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January 2, 2012
By Laura King


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Jan. 3, 2012 – Along with several fire fatalities in the last two weeks (tragically, I count 11 since Christmas eve), we were busy over the holiday sharing news on our website and our Facebook and Twitter feeds about two line-of-duty deaths.

Jan. 3, 2012 – Along with several fire fatalities in the last two weeks (tragically, I count 11 since Christmas eve), we were busy over the holiday sharing news on our website and our Facebook and Twitter feeds about two line-of-duty deaths.

Daniel Botkin, of Enderby, B.C., who died in an explosion after a fire at a log-home construction site, was just 29 and newly married.

Paul Nelson – who was only 21 – of the Nippissing Township Fire Department in Ontario, was killed en route to a call when the pumper he was driving went into the ditch.

The e-mail conversations I had with fire personnel about the LODDs were all similarly focused: the job is dangerous and unpredictable; bad things happen despite good training, good SOPs, good leadership and management, and good intentions; and perhaps these tragic events will not be in vain, but will help taxpayers and politicians see more clearly and better understand the risks associated with fire fighting.

Which, in my reporter’s mind, brings me back to the issue in Ontario of fire departments and personnel being charged under Occupational Health and Safety legislation when things go wrong.

You’re all familiar with the charges against the Meaford and District Fire Department stemming from a fire in which two firefighters doing a search were low on air and had to be rescued. (You can read the background here.) A second set of charges over the death of a firefighter in Point Edward, Ont., during an ice-water rescue training exercise, is set to go to trial in April. And charges are expected in the deaths of two firefighters in Listowel, Ont., before March 17 – the one-year mark and the deadline for charges to be laid.

It’s a conundrum that is likely to dominate fire-service conversation and headlines in 2012 – the line between investigating and improving safety and charging those in authority when things go awry.

Safety is crucial, and ensuring that those who are supposed to enforce it – incident commanders, fire chiefs, training officers, captains – do just that is paramount. Finding out why things go wrong at incidents is also critical, to improve safety and maintain the most current and logical best practices.

Botkin, Nelson, and Listowel firefighters Raymond Walter and Kenneth Rea, were all volunteers.

Four line-of-duty deaths in 2011 – in addition to those who died of cancers presumed to have been caused by fire fighting, which are listed on the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation website at www.cfff.ca – is four too many.

Interesting news from the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal just before Christmas that caused a bit of a stir. Doug Crawford, deputy fire marshal, is leaving the OFM on Jan. 20 to become vice-president and chief public safety officer with the Electrical Safety Authority (www.esasafe.com).

By all accounts, Crawford’s departure is a blow to the OFM and the Ontario fire service, as he is well respected and considered the OFM’s go-to guy.

According to an OFM announcement from Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek, Crawford’s jurisdiction included operations in areas of technical services, corporate services and fire investigations.

Interesting timing.

The new year brings the new tax credit for volunteer firefighters and, hopefully, some clarity surrounding eligibility.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs said in an e-mail to its members on Dec. 23 that it will be in touch again early in 2012 to clarify details and explain exactly what activities qualify for the 200 hours of service required to claim the tax credit.

As Vince MacKenzie explained in his December Volunteer Vision column, the Canada Revenue Agency website says services eligible for the 200 hours include responding to and being on-call for firefighting calls and related emergency calls as a firefighter.

“But what does on-call mean?,” Chief MacKenzie asks. “And who interprets the term on-call?”

The issue, of course, is that volunteer firefighters in many small communities would not be eligible for the tax credit because training and call volume would not add up to 200 hours.

Speculation, however, is that thanks to the work of the CAFC, Ottawa is set to confirm that firefighters who are on call in their communities – meaning they are expected to respond – will be able to count those on-call hours toward the 200, and therefore, the majority of volunteer firefighters will qualify for the tax credit.

Stay tuned.

Lastly, speaking of Chief MacKenzie in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.

As those who have travelled to The Rock know, it’s not always easy to get there. And it’s even more challenging while driving a Crimson/Dependable aerial from Pennsylvania. In December. When the Marine Atlantic ferry service from North Sydney, N.S., to Port aux Basques shuts down for two days.

The Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department’s new aerial and its driver arrived in at the North Sydney Marine Atlantic terminal on Wednesday, Dec. 28, for a scheduled midnight crossing.

But high winds and rough seas grounded the ferry – until late Friday afternoon. Forty hours. In North Sydney. On a ferry. Brutal. (I’m from there so I can say that!).

Chief MacKenzie’s aerial – his new year’s baby, of sorts (all seven tonnes of it!) – arrived at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, badly in need of a wash. The driver promptly rushed back to St. John’s to catch a flight home to celebrate new year’s eve.

Only in Canada!

Happy new year.


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