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From the editor: January 2010

The final year of the first decade of the new millennium was a good one for Canadian fire services. Sure, we’re still fighting for tax relief for volunteer firefighters, with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs

January 8, 2010
By Laura King


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The final year of the first decade of the new millennium was a good one for Canadian fire services. Sure, we’re still fighting for tax relief for volunteer firefighters, with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs leading that effort. Residential sprinklers are not yet mandatory in new homes and people are still dying because they pull the batteries out of smoke detectors.

But there were considerable successes in 2009 that should be celebrated, primarily the extension of presumptive legislation to volunteer firefighters and the inclusion of sprinklers in buildings of four storeys or higher, both in Ontario.

Indeed, improvements to presumptive legislation happened in several provinces. On Nov. 4, Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca announced the extension of workers compensation benefits to volunteer and part-time firefighters and fire inspectors. In Manitoba, presumptive legislation was expanded to include esophageal and primary site testicular cancer. And in New Brunswick, a new bill was passed in June and regulations surrounding presumptive legislation were put in place in July – two years after the original bill got held up by bureaucratic red tape.

Earlier in the year, after a lengthy campaign by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the McGuinty government mandated fire sprinklers in multiple-unit residential buildings higher than three storeys. Although not the all-encompassing sprinkler action that the fire service wants, the change is a start; the requirements apply to construction under building permits applied for on or after April 1. Some other successes:

  • Firefighters in dozens of municipalities are working with police and municipalities to uncover grow-ops.
  • Landlords across the country whose buildings are not properly equipped with smoke detectors are being charged with fire code violations thanks to co-operation among police, fire services and municipal solicitors.
  • Wildfires consumed thousands of hectares of land in the summer of 2009 but few homes. There were no deaths. Experience and co-operation paid off.
  • Sprinklers in seniors homes has become a national issue because of the clear and united message from the OAFC and the Office of the Fire Marshal surrounding the death of two seniors in a facility in Orillia, Ont., last January.
  • The CAFC launched a pilot project to limit children’s access to lighters and matches.
  • In September, the Stephen Harper government committed $2.5 million to a national monument honouring Canada’s fallen firefighters.

There were, of course, other milestones in 2009. The point is that for each success dozens of fire service representatives from fire chiefs associations and from regional and local committees put in hundreds of hours ensuring that the right bureacurats in the right offices of the right MPPs, MLAs, MNAs, MPs, counsellors and aldermen knew and understood the issues. They worked hard. They persevered. They used the media to their advantage. And they have put to shame that old fire service adage – 100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress.

As a new decade opens, let’s scrap all references to that tired, overused and outdated (and only sometimes tongue-in-cheek) fire-service slogan and embrace the willingness of legislators to listen to the fire service and understand its causes, and let’s do the hard work necessary to make changes and force our issues onto political agendas at every level of government. Surround and drown. Plan the attack. You’ll be heard. And we’ll all make progress.


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