Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Wildfire Week
Help your community prepare for wildfires

October 30, 2019
By Shayne Mintz

Topics

It’s November in Canada, the perfect time to think about spring wildfire preparedness. The NFPA and its Wildfire Community Preparedness Day (May 2) partners encourage you to find time between now and Jan. 31 to apply for funding to help you help your communities prepare.

Traditionally, wildfire management has been in the scope of provincial ministries that deal with Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. However, there is a growing expectation that municipal structural firefighters should be trained and prepared to respond to and extinguish wildland fires that may impact homes and structures belonging to local taxpayers.

That paradigm shift presents a great opportunity for local fire services to take the lead and participate in the sixth annual national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 2.

Partners in Protection Association, the non-profit parent of FireSmart Canada, with support from the NFPA, the Co-operators Group Insurance, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, and provincial natural resources ministries, have pooled resources to provide stipends to communities that take on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day activities. In 2018, more than 120 communities across Canada received $500 to raise awareness of the benefits of wildfire preparedness through community clean ups or awareness events.

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Between Nov. 1 and Jan.31, anyone 19 years or older – or any community group or association – can apply for a $500 stipend to conduct wildfire-preparedness activities or events. For instructions on how to enter, and a list of ideas, visit firesmartcanada.ca.

Successful applications should focus on reducing the risk of wildfire in a community through education, hazard reduction or preparedness activities. Potential projects include working with neighbours to clear leaves and other combustible debris from gutters of homes and buildings, raking leaves and combustible debris from under decks, moving woodpiles away from buildings, using a chipper service to dispose of slash or winterkill or distributing wildfire-safety information.

While many Canadian communities may still have snow on the ground on May 2, that shouldn’t deter participation. And although May 2 is the official Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, events can be held on dates that work for the hosting group and the community.

I know it seems odd that a discussion about wildland fire should be starting in the late fall, but very quickly winter turns to spring, and spring to summer, and if the proper conditions develop that means wildland fire season in many places across Canada.

Natural Resources Canada reports that since 1990, wildland fire has consumed an average of 2.5 million hectares per year and causes millions of dollars in damage, not just to the forest industry but also, to residential and community properties.

In a recent conversation with Laura Stewart, president of Partners in Protection at NFPA’s annual conference, she said unless Canadian communities take action, the threat of wildfires will only become worse.

“Wildfires have always been a natural process in Canada’s forests,” Stewart said. “However, as we have experienced in recent years, a changing climate, increasingly greater fire activity and growing development trends into the wildland urban interface create a serious threat throughout Canada – putting the public, neighbourhoods, communities, firefighter and other first responders safety at risk every year.”

Wildfires are a part of natural ecosystems; however, interface situations can occur in all but the heaviest of urban environments. It’s important that fire services and their communities recognize that wildfire isn’t just limited to municipalities or towns built within or close to heavy or dense forests. Wildland interface exists in many more settings, such as urban forests, municipal green spaces, farms and recreational areas such as cottage or camp communities.

Fire departments can also use the day to engage with their provincial natural resources partners; it’s a chance to build relationships.It’s often been said that an emergency site is not the place to start exchanging business cards.

To learn more and apply for funding, visit firesmartcanada.


Shayne Mintz has more than 35 years of experience in the fire service, having completed his career as chief of the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario. He is now the Canadian regional director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Contact Shayne at smintz@nfpa.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ShayneMintz.