Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: March 2014

Perspective is everything.

February 26, 2014 
By Laura King

Perspective is everything.

We know the ice storm that smacked southern Ontario on Dec. 21 and 22 affected dozens of fire departments from Kitchener to Kingston, and thousands of firefighters. Downed wires. Power outages. Collisions. Stranded motorists. Carbon monoxide incident. Fires.

We know that other provinces have had their share of what we now call weather events: bitter cold in Winnipeg; snow, rain, more snow, more rain in Nova Scotia; a colder-than-
normal winter in New-foundland and Labrador, combined with brownouts that led to myriad fire-safety issues.

And, as Toronto Fire Services Deputy Chief Debbie Higgins writes in her ice-storm story on page 10, we know that when things go sideways, fire gets the call.

In early January, during a fierce snowstorm in southwestern Ontario, I asked fire departments on social media for examples of good news stories from the weather challenges. 

Fire Chief Bill Hunter of Perth East e-mailed on Jan. 7.

“This evening,” he said, “my Milverton Station Chief Kim Newbigging received a call from a local retirement home. Their staff had basically been snowed in for the past 24 hours and they really needed a replacement nurse. Trouble was that the roads were all but impassable. ‘Could the fire department help?’

“So in true Perth County spirit, Chief Newbigging and Capt. Mike Carter got their snowmobiles and delivered the nurse to the retirement home. She will be able to relieve the weary nurses overnight.

“I think that this exemplifies the true spirit of Canadian firefighters. We will adapt and overcome any obstacle to solve the problem and get the job done, including the most ferocious blizzard in recent history.”

Dufferin County, northwest of Toronto, declared a state of emergency on Jan. 29 that lasted four days because there was so much snow and roads were so bad city crews couldn’t keep them clear. Four days earlier, Dufferin County firefighters had sheltered more than 500 motorists who were rescued from unpassable roads.

“Emergency services are being stretched to their limits to respond to these,” Dufferin County’s CAO said. “Effectively, all of our local resources have
been exhausted.”

In big cities and small towns from coast to coast to coast, first responders seem to have been taxed more often, and more thoroughly, this winter than in most.

We’ve focused on Toronto in our cover story to bring perspective to the myriad challenges for first responders in a big city of more than 2.5 million people. Nineteen of Toronto’s fire stations lost power as did its emergency operations centre. Firefighters responded to 5,534 calls in four days.

Perspective indeed.

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