By Laura King
May 19, 2016, Toronto – First responders in all provinces except Ontario will have access to an NFPA training package to help them handle collisions and extrications involving alternatively fuelled vehicles, under a partnership with fire marshals' offices across the country.
The NFPA announced the partnership May 10, a week before the Ontario government on Tuesday committed $7 billion for a climate-change plan that includes rebates for drivers of electric vehicles.
The Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) confirmed Wednesday that it does not have the necessary funding to buy the licence to sign on to the NFPA program. All other provinces and territories are contributing up to $100,000 each and providing the training free of charge to firefighters and other responders.
"The OFMEM is currently looking at other options, including potential partnerships, in furtherance of funding for the NFPA program," said the OFMEM's Tony Pacheco, assistant deputy fire marshal and executive officer, in an email.
If my understanding is correct, the partnership had been in the works for a considerable time, and, in fact, had been supported by the OFMEM and previous Ontario fire marshal Ted Wieclawek.
That the country's most populous province, with, logically, the highest volume of alternatively fuelled vehicles, found $7 billion to fund its 57-page Climate Change Action Plan but failed to ante up $100,000 to teach responders to safely rescue motorists from collisions is vexing, yet typical.
Firefighter training, it seems, is low on the province's priority list, the government seemingly more interested in investigations and enforcing its rules and regulations than ensuring responder safety by developing solid and affordable programming at the Ontario Fire College.
Which is rather incongruous given that under provincial occupational health and safety legislation, firefighters and others are prohibited from responding to incidents for which they have not been properly trained.
Already some fire departments are reviewing auto-ex responses on provincial highways given the imbalance between the cost of sending firefighters to the scene, and the reimbursement from the government.
(Not to mention the state of flux at the OFMEM: as interim Fire Marshal Ross Nichols told fire chiefs in Toronto two weeks ago, frustration with government inaction on long-promised fire-service initiatives – changes to the provincial incident management system, more public education, improved standards – is mounting.)
While Pacheco said dangers and common principles of electric vehicles are discussed in other training – NFPA 1001 and 1033, the fire investigator course –there is no dedicated program.
Indeed, the NFPA and the council of fire marshals noted in their press release that the federal-government co-ordinated document, Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap for Canada, highlights the necessity for training.
"Emergency responders need training on EVs to ensure they execute their duties in a safe and timely manner," the report says. "They need to know how to deal with high-voltage batteries and flows of electricity within vehicles in order to safely extricate victims at times of collisions."
Nova Scotia Fire Marshal Harold Pothier, who is the president of the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners, said in an interview Wednesday the electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicle safety program should roll out in most regions at the end of the summer or in early fall.
According to the release, career and volunteer firefighters, police, emergency medical services, tow truck operators and other first responders will have access to train-the-trainer and in-classroom sessions, resources, and emergency field guides that explain how to handle AFV incidents on-scene.
Except those in Ontario.