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March 20, 2013
By Laura King


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March 20, 2013, Ottawa – Fire chiefs here in Ottawa for the CAFC’s government relations week seem to have made quite an impression on Bytown as they walked up and down O’Connor and Metcalfe streets, often in pairs, en route to Parliament Hill to meet with MPs. 

March 20, 2013, Ottawa – Fire chiefs here in Ottawa for the CAFC’s government relations week seem to have made quite an impression on Bytown as they walked up and down O’Connor and Metcalfe streets, often in pairs, en route to Parliament Hill to meet with MPs. 

Many of the chiefs – some from warmer regions – didn’t bring overcoats so have been rather under-dressed for the nasty weather here in the snow-covered nation’s capital, and their dress uniforms stood out among the civil servants running for buses or picking up coffee on Sparks Street.

Most of the 30-plus chiefs had full agendas yesterday and today, with meetings running most of the day. The sessions were well scripted: thank MPs who have supported the fire service; present the issues – residential sprinklers, fire prevention and protection on First Nations, and an additional 10 megahertz of the 700 MHz spectrum for first responders; ask the MPs for support; and give out the CAFC’s new challenge coins – which are quickly becoming collectors items!

The back entrance to the Justice Building (which is under construction so that the front entrance is unavailable) on Wellington Street beside the Supreme Court of Canada was a revolving door of dark uniforms and gold stripes Tuesday afternoon. I had the pleasure of accompanying CAFC president Steve Gamble – who is the chief in the Township of Langley, B.C. – and White Rock, B.C., Chief Phil Lemire for their meeting with Randall Garrison, the NDP MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. As I was checking e-mails afterwards (actually, I was waiting for the snow to stop – which still hasn’t happened), Fire Chief Mark Desaulniers from Russell, Man., was going through security before his meeting with Robert Sopuk, the Conservative MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, and Fire Chief Dean Clark of Yorkton, Sask, and Fire Commissioner Richard Kent of the Aboriginal Fire Chiefs Association of Canada were getting set for their meetings.

By all accounts at this afternoon’s de-briefing on the meetings with MPs and the delegations to federal departments, MPs heard the sprinkler message loudly and clearly but are confused about provincial and federal building codes and have seen too many Hollywood movies that show torrents of water raining down from sprinklered ceilings.  CAFC members said some MPs expressed concern about the request for mandatory residential sprinklers and would prefer that sprinklers be options offered by developers.

Regardless, there seems to be all-party support for sprinklers, but for the issue to move ahead, the CAFC needs to provide hard numbers to prove that sprinklers save lives and property – a step that can be tackled by working with municipalities such as Vancouver, which has had a sprinkler bylaw since 1990.

Certainly the questions were similar in all the meetings I attended: Don’t the sprinklers all go off at once? Isn’t there a lot of water damage? How much do sprinklers cost? (The standard reply is between 1 per cent and 1.5 per cent of the cost of the home, or about the cost of a granite countertop). How would the cost of sprinklers affect affordable housing?

One MP told chiefs he is willing to introduce a private members bill on residential sprinklers once more detailed information is available – a move that would get the issue some floor time in the House of Commons, if nothing else.

The CAFC’s ask on the First Nations fire protection and fire prevention was similarly well received, with discussion in one meeting of a private members bill. The CAFC’s concern is the lack of building and fire codes for First Nations, which lead to poorly constructed homes that do not meet safety standards for residents or firefighters. (First Nations communities experience a fire death rate 10.4 times greater than the Canadian average.)

The third issue, the additional 10 megahertz of 700 MHz spectrum for first responders, is –  in the words of some MPs, CAFC members said this afternoon – a done deal, although many MPs are confused about the technical aspects of this issue and how first responders will use the spectrum. (More on this soon in Fire Fighting in Canada).

The final CAFC delegation – to Health Canada – was happening as I wrote this Wednesday afternoon. I’m heading to the Centre Block with Cape Breton Regional deputy chief Brent Denny to meet with Peter MacKay, (for those non-Maritime readers, MacKay is from Pictou County, N.S., and Brent and I are Cape Bretoners, so it’s a Bluenose contingent!), then to the Speaker’s lounge for the closing reception of the CAFC’s government relations week, with fire chiefs, MPs and Hill staffers. Fellow blogger and Redwood Meadows fire chief Rob Evans will take photos with his new wireless camera and we’ll post them from Parliament Hill. We’ll be tweeting too.


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