Fire Fighting in Canada

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Coming together for the Great Canadian Fire Census

April 18, 2022
By Tina Saryeddine

The Great Canadian Fire Census begins on April 30.  It is the first time in recent history, that all fire departments in Canada, big or small, rural or urban, composite, career, or volunteer, are asked to help paint a national snapshot of our sector. 

“We often talk about standing on the shoulders of giants,” said the CAFC’s Data Committee chair, Chief Keven Lefebvre. “Last year, under the leadership of my colleague Chief Vince MacKenzie and the Answer the Call Committee, 1,200 volunteer fire departments began the largest data collection on our sector in recent history. Standing on their shoulders, the Data Committee will now join them to engage composite and full-time career departments.” 

“We live in a data driven world” said Chief MacKenzie, chair of the Answer the Call Committee at CAFC. “We need to know what’s happening in our sector. Each one of us needs a size up of our sector’s key indicators if we are to maximize our effectiveness locally, regionally, provincially, and nationally.” 

The results of the 2021 Census have markedly changed the CAFC’s view of the fire sector. 

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“Based on 2016 data from the NFPA, most members of the fire sector are used to saying that 85 per cent of firefighters are volunteer,” said Chief John McKearney, CAFC president. “The data no longer supports this, and unless it is because we are paying more full-time firefighters, we may simply be losing our volunteers.” 

The 2021 Census showed that 32 per cent of volunteer firefighters are over the age of 50.  

Some of the data categories included in 2022 census are: numbers of firefighters; type of firefighters; firefighter demographics, call volumes and types; department type; department services; expenditures; deferred training and equipment needs; consumer safety as it pertains to residential sprinklers and fireworks; and firefighter safety in terms of floor assemblies, injuries, and death.

Despite the importance of the data, the Great Canadian Fire Census is designed with those filling it in mind, from an access to data, social, or technological perspective. 

“We’ve designed and tested a database that allows all the departments that filled the census last year to update their data if necessary and add the responses to the new questions through a specially designed database. The new participants will get to do the same in 2023. We hope everyone will enjoy using it,” said Rhea Laverdure, the CAFC’s administrative and communications coordinator. 

Anabel Therrien, the CAFC’s manager of membership services and special projects, who led the Great Canadian Volunteer Firefighter Census in 2021, and who is now leading the Great Canadian Fire Census, said: “The entire community is asked to come together for this project.  We will help you in every way we can and ensure that you get to see the results. We have prizes for participation.  I’d like to thank our National Advisory Council for the support of the provincial, territorial, and national affiliate fire organizations. It will certainly take a village.”

The results of last year’s census are available on the CAFC’s website and were shared with the Minister of Finance earlier this year in relation to improvements to the tax credit. 

You can find this year’s Census at www.cafc.ca/census . Departments are asked to respond by May 30 so that the analysis can begin. 


Tina Saryeddine, PhD, MHA, CHE, is executive director of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and an Adjunct Faculty at the Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa. 


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