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Comment: Finding out what’s really in a name

When we set out to craft a national survey of fire departments, we wanted to provide hard facts and figures so chiefs could bolster their cases for more funding for apparatus, equipment and training.

February 25, 2009
By Laura King


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When we set out to craft a national survey of fire departments, we wanted to provide hard facts and figures so chiefs could bolster their cases for more funding for apparatus, equipment and training.

We now know that large percentages of apparatus, bunker gear and SCBA being used across the country are more than 15 and 10 years old respectively (see details on page 12 and at www.firefightingincanada.com), that budgets for public education are lacking, that the fire service is aging and that recruitment and retention are major issues.

We’d surmised much of this but our survey backs up our claims and shows conclusively that there are gaps between volunteer and full-time departments and that many fire services are challenged to find the time and money to adequately train their firefighters.

We asked our editorial advisory board to comment on the survey findings and recommend solutions. Many did so and we thank them for their insight. It was particularly interesting to see how their comments differed depending, mainly, on which type of department they’re from.

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One recommendation for bringing volunteer departments on par with their full-time counterparts was to eliminate the word volunteer and replace it with the word municipal. We’ve heard that argument before, from Volunteer Vision columnist Brad Patton, the fire chief in Centre Wellington, Ont., one of the largest volunteer departments in the province. Patton described in a recent column how volunteer firefighters on his watch took scissors to department stickers to remove the word volunteer before putting them on their vehicles. Pretty telling, if you ask me.

If the men and women who volunteer (or are paid on call) don’t take pride in the volunteer moniker because they know the term doesn’t play well with the public, then clearly it’s time for change.

Maybe, with that change, will come much-needed respect and, in turn, parity with those known to the public as professional firefighters. Lots of people who get into car accidents or experience house fires have no idea that their local departments are staffed by volunteer or paid on-call firefighters. And few know the difference. But municipal politicians do and if they’re the ones who need convincing, then maybe it’s worth seeing how they argue against replacing 10-year-old bunker suits for their municipal fire departments instead of the local volunteer brigade.

Congratulations to the winners of our national fire department survey contest and thanks to everyone who participated.
Four names were drawn Jan. 29 from the 490 survey replies. Three of the four winners are from Nova Scotia. My Bluenose roots had nothing to do with this – it’s just coincidence!

The winners of firefighting texts from our Annex Bookstore are:

  • Shaw Andrews, Guysborough Volunteer Fire Department, N.S. – Essentials of Fire Fighting;
  • Port William Volunteer Fire Department, N.S. – Fundamentals of Fire Fighter Skills;
  • Fire Chief David Sponagle, Thorburn Fire Department, N.S. – Fire Protection Handbook.

Lastly, hearty congratulations to Steve Windsor and the Lake County Fire Department in B.C., the winner of our grand prize, an Interspiro S6 SCBA 2007 edition valued at $12,000!


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