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From the Editor: Managing the message about fire service underfunding

This is a fun time of year in my job. Provincial and regional fire chiefs’ associations hold trade shows and conferences and I get out to talk in person with people who have been at the other end of phone lines and e-mail strings over the cold, isolating Canadian winter. And while there are many traits shared by members of the fire service regardless of where they are, two stay front of mind for me.

July 18, 2008
By Laura King


Topics

This is a fun time of year in my job. Provincial and regional fire chiefs’ associations hold trade shows and conferences and I get out to talk in person with people who have been at the other end of phone lines and e-mail strings over the cold, isolating Canadian winter. And while there are many traits shared by members of the fire service regardless of where they are, two stay front of mind for me.

First, Canadians are enormously lucky to be served by the dedicated men and women in the fire services across Canada.

And second, these people are increasingly making do with old and failing equipment; fighting an uphill battle in making the case for more money.

It is, simply put, a travesty.

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A recent survey by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs suggests some 68 per cent – about seven of every 10 – fire departments in Canada’s largest province are using personal protective gear that is sometimes more than 10 years old and no longer in compliance with NFPA standards.The same survey also showed 42 per cent of Ontario’s 2,654 fire trucks in service are more than 15 years old, and again, do not comply with NFPA standards. One in every six fire trucks is more than 20 years old.

On this, Ontario is not unique.

If I have a fire emergency at my home, I’d rather not be depending on apparatus that dates back to when Boy George was considered hip.

Fixing the problem is expensive. Putting it off will be worse. And sadly, procrastination will have deadly consequences.

So, where to start?

The OAFC estimates that it will cost more than $425 million to replace fire trucks and emergency vehicles that are outdated, plus another $163 million for replacing obsolete equipment. The Ontario chiefs are proposing that for small municipalities, the province pick up 75 per cent of the bill; it scales up to 50-50 for medium-sized municipalities and 25-75 for larger ones.

As someone who has sat through many municipal council meetings where councillors wrestled with budgets, I know there’s a lot of complex math underneath those cost-sharing formulas.

It’s a complex issue and there are challenges ahead beyond just finding the money. But there’s money out there – Statistics Canada announced in June that federal, provincial, territorial and local governments ran up $28.1 billion in budget surpluses in 2007, the fourth year in a row in which the collective government black ink topped $20 billion.

Associations have to convince chiefs across the country to speak out and then get the message out to the public. Ottawa is spending money telling Canadians to be prepared in case of a national emergency – have enough food and water to last for three days. But nobody is hearing about the fact that entire volunteer departments in rural Canada are not staffed during the day because all the volunteers are at their paying jobs – entire communities are left without protection. Nearby departments cover those areas but the response times are up to half an hour in some cases.

The Canadian Governmental Affairs Committee, made up of provincial association reps, chiefs and manufacturers’ reps, is kicking into high gear to push for change and Canadian Firefighter and Fire Fighting in Canada are helping. In September, we launch a comprehensive national fire survey that will provide a snapshot of the fire service. We’ll publish the results in March and work with the committee to get word out about the state of the fire service. Stay tuned.

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With this issue, our education and training issue, we have leapt into the 21st century and moved our education and training listings online to our website, www.firefightingincanada.com, so you can access them any time. Click on the training tab and then follow the links for our comprehensive list of universities, colleges and training programs for the Canadian fire service.


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