Fire Fighting in Canada

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First Line: If you permit it, you promote it

November 15, 2019
By Samantha Hoffmann

Winter holidays are exciting times to gather with family and friends, enjoy traditional decorations and eat special foods. Unfortunately, these holiday festivities can also present unique fire hazards. More residential fires happen during the colder months of the year, and are primarily caused by cooking, heating and electrical malfunctions.

Fires are more likely to happen when people get preoccupied or distracted from a task, or let their guard down. The holidays are busy and these distractions are to be expected. Add to the commotion the likelihood that we might have a drink or two – or more – and it becomes very easy to forget about the pot on the stove or let a burning cigarette fall onto the carpet.

This is when a tragedy can happen and tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye!

A common catchphrase is, “Smoke alarms save lives.” Actually, this is not true. Working smoke alarms will give you and your family the early warning needed to escape a fire emergency. In the fire service, we know that time can be your biggest enemy when escaping a burning building. In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can turn into a major fire and it only takes minutes for a house to fill with smoke and become engulfed in flames. Proper planning can make the difference between life and death.

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We need to spend more time stressing the importance of escape planning and acting on it, no matter where we are. Travel over the holidays is commonplace and it may involve sleepovers at a family member’s home, staying in a hotel or visiting another province or country. It may also mean family and friends staying at your place.

This is when it is paramount that as members of the fire service, and specifically as public educators, we practice what we preach. To practice what you preach means when you say something, you live it. Talking is great but taking action is what moves you forward.

Through public education we know the statistics, we know the key messages to share and we repeat them over and over every year. Yet, we must remind ourselves regularly that actions speak louder than words.

It is not enough to just say that working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are important to you and expect other people to check their devices. Professional and authentic people practice the behaviours they promote. If being prepared is important, you should be checking alarms and ensure they are working everywhere you go. When you see something speak up, point it out and get it corrected. It shouldn’t matter if you are at a family member’s home, a friend’s house or out for dinner in a public building.

As a firefighter, the public, your co-workers, your family and friends are watching your every move. It’s not because they don’t trust you, and it’s not because they want to keep track of you. The reason people watch you closely is that they want to know if what you say and what you do are the same — that is, that you talk the talk and walk the walk. You can modify the fire safety behaviour of others just by practicing what you preach. Set the example, and then ensure your actions are consistent. If we want our influence to be positive and productive we must be clear with what we want from others, and then make sure our actions support our words!

Recently, while teaching NFPA 1035 Public Fire Educator, Level 1 to a group of firefighters, one of them said something that really resonated with me: “If you permit it, you promote it.”

So this holiday season, let’s all take an active approach to public education. Ensure that it truly is the first line of defence. When we are checking into a hotel or staying overnight at a new house, let’s check those alarms. Take 45 seconds to make a plan and speak up when you see a fire safety issue. The NFPA estimates there are over 152,000 firefighters in Canada. Now imagine how much safer our world would be if we all led by example and spoke up for fire safety all the time.


Samantha Hoffmann has been in the fire safety field for more than 25 years. She is the public fire and life-safety officer for Barrie Fire & Emergency Service in Ontario. In 2014, Samantha was named Public Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year by the National Fire Protection Association – the second Canadian and first Ontario educator to receive the award since its inception. Email Samantha at Samantha.hoffmann@barrie.ca and follow her on Twitter @shoffmannpflso.


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