July 11, 2012, Toronto – I hope all the readers are enjoying the summer weather. Remember to stay hydrated and manage body heat on the fire ground.
There have been two media items over the last week that I would like to review. One is good news and the other is good news coverage. First, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs announced that several executive members had met with Premier Dalton McGuinty and Deb Matthews, the minister of health and long-term care, to discuss automatic fire sprinklers in occupancies housing vulnerable Ontarians (You can see the announcement here.) McGuinty said that this is no longer a matter of if the government will make sprinklers mandatory for these types of homes, but rather a matter of how the change will be implemented. The Ontario government’s technical advisory committee for occupancies housing vulnerable Ontarians has been accelerated by four months and will be further expedited if possible. The committee will look at many options for improving fire safety, including sprinklers, door closers, fire inspections and training requirements for staff. The committee’s report should be ready by the end of the year.
All of this follows the tragic fire deaths of two seniors at the unsprinklered Place Mont-Roc in Hawkesbury, Ont., on May 25 – the same day the coroner’s jury released its recommendations following the inquest into the 2009 fatal fire at the Muskoka Heights facility in Orillia, Ont. That was the fourth jury to recommend sprinklering all such facilities. We will be holding McGuinty to his word on this issue.
The second item – good coverage of bad news – is the excellent report by Michael Friscolanti, with Andrew Stobo Sniderman, in the June 16 issue of Maclean’s magazine, on the response to the collapsed Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. I can’t say enough about how refreshing Friscolanti’s report is compared with the columns I had criticized from the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun and the Globe and Mail. Friscolanti talked to the right people, did the requisite background research and got all of his facts straight. He avoided hyberbolic rhetoric, did not include irrelevant comparisons and never questioned the rescuers’ judgement, expertise or motives.
Amateurish media coverage of emergency services benefits nobody. Dedicated responders certainly deserve better. The public has an expectation of accurate information. The reporters, in a rush to grab a sensational headline, ultimately succeed only in trashing their own reputations. Unfortunately, that is often not enough to take them off the pages of our newspapers and replace them with professionals like Michael Friscolanti.
Retired District Chief Peter Sells writes, speaks and consults on fire service management and professional development across North America and internationally. He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Windsor. He sits on the advisory council of the Institution of Fire Engineers, Canada branch. Peter is president of NivoNuvo Consulting, Inc, specializing in fire-service management. Contact him at