Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: December 2013

I’m not big on year-end pieces, but when I was flipping back through my 2013 calendar looking for the date of a particular conference, it struck me that although we all talk about lack of change in the Canadian fire service, we’re wrong.

November 22, 2013
By Laura King


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I’m not big on year-end pieces, but when I was flipping back through my 2013 calendar looking for the date of a particular conference, it struck me that although we all talk about lack of change in the Canadian fire service, we’re wrong.

We’ve all heard, and probably uttered (or written) that dreadful cliché about tradition unimpeded by progress – which I think should be abolished, or, at the very least, edited. How about Two-hundred years of progress unimpeded by tradition?

As I was writing this in early November, Cynthia Ross Tustin and Sheila Kirkwood had just been named chiefs in Essa, Ont., and Whistler, B.C., respectively – both the first female career chiefs in their provinces. That’s change.

In the last 12 months, there has been a notable shift to fire prevention and education – the first line of defence – from suppression. That’s change.

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  • Firefighters in British Columbia have distributed thousands of smoke alarms in high-risk neighbourhoods and partnered with agencies such as food banks to spread fire-safety messages. The result? Residential fire rates are down.
  • In Ontario, the Office of the Fire Marshal has released its risk-assessment program so that fire chiefs can better explain (and prove) to their councils what resources they need to meet service levels.
  • In Newfoundland, smoke alarms are required in all bedrooms – not just outside the sleeping areas.
  • In Yukon, a new fire-prevention/public-education program saved a life.

I’ve also noticed better working relationships between fire and government. In many cases, that’s change.

  • In Alberta, fire chiefs are working together to form special response teams to better handle large-scale incidents, and the province is supporting the initiative.
  • In Nova Scotia, the Provincial Fire Safety Advisory Council and the Fire Advisory Committee have been resurrected; this will ensure a link between the fire service and the provincial government. In addition, an insurance levy introduced in 2012 is funding free traffic safety programs for Nova Scotia’s fire departments starting next year.

In health and safety, departments are adopting guidelines on hydrogen cyanide to better protect firefighters. Firefighters are buckling up – consistently – and wearing BA during overhaul. That’s change.

In labour relations, the City of Vaughan, Ont., and its fire department freely negotiated the 24-hour shift – no arbitration. Given the mindset in Ontario about the 24-hour shift, that’s change.

There are myriad other examples – Google fire service + change and you’ll get a link to B.C.’s fire-service liaison group, training courses on managing change, a whole bunch of Fire Fighting in Canada stories and columns on change, and dozens of other hits.

It’s fine to be proud of and embrace fire-service customs; it’s not OK to be stubborn and stuck in the past.

Two hundred years of progress unimpeded by tradition. That’s change.


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