On March 19, Conservative government Finance Minister Jim Flaherty brought down a 2007 budget that included $14 billion in new spending and $5.7 billion in tax cuts. As part of the budget, the federal government announced that it will provide funding to implement Haz-Mat and CBRN training programs in Canada.
The Minister told the House, “The safety of our communities is a priority, and Canada’s first responders must have the training they need to safely and effectively respond to emergencies to protect citizens. A key component of this is training that deals with hazardous materials, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies. Budget 2007 provides $1 million over two years to the Canadian arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters through Public Safety Canada to help implement a hazardous materials training program that would be available to all first responders including firefighters, police, paramedics and utility workers.”
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger hailed the announcement as a major advance for public and first responder safety in Canada and another endorsement of the IAFF Canadian legislative program.
“I personally congratulate our Canadian affiliates who fought so hard for this much-needed training over the past five years,” Schaitberger said. “This victory validates what we’ve been saying about the need for additional training, and illustrates yet again that the work we put into lobbying MPs, working in elections and participating in the Canadian Legislative Conference every year pays off.”
Back in September 2006, the IAFF testified before the Standing Committee on Finance during its pre-budget consultation. The Standing Committee in defining the focus of the consultation has cited among other things “the need to create prosperity among Canadians and protect Canada’s infrastructure, and the need to be prepared and proactive in order to be able to prosper in the future.”
In keeping with that vision, the IAFF stated in its presentation that only safe and confident citizens living in a nation with a strong and well-protected infrastructure can go forward and be prosperous. It also emphasized the need for the capacity to respond effectively during times of disaster.
Within this context, the IAFF made two major recommendations: first, that there be established a national Public Safety Officer Compensation (PSOC) benefit for the families of firefighters who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty; and second, that there should be federal funding to implement the IAFF Hazardous Materials Training for First Responders and the IAFF Emergency Response to Terrorism Operations programs in Canada.
The 2007 budget has obviously responded favourably to at least one of these two recommendations.
The new IAFF programs will complement existing federal government training initiatives and significantly increase the number of Canadians who are adequately protected from the aftermath of a CBRN incident or other major disaster. It will also increase the safety level of IAFF members and other first responders who are Canada’s first line of defence in the event of a CBRN incident or other major disaster.
The IAFF points out that while some Canadian cities have CBRN teams ready, an IAFF survey conducted in 2005 found that the vast majority did not. In fact, it says, some cities and towns even lack basic hazardous materials response capabilities.
The initial funding announced in the budget provides $500,000 in each of the two years. Established as a train-the-trainer program, participants will be able to deliver the curriculum to other first responders once they return to their own communities.
This victory, says Schaitberger, should serve to encourage Canadian IAFF members to attend the 15th Canadian Legislative Conference in Ottawa April 22-25 and fight even harder for the issues – such as a national Public Safety Officer Compensation (PSOC) Benefit – that are still on the table.”
No doubt, the funding represents a major step in the right direction.
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