Fire Fighting in Canada

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Federal government introduces action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals

August 16, 2021
By FFIC Staff

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Aug. 16, 2021, Canada — Fighting fires is essential and dangerous work. In addition to the physical hazards faced by firefighters, some household products become more dangerous when they burn. In particular, firefighters can be exposed to toxic substances, such as certain harmful flame retardants in upholstered furniture, mattresses, and electronic devices, when responding to a fire. The Government of Canada has heard concerns from firefighters and stakeholders, and is implementing an action plan to protect these first responders in their lifesaving work.

“We have listened to the concerns expressed by firefighters about the risks they face in their work. That is why the Government of Canada is taking necessary action to protect firefighters and reduce their exposure to chemical flame retardants. We will continue to work with stakeholders as we identify best practices and implement measures to reduce harm for firefighters,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in a statement.

On August 11, the Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, and Wilkinson, announced a comprehensive action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals released during household fires.

The plan includes actions to:

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  • Ban harmful chemical flame retardants.
  • Support the development and use of safe flame retardants, including less harmful alternatives to chemical flame retardants in household products.
  • Conduct research and monitoring to assess levels of exposure.
  • Identify practices for firefighters to reduce harm, such as improvements to personal protective equipment.
  • Share information and raise awareness.

Federal action to address flame retardants is part of the Chemicals Management Plan, a federal initiative aimed at reducing the risks posed by chemicals to Canadians and their environment. The Canadian government said in a statement it will work with stakeholders as it implements its plan and continue to inform the public on milestones moving forward.

“Firefighters face many dangers due to smoke exposure during a fire. Chemical flame retardants in furniture create a blacker, thicker, and more toxic smoke and offer no benefit to firefighters, or to families trying to escape a burning home. The International Association of Fire Fighters is encouraged that the Government of Canada is taking action to ban harmful flame retardants, researching the impacts of burning flame retardants on firefighters, and studying how to reduce our exposure. We are also encouraged that the government has produced guidance to help manufacturers, importers, advertisers, and sellers of consumer products make their products without chemical flame retardants. Let’s support businesses in adopting these practices whenever possible,” said Mike Carter, district vice president for the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), in a news release.