For the first time since 2019 fire chiefs from departments across the province were able to gather in person for the Manitoba Association of Fire Chiefs Annual Conference and Trade Show this year and they did so in Dauphin, June 2 to 4.
“We tried to run some virtual conferences over the past two years, but everybody meeting in little squares, Hollywood Square style, wasn’t the greatest,” said Dauphin fire chief Cam Abrey, who hosted the convention on behalf of the Riding Mountain Mutual Aid District. “The opportunity to bring in important speakers like we lined up this year was something that we’ve missed out on the last few years with our virtual conferences. We were only doing the business side of things, we didn’t have that opportunity to learn with each other and the networking opportunities.”
Whether it is over a meal or on the floor of the trade show, it is the unstructured times that offer the best connections.
“People are talking about their recent purchases, or different training opportunities,” Abrey said. “Do you really pay attention online? Now you have a chance to listen to somebody’s first-hand experiences and then network with each other and share that information back and forth.”
With more than 100 delegates registered, the MAFC offered several information sessions with speakers such as Laura King of the National Fire Prevention Association speaking on cancer prevention strategies and two firefighters from Winnipeg who have both experienced a cancer diagnosis sharing their personal journeys.
“It’s one of the things we want to share amongst the delegates in attendance. What can you do to better protect your firefighters? What can you do for your records maintenance so that if somebody does get a diagnosis in 20 or 30 years that there’s actually records maintenance for your department,” Abrey said.
Other speakers included Vince MacKenzie, chief of the Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department in Newfoundland talking about how fire departments can recover post-COVID and Lionel Crowther, a Winnipeg firefighter who survived the 2007 fire which killed his colleagues, Captain Harold Lessard and Captain Thomas Nichols.
But the weekend was not all “heavy” as a comedian was hired to lighten things up Saturday night.
“Some nice clean comedy and a chance for everybody to break bread and just sit around and rehash old friendships,” Abrey said, adding holding the annual conference outside of the major urban areas is important. “It’s an extreme honour to be able to host this event . We allow our members to take in some of the sessions, as well, so it’s not just us sending out one or two representatives to bring the information back. More people have the opportunity to hear it,” he said. “We’re not only looking at Riding Mountain Mutual Aid District, our 11 departments, but all the departments of the Swan River Valley Mutual Aid District are able to attend, it’s less travel distance for them. The Lake Winnipegosis Mutual Aid District, those departments are able to attend. So keeping those transportation costs down is beneficial for the municipalities, as well, which is why we try to rotate the conference throughout the province. So each area can catch that same feeling. And bringing 200 people to the community for three or four days it is a financial boon.”