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From the Editor: Funding concerns a constant for fire chiefs

from the editor

December 11, 2007
By Laura King


Topics

It’s the issue that won’t go away – the struggle by Canadian fire chiefs to ensure the safety of their firefighters despite the lack of funding allotted for training and up-to-date equipment. Fire chiefs across the country constantly plead for more municipal funding, not so their members can enjoy state-of-the-art training techniques, rather so they can learn how to protect themselves and others from major safety concerns, including the consequences of lightweight construction and more recently, the seemingly crumbling infrastructure that’s plaguing our cities.

In Quebec alone, subway stations have been evacuated because of ceiling cracks, a major roadway was closed because of a giant pothole and dozens of bridges have been deemed unsafe. Not to mention the 2006 collapse of a highway overpass in Laval that killed five people.

In our story on infrastructure issues on page 26, fire chiefs from coast to coast tell the same tale: if there were a major infrastructure collapse in their city or town they would have to make do with the training and resources they have. Only Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams in major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver are really equipped and prepared for such emergencies. Everyone else will do the best they can and hope that’s good enough.

At the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs Fire Rescue Canada convention in Niagara Falls in September, concerns about responses to these kinds of disasters were high on the priority list. The conference featured a presentation by Tracy Thiessen, director general of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, on how emergencies are handled at the federal level, and the CAFC has already issued its policy statement for the expected upcoming federal election, calling for improved funding for equipping and training the fire service, among other things. As the CAFC has repeatedly pointed out, the May 2006 federal budget included a companion piece meant to encourage discussion of the relationship between Ottawa and the provinces/territories. The document claimed that Ottawa collaborates with provincial and territorial governments in responding to natural disasters and other emergencies, to provide an “insurance policy” for all Canadians.

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The CAFC has repeatedly appealed to Ottawa to ensure that there’s a national plan for a co-ordinated emergency response to events such as floods, bridge collapses or acts of terrorism. Yet, according to the CAFC, “the ‘insurance policy’ pointed to by the government in 2006 did not exist in May 2006; it does not exist now; and its emergence any time soon appears unlikely. Concrete actions are needed to ensure Canadians have an insurance policy that truly protects them.”

Right now, the fire service struggles to make do with the $5 million in federal funding granted through the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program. But with ongoing reports of unsafe roads and bridges and deteriorating municipal water pipes that effect the flow from hydrants, industry leadership thinks Ottawa needs to do more – a lot more.

The Canadian Fire Service Government Affairs Committee is working to secure $100 million a year in federal funding for fire departments to put toward training, equipment and NFPA-compliant apparatus. The CAFC is looking for $20 million in federal funding allocated to fire departments over the next four years, including a fixed percentage that would go to volunteer departments.

Through these efforts, Ottawa is under considerable pressure to do more to protect the country’s fire and emergency services, and its voters.

Speaking out and making this a federal election issue might make a difference.

As the CAFC says, “With almost 3,500 fire departments in Canada, $5 million does not go far.”


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