5 stresses firefighters deal with that others don’t know about

5 stresses firefighters deal with that others don’t know about

We love this job and thank the good fortune that was bestowed upon us that we are firefighters.

And what‘s not to love? We eat like kings, occasionally get paid to sleep and watch TV, have a home away from home and form friendships like no other. It‘s as good a life as anybody could expect.

We proudly display our union stickers on our cars, and most of us have a few fire department T-shirts in our wardrobe. The public respects us, and we have earned it. We know this, and believe in ourselves for the most part, but nothing in our lives is absolutely perfect.

There is always the chance that something will happen that we have no control over. And it’s those fears that keep us up at night.

Every firefighter holds a few secrets that they typically keep to themselves.


5 Stresses Firefighters Deal With That Non-Firefighters Should Know About. weight of responsibility

Maintaining the illusion of an aloof but invincible know-it-all, can-do firefighter is work. Believe it or not, we do it not for ourselves, but for those who depend on us.

Firefighters are always on duty. There is no down time. The mind is never at rest. People depend on us to know what to do when they don‘t. There are a million things that could go wrong at any second, and firefighters are expected to perform. We keep this knowledge buried for the most part, but it is always there.


5 Stresses Firefighters Deal With That Non-Firefighters Should Know About. constant training

We have the aptitude for the job, but that’s not enough. It needs to be nurtured and constantly challenged. There is a word for what needs to be done to ensure competence: training.

And training never ends. It is as constant as breathing. When a skill is learned, it needs to re-learned at every available moment. There is always something new to perfect, and perfection is elusive. The training is the foundation that everything else depends upon. Having the skills to perform embedded in you through repetition helps when the real deal comes your way.


5 Stresses Firefighters Deal With That Non-Firefighters Should Know About. fear of failure

We border on arrogance, saunter through town like we own the place, respond to emergencies with a can-do” confidence and bask in the glow of public confidence. But in the middle of the night, when there is nobody but you and the thoughts that run through your mind, things are not so clear.

A million scenarios play out before you, and you question whether or not you have what it takes to respond. The what-if game knows no end.

  • What if the train that usually rolls through town unnoticed derails, and a toxic cloud of chlorine gas and anhydrous ammonia escapes?
  • What if the baby that normally sleeps through the night is found not breathing at three in the morning?
  • What if a truck carrying scrap metal takes the Thurber‘s Avenue curve too quickly and rolls onto a car full of college kids, trapping them, cutting them to shreds, and all you can do is watch them bleed to death while the crane that will free them slowly creeps up Rt. 95?
  • What if the kid who decided to hang himself changed his mind at the last second, and you arrived a second too late?
  • What if the fire is too hot, and a family of five burns to death 3 feet from where you stand, charged hoseline in hand, unable to get even 1 inch closer, and the echo of their screams is all that is left of them when you finally force the door?

Failure is not an option. There is no “nice try” in firefighting. There is success and there is failure.

Success is what makes firefighting great. Failure is soul-crushing, confidence stealing, character-destroying misery — it’s the greatest unspoken fear that every firefighter carries with them.


5 Stresses Firefighters Deal With That Non-Firefighters Should Know About. risk of cancer

Nobody wants to die. The myth that we will die so that others may live is just that, a myth. What we will do is take ridiculous chances at rescuing people — if, and only if, there is a chance we will come out alive. None of the firefighters who die in fires, collapses, accidents or explosions do so willingly. It is an insult to the integrity of life to think otherwise.

But die we do. Most often it isn‘t during a daring rescue, where images of a heroic firefighter are flashed across the screens of an adoring public. Most often we die alone, in bed, in agony, pain numbed by morphine, with a few people by our side, the ones that stayed with us during the struggle, when the lights are gone, and the cameras no longer roll.

We die from cancer. The things that burn emit toxins that we breathe in long after the fire is out.

  • The diesel fumes in the station that no system can capture.
  • The million and one chemicals that are created when a car catches fire.
  • The asbestos we breathe.
  • The dust that settles in our lungs and on our skin.


5 Stresses Firefighters Deal With That Non-Firefighters Should Know About. the things you see as a firefighter
Going to work knowing that there is a very good chance something will happen that will eat away at your soul becomes business as usual. Mentally preparing yourself to face death, disfigurement, madness and disease becomes the norm, while working or not.

It eats away at your humanity, your compassion, and your ability to love freely and without guile. The feeling of impending doom will always be with you, consciously or subconsciously, it matters not; what does matter is how you handle it.

The toughest among us are actually not that tough at all, they are simply the healthiest. Those who joke about the dead and make small talk of the mentally unstable are those of us who suffer the most and disguise their hurt with bravado. The rest of us just cope, and get through each day the best we can.

Firefighting is more than a way to make a living. It‘s a way of life. But nothing in life is free.

Even those who are fortunate enough to have the greatest job in the world know the price we pay, but for the benefit of those we love and those we protect and serve, we keep it to ourselves.

And it‘s killing us, slowly but surely.

Fire department releases video on mayday training

Fire department releases video on mayday training

The intention of the video is to stress the importance of training and preventing future incidents

Berkeley Fire Department

FOLSOM, Calif. — The Berkeley Fire Department, Cahill Multimedia and EVALS Learning Management System released an After Actions Video that explains the Channing Way Mayday Event.

The term mayday was adopted by the fire service from the Maritime Industry and means “Help Me” after being translated from its French origin.

The three-alarm fire at a historic East Bay church was the result of a wind-driven fire that concluded with a partial collapse, a mayday and a near-catastrophic loss of a firefighter.

Following the ​mayday at the Channing Way fire last fall, the Berkeley Fire Department identified a number of factors that contributed to both the near-miss, but also factors that possibly saved a firefighter’s life once he was in a bad situation. The forward-thinking department partnered with EVALS and Cahill Multimedia in order to share their story with their own agency, as well as the entire fire service.

“The intention of the video is to provide first-hand accounts from the people involved in the mayday and to stress the importance of training in the outcome of the incident and in preventing future incidents. The video is not intended to critique or criticize tactics or individuals,” Deputy Chief Dave Brannigan said.

Incidents like these are thoroughly investigated by specially trained teams to find out what happened and what may have caused the incident to happen. The lessons learned are then disseminated in a report.

“The spirit of the After Actions Video is to augment the official reports, to make the story of the incident more accessible,” James Doyle, a co-founder of EVALS, said. “Not everyone will sit down and read a 200 page report, but they might watch a video. We believe that AAVs provide an engagement level far beyond the traditional method currently being used in post incident training. Watching AAVs can enhance learning by creating more interested and vested participants.”

Jason Cahill of Cahill Multimedia and a fire captain with 17 years on the job stated, “Sometimes you can do everything right and still die, for every other situation what you know will be the PPE that saves your ass.”

Chief Brannigan concluded that, “As a department, a positive result of a near-miss is to analyze and share what we learned, both negative and positive, and then plan training to address any identified issues.”

4 Really Great Reasons You Shouldn’t Become a Firefighter

4 Really Great Reasons You Shouldn’t Become a Firefighter

Pursuing a firefighting career with misguided motives will make for an unhappy career choice

Several times a week, I get an email or a phone call from someone who wants to become a firefighter. Working in the fire service is a noble calling, and something that many still seek out.

However, just because the quantity of candidates is there, doesn’t mean the quality is there. There are a number of candidates who may want to become a firefighter when in fact they should not.

(Photo/Joe Thomas of Greenbox Photography)

Obviously, what one fire department or fire chief may be looking for in a firefighter can be slightly or even drastically different than the next fire department. Taken a step further, a leadership change at the top of a fire department or jurisdiction could change the type of candidate a department may hire.

However, we can make some generalizations. Here are four reasons why you should not become a firefighter.


Too many future firefighters get mesmerized by the dollar signs. Salaries for firefighters vary greatly around the United States and it is important to get paid a fair wage for the work you perform.

In some regions, firefighters are barely paid minimum wage and could possibly qualify for food stamps. In other areas, firefighters are paid very competitive salaries that allow them to live comfortably (I didn’t say extravagantly — just comfortably), if they make wise financial decisions over the course of their career.

Salaries can and do change, based on a number of reasons — most of which are out of your control. What may be a low salary at the start of your career may change for the better over time, or it may change for the worse.

Don’t do this career to get rich. If you’re all about the money, find a higher-paying career like a crane service provider.


Many consider becoming a firefighter for the retirement and health care benefits. Anyone who has had their finger on this checker has seen that pension costs and health care costs continue to skyrocket every year, sometimes at the rate of 10 percent or more per year.

Many cities, counties and states have had to drastically modify their benefits packages so that they can continue to pay their employees without going bankrupt. Most communities are not swimming in revenue. With employee wages and benefits typically making up over 90 percent of a fire department’s operating costs, there is not a lot of wiggle room when the expenditures are exceeding the revenues.

Many firefighters have to pay more out of pocket to keep their current benefits, especially if they also want to keep their salaries intact, not to mention getting raises in the future. In short, realize that benefits can and will change, and often not for the better.

Do what you can to ensure you are part of the solution, not the problem. That means don’t complain about your department reducing the benefits when you know the costs are rising, especially if you don’t want to pay more out of pocket for them.


Firefighters typically work 10, 24-hour shifts per month in some form. There are a number of different schedules that can and may change over the course of your career. No one schedule is better than the other.

When I got hired 20 years ago, we were on the 3/4 schedule: work a day, off a day, work a day, off a day, work a day and off four days. Some departments work a day and get two days off. Other departments work two days in a row and get four days off.

They all usually average the same number of hours that most firefighters typically work, which seems to be about 56 hours per week. I honestly didn’t care what schedule I worked when I got hired because I just wanted to be a firefighter.

It’s funny when I talk to firefighters around the country and we get on the subject of schedules. Some think we’re crazy for doing two days on, four days off when they are working one day on, two days off. Or, they are working 10-hour and 14-hour shifts as some East Coast departments do. When I ask our personnel about those schedules, some think those firefighters are crazy.

Realize that the “great” schedule you have when you get hired may change for the better or worse. And you may not have a choice in your schedule, because the fire chief typically has the right to alter schedules to best meet the needs of the department.


I hate to be the evil person who bursts your bubble, but the average firefighter may only see fire once a month, and may never grab someone from the clutches of death.

In most fire departments, emergency medical service responses make up over 70 percent of the dispatched calls. Of those medical events, the overwhelming majority only require basic life support or EMT-level skills, if even that.

In most fire departments, fires make up less than 10 percent of the calls. Actual working fires may even make up less than 5 percent. Ask most firefighters who have been on the job for at least five years and I’ll bet the majority have never rescued anyone at a fire.

If you’re getting into this line of work to fight fire and save lives, you’re going to be disappointed and possibly unhappy with your choice of occupation. Seriously, I have seen it happen when firefighters with a year or two on the job say how unhappy they are because their department doesn’t fight that much fire and because they have yet to save anyone’s life.

Didn’t they do their homework or research? Or were they too focused on the sexy image of what firefighters do that is often portrayed in the movies or on TV? Were they too focused on the dollar signs and the 10 working days a month?

While it is true that we do save many lives directly and indirectly through aggressive fire prevention and public education efforts, we typically don’t get to see the fruits of our labor.

Please remember that these are just my opinions, and as everyone knows, opinions are a dime a dozen.

Ultimately, if you choose to get into the fire service for reasons other than the aforementioned four, there is a great chance that you will have a long and successful career and that you are happy with the choice you made.


List of BC Fire Training Programs

Please find a list of Firefighter and First Responder Schools located in the across Canada where you can obtain some of the basic requirements for employment as a firefighter with municipalities like the City of Surrey and City of Abbotsford.

By no means is this list complete or fully comprehensive. Instead it is meant to be an introduction to getting you started on your fire fighting and first responders career. If you are intending to pursue either career please do your research. It’s important to know that only 6% of people who enter professional fire fighters and first responders careers actually make it to a full time postition. If you are considering attending any of these institutions, we recommend you research them and confirm that they remain in good standing with their governing body.

All websites will open in new windows.

Learn more about International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC)

For more information on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)


CPAT Overview for Abbotsford BC

Here’s a great resource to get started on the first step towards becoming a fire fighter for municipalities like the City of Abbotsford.

CPAT Overview

In 1997, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and International Fire Chiefs Association (IAFC) teamed up with 10 major North American fire services and unions to create the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT).
The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) was developed to test fire fighter candidates on their ability to perform simulated tasks consistent with the duties of a fire fighter. The test is designed to ensure that candidates possess the physical ability to complete the critical and essential tasks of fire fighting.
The CPAT consists of eight (8) separate events performed in a continuous manner.
The CPAT test is a pass/fail event. The CPAT must be completed in 10 minutes 20 seconds (or less) with each event completed correctly.
The CPAT certificate is issued onsite after successful completion of the test. The CPAT certificate issued by the City of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service is valid for 1 year from the date of successful completion of the test.  Charges may apply for replacement of a certificate.

CPAT Weights and Clothing

The entire CPAT is completed while wearing a 50 pound (22.68 kg) vest to simulate the weight of the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and fire fighter protective clothing.  An additional 25 pounds (11.34 kg), using two 12.5 pound (5.67 kg) weights that simulate a high-rise pack (hose bundle), is added only for the stair climb event.
What to wear for CPAT Testing and Walk-Thru Orientations?
Throughout all events, the candidate must wear long pants and footwear with no open heel or toe. A hard hat with chin strap, work gloves will be provided. Watches and loose or restrictive jewelry are not permitted.
CPAT Tools and Equipment
All props were designed to obtain the necessary information regarding a candidate’s physical ability to complete fire fighting tasks.  The tools and equipment were chosen to provide the highest level of consistency, safety and validity in measuring the candidate’s physical abilities.
CPAT Event Sequence and Timing
The events of the CPAT are placed in a sequence that best simulates their use in a fire scene. The test consists of a series of eight events separated by an 85 foot (25.91 m) walk between each event.  This walk allows the candidate approximately 20 seconds to recover and regroup before each event.  To ensure the highest level of safety and to prevent you from hitting exhaustion, no running is allowed between events.

To ensure scoring accuracy by eliminating timer failure, two stopwatches are used to time the CPAT. One stopwatch is designated as the official test time stopwatch; the second is the backup stopwatch. If mechanical failure occurs, the time on the backup stopwatch is used. The stopwatches are set to a pass/fail time and count down from 10 minutes and 20 seconds. If time elapses prior to the completion of the test, the candidate is deemed to have failed the test.

Medical Clearance Request

To minimize the health risk, candidates are required to consult with a medical professional to ascertain an opinion on their ability to partake in CPAT testing.
The Candidate must bring completed Medical Clearance Request Form to the CPAT Test session. Candidate will NOT be permitted for testing without Completed Medical Form.
This form must be completed by a medical doctor (general medical practitioner). Any costs incurred in this examination or the completion of this form is the sole responsibility of the candidate.
  • CPAT session is $230.00 CND plus applicable taxes.
  • Walk-through Orientation is $40.00 CND plus applicable taxes.

CPAT Refund and Cancellation Policy

  • Once payment is received and testing is booked, payment is non-refundable.
  • Partial payment will be refunded for medical reasons only. Requests for refunds must be received at least 72 hrs prior to the scheduled test date. Requests for refunds must be in writing and accompanied by a medical doctor’s written verification that you are unable to test due to injury/illness.  A $50.00 administration fee will be deducted from the refund. Refund requests should be emailed to cpat@abbotsford.ca.
  • Approved refunds will be issued via cheque and mailed to your account address. No refunds will be given to individuals who take the CPAT but are unsuccessful.
  • The City of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service reserves the right to change or cancel scheduled dates. Notification will be sent via email to the address used during the registration process. Registrants will be placed into the next available date, with the option to reschedule.
  • The information on the registration form is collected for internal purposes only and will remain confidential.
CPAT Booking Policy
Sessions cannot be rescheduled within 72 hours of the scheduled testing. Failure to adhere to this policy will result in the forfeiture of course fees.
 Privacy Policy
Personal information is collected for the administration of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service programs only, as authorized under Section 26 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.  The City of Abbotsford does not use or disclose personal information for purposes other than those for which it was collected, except with the consent of the individual whom the information is about or otherwise in accordance with law. The City of Abbotsford retains personal information only as long as necessary for the purposes of this program and as required under the Act. If you have any questions about the collection and use of your personal information, contact the Information & Privacy Co-ordinator at 604-864-5575, City of Abbotsford, 32315 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford, BC V2T 1W7.

Preparing for the CPAT

The CPAT simulates the physically demanding tasks of fire fighting. As such, successful completion of the CPAT requires a high degree of physical fitness in the areas of aerobic and anaerobic power, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and balance.
In order to ensure successful completion of the CPAT all candidates should view the CPAT Orientation videos review the CPAT Orientation Guide. The CPAT Candidate Preparation Guide provides information on how to physically prepare for the CPAT test.
It is the responsibility of all candidates to arrive at their scheduled test date familiar with the CPAT sequence of events, requirements of each event and the criteria which constitute a pass or fail at each event.
Remember that it is the responsibility of the candidate to be familiar with CPAT procedures and expectations prior to your scheduled CPAT date. Since CPAT guidelines specify that all applicants must be given an opportunity to attend 2 Orientation sessions within eight weeks prior to scheduled CPAT, any candidates registering less than 8 weeks in advance must complete the Waiver of Orientation form.
It is your responsibility to ask questions if you do not understand any part of the CPAT events or procedures.

CPAT Walk-through Orientation Only (THIS IS NOT A CPAT TEST)

Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS) provides the foremost opportunity for applicants to prepare for the CPAT. Candidates booking a test date 8 weeks or longer have the opportunity to register for a scheduled walk-through orientation sessions within eight weeks prior to their CPAT date.
The Walk-through Orientation session provides you the opportunity to view the CPAT events, talk with instructors, physically examine test equipment, tools and props and practice. The Orientations are conducted in small groups and pre-registration and payment is required. Note: this is not a test nor a practice run. This is optional and is not required prior to the Test.


CPAT test day, pre-exercise heart rate will be measured. If pre-exercise heart rate >110 bpm, you will not be allowed to proceed with the CPAT. Please be advised that certain substances may elevate heart rate (caffeine, smoking, energy drinks some over the counter cold medications) and it is recommended to avoid these substances the day of your Timed Trial/CPAT test.
Testing Schedule

It is RECOMMENDED that if you are requiring CPAT for any hiring occurring within the next 3 months,  book one of the soonest dates available as it is first come first serve and there is no guarantee that CPAT dates will be available at the time of your hiring.

NOTE: Mobile (iPhone etc.) and Mac Computer (Safari browser) equipment might not be compatible with this website, when booking and making payment for the test, use standard computer.

Testing Location

1544 Riverside Road
Abbotsford, BC

Contact Us

CPAT information or inquiry Email cpat@abbotsford.ca   NO PHONE CALLS

Business Addresses and Phone Numbers
Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service
 32270 George Ferguson Way
 Abbotsford BC
 V2T 2L1
 Phone: 604-853-3566 (office hrs 0830-1630, M-F)
 Fax: 604-853-7941 or 604-853-8452
City of Abbotsford, Collections Department
 32315 South Fraser Way
 Abbotsford, BC
 V2T 1W7
 Phone: 604-864-5522 (office hrs 0830-1630, M-F)
 Fax: 604-853-8505

Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook

Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook

The purpose of the BC Firefighters Training Playbook is to ensure competency in a very high risk position. Under paragraph 3(3)(b) of the Fire Services Act (B.C.), the Fire Commissioner is required to establish the minimum standards of training required for fire services personnel in British Columbia. This Playbook sets out a competency-based ladder that provides for a minimum level of sequential training and operational requirements that must be met by each fire department. The Authority Having Jurisdiction will set the Service Level (refer to pages 10, 17 and 18) to be provided by its fire department, which in turn determines the minimum training Competencies that must be met by that department. The Playbook establishes the minimum training Competencies required and the standards from which they are drawn.

You can read the full playbook here,  Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook.


Fire Training – Need for Volunteer Firefighters

Training will soon be front and centre at the Dominion Volunteer Fire Department.


Scott Duffney, who will be taking over the role of fire chief as of Wednesday, said his focus will be to increase training.

“Investing in and developing our officers who are there right now.”

Duffney said they do weekly training now but he wants more members trained in Level 1 firefighting and other courses through the Nova Scotia Firefighters School in Waverley.

He wants to reenergize the training program with the help of former chief and now training officer Murray McNeil.

Duffney, 44, moved to Dominion 10 years ago and joined the fire department.

“I moved to Dominion and was looking to give back to the community and get involved.”

Ten years later, he’s still glad he did.

“It’s the group of people that are in it, a fantastic group,” he said. “Volunteering in a community is one of the best feelings, knowing you are doing something good for the community.”

Duffney, who was a captain with the fire department for five years, has also spent time as its treasurer, fire prevention officer and training officer.

He was nominated and accepted the position of chief during the December monthly meeting.

There are currently 28 members in the fire department.

“The fact they have that confidence in me was definitely a feel good moment,” he said. “Leading up to it knowing I was going to be nominated and would be accepting it I was a little anxious but that’s just the body’s normal response in taking on something new and bigger but I’m up for it.”

He said the increased focus on training will also involve the ice and water rescue units.

“We believe water and ice rescues are areas that need more focus and as a result have someone that can focus solely on that,” he said of the new director of technical rescue operations Brendan Burke.

“We are also looking into expanding into other areas of emergency response.”

Duffney said he also wants to revamp the recruiting process.

“Recruitment and retention in a small town volunteer fire department is one of the biggest challenges we have.”

He said one way to work on recruiting is through the junior firefighter program which is open to young people between the ages of 16-18.

“It gives young people an opportunity to try it out within safe parameters to see if it’s something they’d be interested in.”

A junior firefighter takes part in training and responds to calls, although school hours play a part in when they are available.

“They would definitely be assisting and participating in emergency response.”

A person must be 18 years old to become a regular member of the department.

He said the last time the junior program was in place they had four members and two transitioned into the regular membership.

Duffney said he’s looking forward to his role as chief, adding there is something special about the Dominion firefighters.

“Their willingness in helping the community. Anytime the community requests anything of us we’re always right there to help.”