Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: August 2011

It’s frustrating, by times, to read about turf wars between fire and EMS (see page 34), or demands for a 24-hour shift, when volunteer departments are gratefully accepting donations of used equipment (see Station to Station, page 6) and selling calendars or tickets on ride-on mowers and barbecues to buy PPE.

August 4, 2011
By Laura King


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It’s frustrating, by times, to read about turf wars between fire and EMS (see page 34), or demands for a 24-hour shift, when volunteer departments are gratefully accepting donations of used equipment (see Station to Station, page 6) and selling calendars or tickets on ride-on mowers and barbecues to buy PPE.

Yes, much of Canada’s fire service has to make do; perhaps we can blame a mentality of acceptance that has promoted a status quo of insufficient funding for volunteer departments. Sure, many large, municipal departments are well funded and have the gear they need. And yes, many rural departments struggle; but they’re not the ones complaining.

As I write this in beautiful Ben Eoin, N.S., a few days before the Maritime Association of Fire Chiefs conference, a few weeks after the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services conference and a month or so after FDIC Atlantic – and where my family has, for years, bought $100 tickets for the East Bay Volunteer Fire Department’s lawn-mower draw – I’m struck by the differences I’ve encountered at chiefs’ conferences and training weekends and by the attitudes of the volunteers compared to the urban folks.

As Tim Beckett points out in his Straight Talk column on page 14, urban departments tend to take adequate funding and staffing for granted while those in rural areas scrape by. I’ve been in fire halls in rural Ontario that used to be car dealerships and where rescue trucks have been built from spare parts. But these volunteers are as good as the folks in Vancouver or Halifax at pulling people out of wrecked cars or putting out fires – even if their gear doesn’t match or they don’t have the newest tools.

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A recent e-mail exchange with a firefighter in Winnipeg about this funding problem got me thinking. His argument: urban firefighters who enjoy well-funded departments and top-notch equipment need to start pounding their fists and hounding their MPs about the lack of funding for volunteer departments. The rank and file, he says, need to kick up a stink and get Ottawa and the provinces to listen. Fair enough.

My thinking: The CAFC, the Canadian Governmental Committee, provincial chiefs associations, lobbyists and others are already beating these drums. Ambushing government and launching piecemeal campaigns to target MPs (especially when firefighting is a municipal responsibility and Ottawa has just agreed to a tax credit for volunteer firefighters) might not be the most effective strategy.

Ultimately, I think my Winnipeg friend and I are on the same page. His passion is, perhaps, a welcome counter to the slow but strategic methodology of Canada’s fire-service leaders. Maybe some combination of rank-and-file revolution and management manoeuvrings is the trick.

For now, it’s worth focusing on what’s actually happening – regionalization. A buzzword, sure, but with few options to help under-funded volunteers, it’s also an effective solution, and as our cover story on page 10 explains, it’s a way for the fire service to help itself rather than waiting for government to do so. And maybe that’s the answer.


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