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November 19, 2013
By Laura King


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Nov. 19, 2013, Niagara Falls, Ont. - By the time you read this I will be well caffeinated and sitting in a conference room with fire chiefs from across Ontario learning about the integrated risk management (IRM) system.

Nov. 19, 2013, Niagara Falls, Ont. – By the time you read this I will be well caffeinated and sitting in a conference room with fire chiefs from across Ontario learning about the integrated risk management (IRM) system.

Wait! Yes, I know, IRM is a far-from-sexy name that sounds like something you don’t want to read about and that is better left to analysts than fire chiefs. But that’s the point: for fire chiefs to collect data in their communities, analyze it through the IRM, and then explain the results to their councils to ensure that the levels of services meet the local needs and circumstances.

The tool is simple – it comprises an Excel spreadsheet, dropdown menus with possible answers, and a so-called risk ball that moves among four quadrants – low probability/low risk through high probability/high risk – as the answers are provided.

Essentially, the IRM is like Turbo Tax for fire chiefs. (OK, I stole that from OAFC president Matt Pegg, who was instrumental in the system’s design.)

I’m sure the OAFC and OFM instructors doing the IRM training this morning will more eloquently explain the tool, but let me try to do it some justice from previous presentations.

The IRM asks dozens of specific questions – about buildings (for example, age, construction), occupants (demographics, mobility) and the delivery of fire prevention/public education programs. So, if the historic downtown core of Municipality A includes a decades-old wood-frame, unsprinklered building full of flats that house families with young children and elderly, immobile grandparents whose first language is one other than English (and all of your department’s public educators are English speakers), the risk ball slides toward the higher probability/higher risk areas. Add sprinklers and the risk ball moves; add public educators who speak the language and it moves again, further into the lower probability/lower risk quadrants.

According to the OFM, the integrated risk management tool moves through the three lines of defence in the order that they are written in the Fire Protection and Prevention Act (FPPA): fire prevention and public education; standards and code enforcement; and, finally, suppression.

“What if the building owner voluntarily sprinklered the building,” Pegg asked during an initial presentation on the IRM at last year’s OAFC mid-term meeting. “Instantaneously, there would be a very significant drop in the consequence of the fire (but no change in probability). “So, say we’re going to target this building with a public education blitz – safe cooking, smoke alarms, a whole suite of solutions; watch the risk ball move.”

The tool, Pegg said, was developed using 10 years worth of provincial fire data. Essentially, fire chiefs will be able to show their councils the buildings in their communities, the risks associated with them, and explain how those risks can be better managed or even mitigated.

“Say you’re standing in front of council at budget time and asking for public educators – so in this case, public educators who speak a specific language for the residents of your particular community – and council asks ‘What are we going to get for that?’ I envision this tool on an overhead [projector] in council chambers and you can show them exactly what they’re going to get.” By showing council how the risk ball moves.

The key, of course, to the IRM’s success is education – making sure all chief officers in the province are trained to use and apply the tool given the focus by the OFM on the first two lines of defence.

Today is Day 1. Let’s hope that unlike the province’s incident management system – which we heard so much about during the inquiry into the Elliot Lake mall collapse, and which was also backed by the OAFC and other stakeholders – this tool is embraced, taught, understood, supported, funded and used.


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