Longest day of our lives (literally) …….

This is the longest day of our lives (literally). We started at 330 am (local time) in Manila on March 11. We flew to Tokyo and had lunch. Then we boarded in Tokyo and got delayed. We then missed our connector in Chicago and now must wait for an available flight to Toronto that will get us back at 1145 pm- ALL ON MARCH 11- the longest day ever (thanks to time change). We travelled over 7700 miles on the longest March 11 ever.


The journey home comes with mixed emotions. Satisfaction from a job well done, tired from a job well done and anticipation of seeing our families. This team did not know each other prior to deployment. We quickly bonded into a family and a group of true professionals. We did what was expected and more.


We all have families at home, whether it is husband, wife, kids, parents, someone back in Canada proud of us and also worrying about us. We are anxious to get home and see our loved ones and sad to leave our new friends and end this incredible journey.


Our families in Canada deserve our appreciation and gratitude as well. While we were away, they stayed at home and held down the fort. Our lives in Canada still had to go- so to you our families- THANK YOU AND WE MISSED YOU- we appreciate what you do and you were in our thoughts everyday.

Never wonder why we do this…….

For some GlobalFire team members this was their first mission, some it was second or more. So why would someone volunteer, pay their own money, use their own holidays and raise money……


Below is a face book message we received from a firefighter who took part in the training this past week in response to the picture below.

"Though we've been roofless, homeless and almost lifeless after the devastation of the Mega storm Haiyan, we are not actually Hopeless because of you guys who really unselfishly shared their talents and abilities and as well as encouraged all of us to do better in our chosen Profession as a FIREMAN. Thank you and God bless to each and everyone of you. "

All over but the crying ……

Well we blinked again and it is graduation. We are all back to the fire station in our GlobalFire uniforms where we are met by the students in their dress uniforms. Very sharp uniforms and they are wearing them with pride.

All the GlobalFire donations are laid out in front of the fire station. The fire station is being rebuild as it was destroyed during Yolanda. There is no roof and many walls missing, the crews sleep in tents left by the Koreans.

We have been accumulating gear and supplies since we got here for them. We shipped some, we brought some and we bought some while in country. But seeing most of it laid out was a great feeling. GlobalFire donated 155 different types of equipment or supplies for a grand total of over 1200 pieces that are being left for the fire fighters of the Bureau of Fire Protection. The fund raising efforts by GlobalFire and its team went far in improving the capabilities of these fire fighters.

The graduation ceremony was a formal affair in front of the fire station The Master of Ceremonies started the event off with greetings and prayers. Followed by the singing of both national anthems. The GlobalFire team sang with pride when it was the Canadian anthem. Pride however does not translate into improving the way we sing. In other words, it did not appear to be many members who could belt one out, but that did not stop us.

Next each student was called to the stage to receive his or her certificate. A BFP fire fighter who had registered on line to be a GlobalFire volunteer before we even arrived here designed the certificates. This was his first assignment and he did an amazing job.

The next day the BFP was holding a fun run and the proceeds were going to the families of the five fallen fire fighters from Region 8. Each entry was around 100 Pesos. Unfortunately the GlobalFire team will not be attending so in lieu of that a team member took to the stage and made a cash donation. Each member put in their own money, which was matched by GlobalFire for a total of 30000 Pesos. Fire fighters helping fire fighters.

Once the formalities were done, it was picture time. Each GlobalFire team member pulled in every direction to get their picture taken with students. The gratitude that was relayed on a one to one basis from each student was heart warming.

There were hugs, hand shakes, back slapping and even tears in front of a fire station that is being rebuilt and now in a small way so are their fire fighters.

The fastest week of our lives ……

Well we blinked and it is last day. The fastest week in our lives. It seems like it was just first day and we were learning the students names. Now we are friends and true brothers and sisters of the fire service.

The week was filled with long hot days and tough physical training and not one complaint. In fact, it was just the opposite. They wanted more, the students took every opportunity to pick our brains.

When you do an capacity building operation you never know exactly what you are getting into in terms of training delivery. The GlobalFire team prepared lesson plans, powerpoints and brought what they needed to facilitate this. But you have to be fluid, you must adapt to the situation, which we did. Lessons were changed at the last minute, new badly need subjects were added, we did our very best to meet their needs. As example, the BFP had chainsaws and no training. Two GlobalFire instructors are chainsaw instructors and they designed a course to show them the safe operation of a chainsaw. They had a very emotional response from one student who explained that he could not get out of his station after the typhoon because of downed trees and had a chain saw but did not know how to use it. He thanked GlobalFire very much as now that will not happen again.

It was a great week of instruction. Filled with knowledge sharing, friendship and laughter.

And the training begins ……

National pride and the importance of family come to mind about this country. It runs deep here. It has been very evident on our mission.

The first day of training was started with a ceremony paying respect to their service, their leaders, and their country and to GlobalFire. There were prayers and singing of our two national anthems and welcome comments from BFP authorities.

The GlobalFire Team Lead was given an opportunity to speak and explain our organization and its dedication to the fire service. Following that each team member had an opportunity to introduce himself or herself and address the 76 students that travelled in some cases hundreds of kilometers by local transit.

The students had been previously divided into three teams by the BFP. Day one was filled with a lot of classroom instruction with safety as a priority. We had to ensure that the students had a good understanding of all safety issues and an understanding of the content because most of the teaching topics were new to them or in greater detail then they have ever had before. We are all fire fighters and they are expected to do the same job as us so great care was taken by the teaching cadre to connect with the BFP fire fighters and ensure their needs were met.

The donation by sea....

Several of the GlobalFire team journeyed out about an hour from Tacloban to Guingaun, Tanauan to the GlobalMedic/GlobalFire warehouse. It is storing donated equipment that was sent in a shipping container after Yolanda. It consisted of 350 bunker suits, flash hoods, gloves, helmets, SCBA, books, CDs and station wear that was collected from fire services across Ontario to be donated in The Philippines.

From the records that we have seen there are approximately two bunker suits per station across the region.

Along for the trip were several BFP members who offered to help load. We met Ivana from GlobalMedic at the warehouse as well as Edgar. It was extremely hot as it had a tin roof, out in the wide open and not a breath of wind.  The team got to work preparing to load but had to stop for a minute or two to watch. Our helpers had begun to try on suits, gloves and helmets. They looked like kids at Christmas, their faces lighting up- it was a great feeling. Supplying this equipment to our brothers and sisters who are expected to do the same job as us with much, much less. Most wore their helmets while we packed the Rescue Tender. Actually one firefighter wore his helmet all the way back to Tacloban. Their gratitude was humbling.

Another example of what we take for granted ………

Starting off on the right foot....

Fire Prevention Month is observed annually as mandated pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No 115-A signed by then His Excellency Ferdinand E. Marcos on November 17, 1966 proclaiming the year 1967 and every year thereafter as Safety and Accident Prevention Year.

In line with the aforesaid proclamation, each month of the year is devoted to a particular aspect of safety and accident prevention thereby declaring March as the “Fire Prevention Month”.

The opening ceremonies started at 5 a.m. (yes- a.m.) and GlobalFire were invited guests. During the ceremony the GlobalFire team were given a certificate recognizing our participation.

The walk was attended by several hundred people and took us through the streets of Tacloban. We got to see the damage up close. We could see the businesses still boarded up, the houses damaged beyond repair but families still living in them and lives changed forever.

Upon return to the fire station there was a mass and breakfast.

We were able to get a overview of the BFP by SFO4 Ponciano C Sabalza. It was a very informative session.

After the overview GlobalFire took part in the motorcade. Approximately 10 vehicles took part including BFP fire apparatus, Philippine Red Cross, Chinese Volunteer Fire Fighters and a disaster relief team. The motorcade went all through Tacloban with sirens sounding for about 90 minutes.



The Arrival

As we exit the plane we are still receiving thanks for coming to help from the other passengers. The gratitude leaves you feeling proud, humble and confused as we are not the first ones here by far but still the outpouring of support is still high.

We deplane as a group and first thing you notice is the temporary roof on the terminal. As we walk across the tarmac to this terminal Regional Director Superintendent PABLITO D CORDETA greets us. He is there with Officer in Charge ARD from Operations, CINSP SERGIO R NAYRA, INSP ANTHONY C DE PAZ, Chief Operation Division, and SFO4 Ponciano C Sabalza, Chief, Fire Safety and Prevention.

Introductions take place and a crew of BFP fire fighters swoops in and grab our bags, all 292 kgs of it.

We exit the terminal and standing on the walkway was a team of BFP fire fighters welcoming us- very nice!

The Journey

The journey started early from Toronto in minus 15 degrees. The GlobalFire team was met by CityTV and interviewed prior to departure. It certainly attracted a lot of attention at the airport. It turned out it helped us with check in, as the staff was very curious as to what we were doing. So we sailed through check in, making all the weights and getting no baggage charges. That is what a little prep does before you leave. The Toronto members of the team had met earlier in the week to weigh and pack duffel bags. Because our packing list included: ropes, carabineers, pressurized water fire extinguisher, two 60 inch pinch point lever bars, two rescue jacks donated from AJ Stone, halligan bar, slings, straps, ratchet straps, grab hooks, CPR mannequins etc. All things that looks good in the x-ray machine.

Our bags were checked right through to Manila so we started a bet to see how much made it all the way.

We flew to Chicago O’Hare, about 1.5 hours, then to the Tokyo Narita Airport, 13 hours, then to the Manila Ninoy Aquine International Airport, 5 hours. We landed in Manila at 10 pm local time. All our gear made!

At the Ninoy Aquine International Airport we met up with our two remaining team members from Alberta. They made it safely.

We decided to stay in the airport for the night as we left at 0700. Turned out to be a very good decision. The check in opened up at 0300. The airport was very busy as these local airlines only fly during daylight. We were first plane to Tacloban.

So they check us in as a group of 14. We had purchased extra baggage weight in Canada for this flight as we are restricted to 10 kg per person and 7 kg for carry one. We purchased 135 extra kg prior- good guess but not enough. It was 200 PHP (Philippine Peso) per kg and we paid 3400 PHP in excess. They did allow us to weigh our baggage as a group instead of individual that helped.

Throughout our travels we wear the GlobalFire uniform. It was amazing on how many times we were stopped by people and asked what we were doing and how much gratitude the people had for the world helping out the nation.

Onto our last leg of the journey, the last flight to Tacloban City- 1.5 hours. The view was incredible and you could witness the devastation as we approached. The path of destruction was wide spread. It looked like it just happened although it was months ago. We are in for an eye opening experience. The world may think it is over, but what we are seeing it is still an on going reality.