From the Editor: A call to al(arms)
It is quickly presenting itself as the most vexing problem confounding fire services from coast to coast to coast. People are dying needlessly because of the absence of a smoke detector that can be had for less than the price of a six-pack of beer.
By Laura King
It is quickly presenting itself as the most vexing problem confounding fire services from coast to coast to coast. People are dying needlessly because of the absence of a smoke detector that can be had for less than the price of a six-pack of beer. And often, even if there is a smoke detector, the batteries have been removed.
In Ontario alone this year, 32 people have died in fires and there’s absolutely no doubt many of them could have been saved. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know and the frustration among fire services is palpable.
Eighty-five per cent of respondents to a survey on the website of Fire Fighting In
Canada say current public education programs have to be revisited.
So, what to do and where to start?
Some kind of national or other multi-jurisdictional acknowledgment of the problem would help focus everyone on the challenge at hand.
Then, maybe looking beyond traditional fire and first-response emergency services for ideas would bring fresh perspectives. For example, the campaign against drinking and driving over the last 30 years has been relentless and it has been successful. The percentage of fatally injured drivers with positive blood-alcohol readings has been in steep decline since 1980.
That drinking and driving is socially unacceptable is taken as a matter of faith now by Canadians – especially young Canadians. Everyone knows what point-zero-eight means. Everyone knows what a R.I.D.E. program is. Everyone knows. Especially a whole generation of young adults who grew up hearing that message.
Maybe the fire service needs to marshal its resources at the highest levels and embark on a public education campaign that will be pervasive, persuasive, ongoing and relentless. It will never end.
Enlist the Canadian Newspaper Association and the National Association of Broadcasters. Find creative advertising agencies to work pro bono in the public interest. Cash in favours. Twist arms. Lean on people. Get fresh, new public service announcements into regular rotation on the airwaves – on Teletoon and YTV and MuchMusic. Broadcasters are generally required under their licences from the CRTC to do PSAs. Get in on it.
Marry that with legislative muscle – demand a review of existing regulations, laws, fines. Don’t just focus on the “stick” – find some carrots, too. Work with legislators to find incentives for builders and homeowners to equip their homes with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and sprinklers. Tax rebates? No GST? What are the options? How much will they cost the treasury? Make your MPs help.
It will take a long time to achieve meaningful change in behaviour. But change is possible and the sooner it starts, the sooner it happens.
Everyone should know that not having a working smoke detector is stupid and reckless. But apparently they don’t. Making them know means educating them.
It needs to start now.
New this month is our Fire IQ column by Ottawa fire captain Peter Hunt that tracks and tests the consistency of fire-service terminology. Peter welcomes contributions and challenges fire-service personnel to try to trip him up! Test your fire-service vocabulary.