

 

Wedges:

No, not the delightfully seasoned potato. Wedges are an incredibly versatile tool that every firefighter should carry on them. Wedges range in size and from wooden triangles cut out of 2×4 to my favourite, the Wedge It.

The Wedge It is brightly coloured and designed to hold a door open three ways. My favourite way to use it is to hook it over the hinges and it props the door wide open. The bright colours make it noticeable, and harder to forget. Which is pretty important when you have 101 things on your mind.

 

Leatherman:

Growing up, my dad always had a multi tool on his belt and could fix pretty much anything on the go. I learned from a young age that a multi-tool was something that you should have on you at all times. This belief was re-enforced on my very first duty shift at the fire hall. I found myself constantly scrambling for this tool or that tool, when if I had been carrying a multi-tool I would have been all set.

Not all multi-tools are created equal. In my opinion, Leatherman are the best of the best. Made in the USA, and backed by a 25 year guarantee. My personal favourite Leatherman is the Surge. The Surge is rugged and large, but feels like your holding something real. There is nothing flimsy or delicate about this tool.

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My second favourite Leatherman is The Raptor, perfect multi-tool for medical calls. The Raptor tool is essentially an oxygen wrench, ring cutter and window punch built into a heavy-duty set of medical shears.

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Rescue Tool:

There are so many variations on a rescue tool, but most of them do the same basic things: Cut seat belts and break windows. My favourite is another Leatherman product, the Z-Rex. What I love most about this tool is the shape. It makes it easier to use than any other rescue tool I have gotten to use. Its also pretty reasonably priced and you can get replaceable blades for the seatbelt cutter portion.

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Globe Fire Boots:

Now this present is for the firefighter in your life whom you love more than anything. It is pricey, but I have learned that you don’t f around with footwear in any part of your life. Blisters can wreck your best day and make you perform sub-par. This winter I broke down and bought myself a pair of the 14” leather pull on fireboots from Globe and they are absolutely incredible. They are so comfortable, and come with two different insoles to customize the fit. No more sloppy fitting boots.

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Socks:

There is nothing worse for your feet than cheap socks. I used to be totally okay with buying 12 packs for $9.99 at Walmart, but nowadays I am a bit of a sock snob. Good socks insulate when its cold, wick moisture when its warm and stop you from getting blisters. My personal favorites are Darn Tough and IceBreaker. At $15-$30 a pair of sucks, they are pretty pricey, but 100% worth it. Both of these brands make mostly merino wool socks, which means they also cut down on foot odor. What makes the price really worth it? Aside from no more stinky feet, no more blisters and the most comfortable socks you’ve ever owned? The fact that they are guaranteed for life. Both Darn Tough and IceBreaker will replace your socks if you manage to wear them out. It does not get much better than that.

Icebreaker:

So I mentioned IceBreaker in the sock section, but what is it? IceBreaker is a brand of clothing out of New Zealand whose clothing is made almost entirely out of Merino Wool. Merino wool feels like the softest of cotton, so it is not itchy. But it is so much more breathable than cotton and last a lot longer. Merino wool doesn’t get stinky when you sweat into it and it can be washed in a sink and will dry within hours. Merino is also anti-flammable. You can light it, but it wont burn (within reason). This makes it great as a gift for wildland firefighters who have to wear natural fibers under their gear. I know what you are probably thinking, ‘Wool? In the summer?’ and yes, I am saying you should wear wool in the summer. Merino wool insulates in the cold but breathes when its hot, so it is much better at regulating your temperature in all weather. IceBreaker makes a wide range of clothing: baselayers, to t-shirts, to jackets. All of it is worth its weight in gold.

 

Recycled Bunker Gear Bag:

There are a bunch of companies that make things out of retired fire service gear, and love the variety of bags that are on the market. Most are customizable with your name or department, and some can even be made out of your, or a loved ones, gear.

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Past Into New, a company out Ontario makes some pretty cool bags, as well as a bunch of other neat recycled items.

 

Halligan Bottle opener:

A halligan is known as a tool that is meant to FSU (abbreviating in case kids read this, I’m sure you can figure it out). It’s a super versatile tool that can open pretty much anything, even your beer. Well, at least this mini version can. This is a pretty sweet little gift for an beer loving firefighter (me!). Buy yours here.

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VX Gloves:

My favourite vehicle extrication gloves were a gift from my parents. Schmitz Mitts are virtually indestructible, yet incredibly comfortable to work in. There are a couple different variations, from the basic to the waterproof to the winterized, so you can pick the pair that is perfect for you. I have an incredibly hard time finding gloves that fit me (being a woman and all…) but my pair of Schmitz Mitts in a size small are perfect. They took some breaking in to get them to the point where I have full dexterity, but they are now perfect.

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Rite-in-the-rain notebooks:

How many times have you dug through the med bag, looking for that crumples piece of paper so you can record vitals? It happened enough to me that when I saw the ‘Rite In The Rain’ Vitals notebook that I grabbed it, bought it, and put it straight in my grab bag for fire. The pages are sturdy and virtually indestructible, they are waterproof and easy to tear out and hand over to EMS. Check them, and their other First Responder notebooks out here.

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Anything from #IveGotYourBack911:

Seriously. This company is amazing. It was started by paramedics in Ontario as a social movement to raise awareness around mental illness, specifically PTSD in First Responders. It serves to remind all of us that we are not alone, we are a family.

They have an awesome assortment of clothing and gear, some of which can be customized based on your designation.

 

Well that is it for part one, stay tuned for part two!

 

The Countdown is On!

One month and one day.

Thats how much time until the Calgary Firefighter Stairclimb! When I registered, it seemed like I had so much time, but now the countdown is really on. Our team is doing well for fundraising and we are currently selling raffle tickets as a fundraiser. If you are interested in a raffle ticket ($2 each and LOTS of amazing prizes!) you can get them from myself or any of the firefighters from our hall who are participating. You can also make a donation here.

I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to my team:

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My team is an incredible group of guys who are like my family. Colin was a mentor to me when I started with Kananaskis Emergency Services; he helped me get over my fear of claustrophobia. Mike and I started training together and it has been amazing to watch both of us grow as firefighters. Kyle is new to the department, but has been a firefighter for years and was previously a bomb disposal technician with the air force. And me? You guys already know enough about me 😉

I am so proud of this team. They have worked hard and trained hard to get ready for the stairclimb. I love each and every one of them and I am so excited for the stairclimb! This is a team that can accomplish anything and is ready to kick ass.