Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Hot topics Opinion
Guest Column: May 2014

Fire services are dealing with new threats to public safety that require innovative ways to keep communities safe.

April 24, 2014 
By Dave Matschke

Fire services are dealing with new threats to public safety that require innovative ways to keep communities safe.

In a challenging public safety world, science and technology is vital to the success of emergency response teams. The contributions of science and technology to planning and co-ordination of emergency response have been repeatedly demonstrated through the development of new response policies such as interagency and interprovincial sharing agreements, interoperability solutions, new technologies for CBRNE responses, and technologies to improve response times.

But keeping up with innovations is challenging; fire service leaders are overloaded with day-to-day operational issues. Services are pressed to keep pace with the changing landscape, including environmental and man-made incidents that are occurring more frequently and on larger scales.

To fill that gap, new groups called communities of practice have been developed to help first-response agencies use the myriad scientific and technological developments that benefit their operations.


“A key success indicator for this program is its commitment to ensuring that research results don’t sit on the shelf,” says Mark Williamson, director general of Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRCS CSS), “that they are actually transitioned into becoming a reality through products, knowledge or technology that can be easily adapted for use by public safety and security organizations across the country.”

In Canada, the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), which is led by DRDC CSS in partnership with Public Safety Canada, is contributing to this effort. CSSP’s mission is to develop science and technology solutions to prevent incidents that threaten Canada’s safety and security, to prepare and respond to these incidents when they happen and, ultimately, to recover from their aftermath.

CSSP brings together science and technology experts to work on the most pressing safety and security issues facing Canadians. Within the fire domain, research projects supported by CSSP aim to develop knowledge to help Canadian fire services make more informed decisions based on scientific and technological evidence.

Communities of practice bring together representatives from emergency response fields, including fire, EMS, and police and law enforcement. The fire community of practice is made up of public- and private-sector leaders and experts in fire prevention, intervention, recovery, instruction, research and engineering who are committed to sharing their knowledge, experience and expertise to help CSSP support the development of new knowledge through research that leads to innovative, effective and measurable solutions.

The overall goal of these communities of practice is to identify challenges in public safety and collaborate on projects and studies to develop new capabilities or enhance those that already exist.

There have been many discussions among fire services, fire chiefs’ groups, standards-setting bodies, and researchers about the need for science and technology research to pave the way for fire services to evolve. Fire dynamics, which is the study of how chemistry, fire science, material science and the mechanical engineering disciplines of fluid mechanics and heat transfer interact to influence fire behavior or, how fires start, spread and develop, is a hot topic.

New firefighting issues have surfaced in the last 20 years due to the advancement of building materials and technologies. The ability to battle fires in structures built from lightweight materials has been challenging because information about the way fire spreads in these circumstances has not been thoroughly disseminated. That is why the CSSP has identified the development of new and the updating of existing firefighting educational material related to fire dynamics as a priority issue for the fire service.

In fact, a proposal was recently approved by the CSSP to begin research for the development of a new fire-dynamics training curriculum to educate Canadian fire services. This project will develop a lexicon, an evidence-based training curriculum, live fire training tools, and train-the-trainer opportunities to help Canadian fire services and standards- and codes-setting bodies to develop new standards, policies and procedures.

With many CSSP research projects and other research initiatives underway, the challenge for fire services will be to embrace the results of this research and integrate the evidence to enhance skills and knowledge.

Dave Matschke  

David Matschke is a suppression lieutenant with Ottawa Fire Services. He is on secondment to Defence Research and Development Canada’s Center for Security Science, managing its fire portfolio. Contact him at

Print this page


Stories continue below