Fire Fighting in Canada

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From the Editor: October 2012

When I started this job in 2007, one of the first things I did in order to better understand the fire service was to look for numbers – numbers of fires in Canada nationally and by province/territory, numbers of fatalities, numbers of anything.

September 26, 2012
By Laura King


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When I started this job in 2007, one of the first things I did in order to better understand the fire service was to look for numbers – numbers of fires in Canada nationally and by province/territory, numbers of fatalities, numbers of anything.

You all know where I’m going with this: I couldn’t find numbers. I’m a words person and I don’t like numbers, statistics, data, charts, graphs or spreadsheets. But I knew that in order to grasp fire-service issues, I needed to know the story first, and numbers tell stories as well as words, sometimes better.

OK, admittedly, I found some numbers: they were on the website of the Canadian Council of Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners (www.ccfmfc.ca), and they were from 2002 which, at the time, meant they were five years out of date.

While we weren’t quite the social media society in 2007 that we are now, it was still appalling that more complete data was not available and, what’s more, that everyone in the fire service knew it wasn’t available and was doing nothing about it.

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Enter Mahendra Wijayasinghe, manager of research and analysis in the office of the fire commissioner at Alberta Municipal Affairs. Wijayasinghe is a numbers guy. And he took it upon himself to pull together statistics on home fires – at least the ones he could gather from provincial and territorial fire marshals’ offices – and tell a very vivid story that identifies smoking and cooking as the primary causes of house fires in Canada (a fact that we’ve known through anecdotal evidence and numbers from some provinces) and points clearly to the need for more fire prevention and public education and the funding for it.

Last September, at the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and CCFM/FC conference in Calgary, Wijayasinghe presented his report on the data gathered from seven provinces and one territory; data from the rest of the country was not available. (Even the numbers that were available were a minimum of four years old.)

Wijayasinghe’s full report is on the CCFM/FC website but he has worked it into a more digestible version for non-numbers people like me, and you can read it on page 16. The numbers do indeed tell stories: stories of the need for more public education and fire prevention for certain segments of the population – seniors and smokers are the key demographics – and stories of the need for more effective programs about safe cooking.

Some associations have already started this type of targeted public education: in British Columbia, Surrey Fire Services has partnered with the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C., the University of the Fraser Valley, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the office of Attorney General Shirley Bond, and has launched videos aimed squarely at certain demographic groups and a smoke-alarm campaign with the slogan We won’t rest until you install and test. It’s a great start. But it’s not enough.

For more than a year now, fire-prevention officer (and now acting deputy chief) Ken Sheridan of Norfolk County Fire & Rescue Services in Ontario has been writing in this magazine about the need for fire departments, suppression staff and officers to embrace public education and for equal – or even more – funding.

The words, numbers, charts and graphs that fire officers need to help convince councils that public education is a priority are in our story. Use them.


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