Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: Let’s get our act together

Let’s get our act together

December 7, 2007
By James Haley

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Apparatus are perhaps the most necessary pieces of equipment for fire fighting – something has to bring the water and foam to the fire, not to mention transporting the fire fighters and equipment to apply the water and foam. Fire trucks are also expensive and need to last between 15 and 25 years, depending on the department's fleet program. Currently, there are many departments in this country operating with older, outdated fire trucks because their communities cannot afford to replace them.

What can we do to rectify this? We should take a page from the United States fire administration and start getting our act together, collectively. Fire grants in the U.S. amount to hundreds of millions a year, yet in Canada, fire departments get no more than dribs and drabs from their provincial authority. There are few programs available and we think this should change. Why can't the provinces and the feds get together to build some sort of national fire authority that could work with the provinces from the federal side to ensure that departments who need equipment or training but have no or little funding get at least the minimum.

"It is time that the voice of the fire services of Canada is truly heard in official Ottawa," said Fire Chief Patrick Burke, when he was confirmed as president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. At that time the CAFC debated and passed a resolution calling for a National Fire Advisor to be instituted by the federal government.

"A co-ordinated and standardized approach to fire training and equipment is essential," Chief Burke said.

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Ten years ago, my editorial concerned the newly amalgamated fire service in Halifax, N.S. It read, in part, "It's a momentous occasion … Questions remain as to how the fire and emergency services will  be delivered  to all areas. What similarities can there be between the urban core of the former Halifax and the rural village almost 100 kilometres away? While obvious savings should result fewer administrative staff, more bulk purchases and consolidation of some services – let us hope that the level of service to the public remains high, as I'm confident it will (if the politicians are willing)."

Well, it obviously worked – I don't think it is perfect, but from speaking since with some of the rural chiefs as well as many of the urban core officers, it has progressed far greater than many of the doomsayers of 1996 expected. Halifax's story a decade later unfolds on page 26.

Finally, this issue is dedicated to the memory of my father, Arnie Haley, who passed away suddenly in Fredericton on Sept. 24, in his 85th year. Always supportive of me, he was especially proud when I joined the fire service a number of years ago, following in part, in the footsteps of his father, who was a paid-on-call fire fighter in Saint John, N.B., during the 1920s and '30s. Dad was a naval veteran of the RCNVR and the RCN, serving during the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. As many will realize, every sailor is a fire fighter, when required, so it kind of makes me third generation – at least that's the way I feel.

Thanks to all in the fire service who expressed kind words of sympathy during a very difficult time.


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