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Comment: August 2010

As outgoing CAFC president Bruce Burrell made the rounds of provincial fire chiefs association conferences this spring and summer, his message was clear:

August 9, 2010
By Laura King


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As outgoing CAFC president Bruce Burrell made the rounds of provincial fire chiefs association conferences this spring and summer, his message was clear: the association is strong and vibrant but it needs new members to sustain its mandate and to grow, and those members must include volunteer fire chiefs and officers.

As Burrell, the chief in Calgary (who, as we speak, is dealing with an $8.1-million cut to the fire service budget), told delegates to the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association in Yarmouth, N.S., in July, there are 180,000 firefighters in Canada, of which about 20,000 are chief officers, but there are only 800 members of the association, “so 800 people are paying for the initiatives of the CAFC.”

The CAFC is lobbying to get the attention of the federal government for things like a national fire advisor, tax incentives for volunteer firefighters and residential sprinklers – all of which will benefit volunteers, not just career firefighters. Lobbying costs money. Preparing briefing papers for MPs so they understand and can eloquently present fire service issues to their peers is a daunting, time consuming and pricy task.  

And while the CAFC is doing its part – Burrell and executive director Don Warden attended six provincial conferences this year and enjoyed a similarly challenging road trip in 2009 – the rest of the fire service needs to hop on the proverbial bandwagon or pumper truck.

“The government of Canada needs to start paying attention to the fire service,” Burrell said in Yarmouth. To do that the CAFC needs to engage more members and get people who know the political landscape to advocate for it in Ottawa. That, too, costs money.

As Saint John fire chief and incoming CAFC president Rob Simonds pointed out, there are a number of lobby groups in Ottawa working against the CAFC and its call for residential sprinklers and even a national fire advisor, and lobbying just as hard for federal dollars.

“The CAFC is trying to elevate our position with the federal government so that we have the right people at the table with the right people,” Simonds said.

“Volunteers are missing from the CAFC and we need their support to do the research to present to the federal government to get the funding for the fire service.”

Simonds’ comments followed a presentation by Sean Tracey, the Canadian regional manager for the NFPA, who noted that although Canada has a gem in the National Research Council, which has done internationally renowned studies on fire behaviour, there is little or no Canadian funding for such research and, therefore, no scientific evidence on which to base arguments about the benefits of, for example, residential sprinklers.

“Who should be funding the research? It should be the fire service, if we want to see research on single family dwelling fires,” Tracey said.
Bit of a vicious circle.


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