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March 9, 2012
By Laura King


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March 9, 2012 - As was astutely pointed out to me last evening by a habitual reader of the Fire Fighting in Canada website, there’s a trend in the headlines.

March 9, 2012 – As was astutely pointed out to me last evening by a habitual reader of the Fire Fighting in Canada website, there’s a trend in the headlines:

Concerns over staffing levels among Vancouver firefighters
Sidney nixes money for firefighters
Fire chief addresses service concerns
Uncertainty clouding Corner Brook’s firefighters
No new firefighters despite request from chief

In Wasaga Beach, Ont., Fire Chief Mike McWilliam has been told by council not to request funding for new firefighters until 2015 – and that’s after council declined to fund two new positions it had already promised.

One fire chief keeps telling me that his council is interested in parks and paths – recreational things that taxpayers hold near and dear to family health and fitness – but that as long as a red truck shows up when things go wrong, they’re not much interested in fire department staffing. Or is it that they don’t understand fire department staffing and the impact of fewer firefighters?

We know that fire is used to doing more with less, but is there a tipping point at which it’s impossible to stretch manpower and money? Sure, you can show up with three on a truck but then what happens? And sure, council can agree not to raise taxes, but the flip side is that when residents call 911 the truck doesn’t arrive for 14 or 17 minutes. Which is fine, if homes are sprinklered. Uh huh.

In Sidney, B.C., where the city has turned down a request to hire four firefighters, Chief Jim Tweedhope has been told by council to be creative and try to find more volunteer firefighters who are available during the day to respond to medical calls.

The mayor suggested that Tweedhope considering recruiting more women (presumably because he thinks they at home during the day) and that the department do a better job acknowledging the contribution of its volunteers. Council even agreed to contribute $10,000 for volunteer recruitment rather than $322,164 for a full-time crew. Creative? Maybe. A clear message. You bet.

An interesting press release landed in my in box Wednesday morning, from the government of Nunavut. Many of you probably received it too.

It’s not often that a spat between government and former employees goes this public, but clearly, in the case of former Nunavut fire marshal Tony Noakes, there’s more to the story.

Noakes, you’ll recall, had spoken out in May 2010 about the territory’s Baffin Correctional Centre, saying it was overcrowded and run down and that sprinkler head mounts were broken, painted over, corroded or covered with dirt and dust, that fire extinguishers had not been serviced and that exits had been blocked. In addition, he said, building materials did not meet the fire code, combustible materials weren’t stored safely and inmates were using blankets for curtains and doorways.

Noakes was immediately fired and that was that. But after two people died Feb. 27 a fire in a row-house complex, The Canadian Press tracked down Noakes, who now lives in Ontario and does not work in the fire service, and quoted him saying there was “gross negligence” by the territorial government for failing to do building inspections and implement safety recommendations that he had drawn up in 2009. He also said the government should have known that the row-home complex was unsafe and that it didn’t have fire-resistant separation walls.

Wednesday’s press release noted that the row-house fire is under investigation and that the government does not speculate about cause, that the Office of the Fire Marshal generally does not have authority to inspect privately owned buildings without consent of the owner, and that the units had never been flagged.

Also included in the e-mail was a fact sheet on the OFM, outlining its role in fire inspections.

Damage control? Certainly. Sour grapes? Maybe. Safety first? Good question.

Directors of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs head to the nation’s capital Monday for government-relations week.

You’ll recall that the 2011 federal budget, which included the tax credit for volunteers, was brought down during government-relations week last year and was rather a coup for the CAFC (and the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which had long advocated for a tax credit).

There are no such gems expected next week, but it’ll be a busy few days of meetings and messaging.

New this year is the inclusion of the Canadian Governmental Committee, a working group connected with FEMA/FEMSA that is advocating for federal funding for the fire service for equipment – from PPE to apparatuses – that meets NFPA standards.

Richard Boyes, the former fire chief here in Oakville, and past-president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, heads that committee and is meeting with the CAFC in Ottawa in hopes of forming a partnership to present a unified message to Ottawa – one message, one voice.

We’ll keep you posted on Twitter. Follow us at @fireincanada – we’ll be getting our info from @firechieftim (OAFC president Tim Beckett), @firechiefvince (Vince MacKenzie, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services), @midlanddfsem (Kevin Foster, first vice-president of the OAFC), @redwoodwoof (Rob Evans, CAFC photographer) and @CAFC2 (the CAFC’s prolific tweeter, Vicky Roper). Stay tuned!

A quick shout out to fellow Bluenoser Harold Conrad, who will receive the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal this spring.

Conrad is, at 83 years young, still a volunteer firefighter in Hebbville, N.S., the former chief of the Hebbville Fire Department.

Harold joined the department 64 years ago and was awarded the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Lastly, for a Friday, you may have read that a solar storm shook the Earth’s magnetic field this morning, but scientists say there were no reports of problems with electrical systems.

Still, some emergency management organizations say they are carefully monitoring their equipment until the storm clears later this weekend.

The CBC has some very cool photos of the northern lights, which rippled across the sky because of the effects of the largest solar storm in the last decade.

Scientists say these types of storms pose a threat to technology, not people.

Here’s the link. Enjoy.

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