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September 9, 2014
By Laura King


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Sept. 9, 2014, Toronto - For years, organizers of the largest firefighter training weekend in northwestern Ontario have been asking me to come to Thunder Bay and cover FireCon. I will, they have assured me, be impressed – by the training, the instructors, the committed volunteer firefighters who give up a weekend each September to improve their skills.

Sept. 9, 2014, Toronto – For years, organizers of the largest firefighter training weekend in northwestern Ontario have been asking me to come to Thunder Bay and cover FireCon. I will, they have assured me, be impressed – by the training, the instructors, the committed volunteer firefighters who give up a weekend each September to improve their skills.

I leave tomorrow.

FireCon is, I believe, similar to FDIC Atlantic – an annual weekend of (mostly volunteer) firefighter training in Wolfville, N.S. – but with more hands-on sessions thanks to greater resources and backing from the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal.

Like the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department in Nova Scotia, which I visited a few weeks ago and which operates under the auspices of the Cape Breton Regional Fire Service but does its own fundraising, most of the departments that send members to FireCon for training are essentially two entities – the fire department itself, and the local firefighters associations, or society.

As former columnist and blogger Tim Beebe – who used to be the chief in tiny Upsala, Ont., and is now an instructor with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) – patiently explained to me by email:

“The fire department was created by agreement with the OFMEM. The association was the fundraising entity.

“It eventually became a not-for-profit organization run by an elected board and responsible for the business part of the operation. When a local service board (LSB) was established to collect tax funds, the association contracted its services to the LSB.”

Further, Beebe, said, there are different models, depending on geography, among other things.

“One more common model is the small, municipal department. Council funds the day-to-day operations and the association raises funds for equipment and other things the municipality can’t or fund – even trucks sometimes. The previous models I talked about were unorganized communities with no municipal council.”

So, essentially, although many of these departments are supported by the OFMEM and municipal councils where they exist (some tiny, rural departments in remote areas, therefore, do not benefit from municipal support), it’s up to the firefighters – the volunteer firefighters – to make them sustainable.

As one fire chief from British Columbia who taught at FireCon a few years ago said to me last week, “I was gobsmacked at the number of tiny fire departments up there with incredibly committed members that operate as societies. Their need for fundraising, just to remain operational, really struck me.” He’s right.

Which is why it’s so frustrating when career firefighters get their station pants in a knot over training schedules and the 24-hour shift. Different issues, sure, but it still annoys me.

Regardless, my bags – including my fabulous Globe gear with the funky camo liner that is the envy of all who see it! – are just about packed for Thunder Bay and a long weekend of training, learning, and possibly some socializing.

I will, I’m sure, be impressed.


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