Comment: March 2017
By Laura King
In the first 31 days of this year, 11 people died in house fires in Ontario – four more than in January 2016. The numbers just happen to be in my in box, courtesy of the Office of the Fire Marshal. As tempting as it is to be critical of that agency’s lack of fire-prevention messaging – there was nary a word after eight people died in two separate fires in December – the lack of effective fire-safety public education is hardly exclusive to Canada’s most populous province.
The problem is national. As of Feb. 9, there had been fire fatalities in Saint Clet, Que., Regina and Glenside, Sask., East Walton, N.S., Edmonton, New Annan, P.E.I., and Stephenville, N.L. A toddler died in Vancouver on Jan. 5 after a space heater started a fire; the home had no working smoke alarms. There was a fire fatality in a Toronto community housing building on Feb. 10 – another 12 people were sent to hospital.
The fire department in London, Ont., in February pleaded with people to stay in their kitchens while cooking, after a rash of fires; a discarded cigarette caused a house fire in Saskatoon. Firefightingincanada.com lists multiple barn fires, apartment fires, house fires, strip-mall fires, restaurant fires, fires in seniors homes – most, if not all, preventable.
While our focus at Fire Fighting in Canada is on training, we have, over the last 18 months, developed a stable of public-education and fire-prevention writers and in 2017 we’ll give them all the space they need to get their messages out to you, their fire-department colleagues, so that you, too, have tools when you need them. The trick is getting the messages out to everyone else.
As much as there is talk about the importance of first two lines of defence – fire prevention/public education and standards/enforcement – those messages are drowning in the buckets of witty, entertaining, humourous, edgy news and entertainment content delivered everyday to smart phones and computer screens.
In the same way reporters who covered the U.S. election campaign thought they were doing their jobs and reporting on public opinion but failed to consider the grassroots, fire-prevention tends to reach traditional demographics despite best intentions to expand audiences.
Failure to fund and create adequate messaging, of course – and simple human error – means there will continue to be preventable fires, which means there will continue to be a need for training, and we’ll continue to write about techniques and tools.
But in the absence of resources and the skills development necessary to teach fire-prevention and public-education specialists how to compete with CNN, Buzzfeed, and Instagram, and with an increase in fire fatalities in the first month of the year in Ontario, we’re committed to helping you help your communities.
Watch our website, our pages, and our social media feeds.