ABERFOYLE – Puslinch firefighters are grateful for the support of nationally syndicated talk show host Jenny Jones.
Jones feels strongly about supporting firefighters and first responders, people who dedicate their lives to helping others.
“They run into places when others are running away,” says Jones, “willing to take risks in any emergency from devastating fires to vehicle collisions to water and ice rescues. They need to be supported for their own safety and to be able to provide the best service to the people at risk.”
Jones is known for hosting a nationally syndicated talk show but her resume includes many careers, including philanthropist.
Through Jenny’s Heroes Canada, the Jenny Jones Foundation is offering grants up to $25,000 to provide safety equipment to Ontario’s volunteer fire departments. Jones grew up in London, Ontario and wishes to give back to her home province.
Many fire departments in Ontario rely on the services of volunteer firefighters to provide fire protection, education and emergency first response in their communities.
Due to smaller populations with a smaller tax base many of these departments are challenged to purchase updated equipment, gear and technology to protect these firefighters so they can provide the skilled, competent and caring services to the residents they are committed to protect.
In May 2018, Jones reached out to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) with a vision to support those who serve in their communities, and where a financial contribution would make a significant impact.
For Puslinch, this meant being able to purchase high visibility lightweight coveralls to help to keep the department’s 42 firefighters safe.
The request was for $14,000 but due to the high number of applications Jenny’s Heroes offered $10,000 in order to share funds with more departments that need safety equipment.
Deputy Chief Brad Churchill was thrilled when Jones called him with the news that they would be able to provide at least 30 coveralls for the department.
“Providing coveralls for the entire staff was a wish list but I am over the moon with being able to buy 30 for another level of protection,” Churchill said.
How this came together
Churchill explains the goal of Jenny’s Heroes is to help small, volunteer firefighter-based departments purchase gear, equipment and/or technology to assist them in providing emergency first response in their community. Grants can be up to $25,000.
The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs strongly encourages all volunteer fire departments in Ontario to apply.
In 2019, the organization donated almost $100,000 to volunteer fire departments across Ontario to help purchase new fire safety equipment, and has promised to continue the grants so long as there is a need.
He added that since the inception of the Jenny’s Heroes Canada Ontario Fire Service Equipment Grant, Jones has donated just over $140,000.
Brad Churchill submitted the grant application for high visible, lightweight, fire rated coveralls. These will be used specifically for motor vehicle collisions, grass/brush/crop or wildland fires and as a change of garment at vehicle and structure fires.
He added that he was thrilled when Jenny Jones personally called him from Los Angeles with the news that Puslinch Fire and Rescue had been selected to receive the grant.
That grant allowed the purchase of 30 new sets of gear.
How the firefighters feel about their new gear
Churchill said the firefighters are grateful for the generous donation from Jenny’s Heroes and have expressed thanks to the management team and council, for always looking after their personal safety.
Differences between the old and new gear
Churchill said “The only difference is the look with personalized name tags and Puslinch Fire shoulder flashes. However, the gap was that not everyone had a fitted set and some had none at all. Some older sets were worn.”
How this will help firefighters at a call?
Churchill explained there are three emergency call types that these coveralls will make a significant difference in the health and safety of our firefighters.
These areas are fires, motor vehicle collisions and wildland firefighting. Firefighters can easily don coveralls over their street clothing or station uniforms, providing a safer and more effective personal protective equipment (PPE) ensemble than their normal structural firefighting PPE. Something as simple as coveralls could save the lives of our firefighters.
Structure/Vehicle Fires: Churchill said, “In Puslinch, we respond to a variety of fires including structures, vehicle and other miscellaneous in nature. Although we train and take safety precautions, our firefighters are exposed to many deadly chemicals. Most of these are odorless, colourless and tasteless. Cancer awareness has become the focal point in firefighter health. Structural gear is the default ‘ensemble’ of choice for firefighting. It is common that firefighters who have fought a fire wear contaminated structural PPE for some time after and back to the station in the fire apparatus.”
He added, “With retention difficulties in the volunteer fire service and expense, it is not reasonable to outfit each firefighter with a second set of gear to switch into on scene. The alternative is to have them bag their contaminated gear on scene after decontamination and be able to change into a clean pair of coveralls. This would reduce the exposure to deadly carcinogens as well. We currently have provided each firefighter with a personal backpack containing Tyvek paper coveralls, skin wipes and other personal items. We wish to go one-step further and take every precaution to make sure our people stay healthy.”
Motor Vehicle Collisions: Churchill explained, “With significantly less weight and increased breathability, coveralls reduce health hazards such as heat stress and cardiovascular risks. This leads to increased firefighter productivity when rendering service to the public. These types of calls are some of the most dangerous and mentally fatiguing incidents that our firefighters are exposed to. Our highest call volume year after year in Puslinch is motor vehicle collisions.”
He added, “I personally remember an extrication incident where firefighters became sick because of heat exhaustion. They were wearing structural firefighting PPE; protective lightweight coveralls could have prevented this. Coveralls also provide an extra level of visibility. As you can see in some of the photos, we do not have much room to work on these congested highways, with next to no shoulders and fast moving traffic. We cover one of the most treacherous sections of the 401 in Ontario.”
Wildland Firefighting: Churchill notes, “Due to extreme weather conditions, dry ground cover, and residential infilling wildland fires are on the rise and more concerning. Puslinch is situated in the heart of farm country. Crop and field fires have a direct impact on this community and business. Structural firefighting PPE (e.g., helmets, coats, pants, boots and gloves) is designed to protect the firefighter from the thermal stresses associated with interior structural firefighting. Those design features make that PPE less desirable during wildland firefighting operations, where one of the primary health threats to a firefighter is heat stress from a high level of physical exertion during hot and dry conditions – and just as often, hot and humid conditions.
“As mentioned previously, significantly less weight and increased breathability, coveralls reduce health hazards such as heat stress and cardiovascular risks. This leads to increased firefighter productivity when rendering service to the public.”
Churchill added, “We really want to thank Jenny Jones, the Jenny’s Heroes Ontario Fire Service Equipment Grant along with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs for making this opportunity possible to us.
“There is no question that our firefighters are our greatest asset and without them, the community would suffer.”
He said, “We have very good equipment, training and people to do the best job that they can here in Puslinch. We are aware of the inherent dangers of what we do but Chief Gomes and myself want to take the extra step to protect our most valued asset, our own people. Firefighter injuries and fatalities would be devastating to our community but also to the family members, employers and friends of that person.
“We truly care about our firefighters in Puslinch. We can’t think of any equipment more important than equipment that protects the wellbeing of these amazing individuals that in a heartbeat will leave their families, employment and commitments to help anyone in need.”
Churchill said the Puslinch Fire and Rescue Services (PFRS) currently operates from one centrally located fire station.
The staff includes a part-time fire chief, a part-time deputy fire chief, a part-time chief fire prevention officer, a part-time public education officer, a part-time training chief, part-time training officer, a part-time administrative assistant, four volunteer captains, 28 volunteer firefighters and four auxiliary firefighters.
Puslinch Fire and Rescue responded to 381 calls for service in 2018, 356 in 2019 and 353 in 2020.