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Comment: Ontario’s new fire marshal

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ontario’s new fire marshal, Patrick Burke – just a few short weeks after he had taken on his new role. He was doing what any newcomer would be doing in the first few months of a new job: meeting with all of the people in his office, getting their perspectives on things, and asking them what the office is doing well and what needs work.

December 7, 2007
By Drew McCarthy


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I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ontario’s new fire marshal, Patrick Burke – just a few short weeks after he had taken on his new role. He was doing what any newcomer would be doing in the first few months of a new job: meeting with all of the people in his office, getting their perspectives on things, and asking them what the office is doing well and what needs work. After that, he told me, he planned on spending time with the major stakeholders of the fire services industry throughout the province. Fire Marshal Burke has inherited a winning team and he plans to stay the course. He has extremely high praise for his predecessor, Bernard Moyle, for Moyle’s tremendous contributions to fire safety in Ontario.

Fire Marshal Burke sees himself first and foremost as continuing Moyle’s work as an impassioned advisor to the provincial government. The role of the fire marshal, he stresses, is to focus and advise on issues that contribute to eliminating fire-related deaths and injuries – a simple and powerful mission statement.

Burke specifically points to Moyle’s position on smoke alarm infractions. Former Fire Marshal Moyle had a zero tolerance policy for smoke alarm infractions and that is the spirit in which Burke believes further progress must be made.

We have made a great deal of progress in the area of public education, Burke says, and we will continue to work on it and improve it where we can. But we also need a sense of balance, he tells me. We must also spend our time on enforcement and ensuring that there are consequences for those who are unwilling to comply with laws and regulations.

In any society, Burke believes, there is a significant segment that benefits greatly from public education, but there is another group of people who will not comply voluntarily. For those people, says Burke, we must use enforcement.

For example, he tells me: If someone causes a fire that is alcohol-related, our attitude today is that it is a tragic occurrence. Yet, we’ve moved past that attitude with other alcoholrelated situations, such as drinking and driving. Burke believes that we as a society need to treat those whose unacceptable behaviour causes fire-related deaths the same way we treat drunk drivers who cause injury and death. Anyone who thinks about this for even a second cannot help but agree.

In order to get to this point a major shift has to take place, says Burke. The message must be that there will be consequences. That message must be broadcast. We must talk about consequences and let people know that if you are the cause of a careless fire you will be held personally responsible.

The tools for enforcement are already in place, says Burke, and those ignoring the fire codes should be hit with significant fines in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. The Office can play its most important role by underscoring the message and continuing to offer assistance in training and other related activities. This one-two punch is Burke’s strategy for success.

When I asked the new fire marshal about the one thing he would most like to see for Ontario’s fire services, there was no hesitation at all. The one thing he would most like to see, he says, is unity in the fire services in Ontario. “Full time firefighters, volunteers, Chiefs, fire prevention officers and others all working together on the big issues undistracted by issues that are essentially political in nature.”

We here at Fire Fighting In Canada magazine wish Fire Marshal Burke every success.


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