Aug. 29, 2016, Ottawa - On behalf of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC), the organization that represents the chief fire officers of the 455 municipal fire departments in Ontario, we take exception to recent comments made by OPFFA President Rob Hyndman in an open letter to the residents of Sault Ste. Marie.
Our members’ main commitment is to the health and safety of the residents we serve across the province. For Mr. Hyndman to imply otherwise is completely misleading.
Multiple pieces of legislation and best practices guide municipalities in how they provide fire service to their residents. Among them are the Fire Protection and Prevention Act and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
In November 2012, the OAFC adopted the NFPA Professional Qualification Standards as the recognized professional model for the Ontario fire service. The Association has not taken a position on any other NFPA standards.
Currently, OAFC members have not adopted the NFPA 1710 Standard related to deployment and staffing levels or the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) staffing studies.
President Hyndman’s conclusions regarding NFPA 1710 and the NIST report are problematic, especially the notion that “you and your family are adequately protected if the city can get four firefighters to your door in four minutes and 15 to 17 on scene within eight minutes.” He has failed to include a number of critical response-time variables, including;
1) time to notification of 911,
2) call processing time, and
3) turnout time.
Four firefighters arriving in four minutes would be possible if the fire was noticed within one minute of the inception of the fire, the 911 call was received and processed within one minute, the firefighters don their turnout gear within one minute and there is a one minute travel time to the scene of the fire. Most likely, this scenario occurs only in ideal circumstances, accounts for only one crew’s arrival, and fails to incorporate the actual intervention time required to effect a rescue and extinguish the fire.
The unfortunate reality, as we have seen far too often in this province and evidenced by the recent Coroner’s Inquest in East Gwillimbury and Whitby, is that structures are burning faster than ever before and the chances of survival are limited if the resident is not out of the structure immediately.
The intervention times outlined in the simulated NIST study present a significant limitation. A number of recent research reports and academic studies discuss the rapid progression of fires in today’s modern homes given the building construction and associated furnishings. Today’s fire environment is more challenging than ever to achieve a rescue and presents significant hazards to the responding firefighters.
Fire service research is being conducted at an unprecedented rate, and the outcomes of these studies require decision makers to consider their applicability based on the local needs and circumstances faced in their communities. NFPA 1710 and the NIST study are only two of the many pieces of information to consider.
The Fire Protection and Prevention Act is the relevant law in Ontario that guides municipalities in providing fire protection services, as set by council, and is in accordance with local needs and circumstances. The level of service is not decided at the sole discretion of the fire chief; rather, it is determined by municipal council.
Fire chiefs and municipal councils use a community risk assessment to determine fire safety risks within the municipality as the basis for developing clear goals and objectives for the provision of fire services. Fire suppression in itself should not be used as a sole risk mitigation technique.
Mr. Hyndman does not address the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management’s directive that fire service is no longer simply focused on suppressing fires. The focus over the past ten years has turned to the three lines of defence—education, prevention/inspection and suppression. The rationale of the three lines of defence is that with effective education and prevention, the number of fires will be drastically reduced, thus increasing public safety and improving the health and safety of our firefighters.
The OAFC continues to champion the “three lines of defence” model as the gold standard of community risk reduction. Increased public awareness and education, coupled with the installation of home fire sprinklers, working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of a home, and a practiced home fire escape plan, are critical to maximizing public safety.
Chief Stephen Hernen, President
Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC)