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April 19, 2010
By Laura King


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Monday, April 19, 2010

With FDIC opening today in Indianapolis we’re looking forward to hearing from our bloggers with The Fire Within group of 30 Canadian firefighters attending the big show. The group includes firefighters and fire officers from B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia who will let us in on their, um, adventures – most of which are certain to be educational – and share their opinions and experiences. Stay tuned.

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I almost choked on my tea Saturday morning when I flipped the page in the Globe and Mail and saw this headline on Christie Blatchford’s column: Who opposes sprinklers in nursing homes? Oddly, it’s the firefighters. (Note that the headline is different in the online version.)

The headline threw me for a loop given the Canada-wide push for sprinklers and, in particular, the efforts of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and others to have older retirements homes retrofitted with sprinklers after a fatal fire in
Orillia, Ont., last year.

Blatchford has brought the
issue of sprinklers for retirement homes in Ontario to the mainstream media, leading
to a CBC Marketplace
story a few weeks ago in which Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci was
challenged by reporter Erica Johnson on his lack of response to the OAFC’s quest
for sprinklers. Bartolucci’s answer, or at least the brief segment shown on TV,
included something about listening to his advisors and weighing all the options.
It wasn’t very flattering to the minister.

Blatchford’s column
suggests Bartolucci is hearing another side of the story from the 10,000-member
Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, which appears, from reading the
column, to be less than keen on the concept of sprinklers in retirement homes –
although the column doesn’t really explain why. Blatchford quotes a letter to
Bartolucci from the OPFFA saying that firefighters fear “too much emphasis on
and faith placed in technology” could result in “a false sense of security” and
that “fire suppression is and always will be labour intensive.”

So, I called OPFFA
president Fred LeBlanc and asked, um, what’s up with this? He says he did
indeed write a letter to Bartolucci after the Marketplace report. At odds with the headline that caught my eye,
LeBlanc says the OPFFA supports sprinkers in retirement homes but it wants to
make sure that builders – who overwhelmingly oppose sprinklers because of the
added costs – don’t convince the province to agree to concessions like not
including firewalls in buildings equipped with sprinklers.

“What we’re advocating is
that sprinklers should be an add on and not a replacement for other safety
measures,” LeBlanc said, adding that sprinklers should not be viewed as a
replacement for proper staffing in these retirement homes.

LeBlanc was unequivocal
that his association supports the drive to add sprinklers to the arsenal of
technology to make retirement homes safer.

“At no time have we
waivered from our position that sprinklers are a great additional tool,” he
said. “Just like smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Of course we’re
very supportive. It’s just the way the media has depicted this particular
issue, it’s like we’re putting all our bullets in one gun here and that
sprinklers are the only way we can save people. I know the builders are opposed
to this issue but I also understand that there have been some conversations.

“At the end of the day
sprinklers will help, there’s no doubt in my mind. Does it make it safer for
residents and for my guys? Absolutely, we support sprinklers but I get
concerned when those who control the purse strings put too much emphasis into
one area rather than looking at the entire situation.”

Blatchford notes that the
OPFFA endorsed McGuinty in the last
Ontario election and
points out that LeBlanc asked his members to financially support the Liberals.

Unions do that type of
thing – they support political candidates and they rally their members to
support causes. And it’s no secret that the McGuinty government has been more
receptive to the
Ontario fire service than previous governments; indeed,
the Liberals late last year took a giant step forward and expanded presumptive
legislation to include volunteer firefighters.

LeBlanc makes no apologies
for backing McGuinty’s Liberal government.

“In the 25 years that I’ve been involved we’ve
never had a government so supportive of fire service issues so I’m not going to
deny that the natural support is there.”

Your thoughts?

OK, some good news! Saint
John Fire Chief Robert Simonds, who has had an interesting year battling city
council in an effort to maintain his fire fighting forces, is one of six North
American chiefs to receive a fellowship to attend
Harvard University’s senior executives in state and local government program this summer
at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The fellowship program for fire service
leaders is a joint effort among the U.S Fire Administration, The Fire
Protection Publications/International Fire Services Training Association, the
International Association of Fire Chiefs, the NFPA and Harvard. You can read
the full press release here .

Rob joins Eugene Campbell (assistant fire chief
Dallas), Otto Drozd (fire chief, City of El Paso Fire Department), Joanne
Hayes-White (fire chief, City of San Francisco Fire Department), Ken Miller
(medical director, Orange County Fire Authority) and Randall Talifarro (fire
chief, City of East Lansing Fire Department).

Looks like Simonds will have a busy summer with his
Ivy League excursion and preparation for the Canadian Association of Fire
Chiefs conference in
Saint
John
in
September. Simonds is the incoming CAFC president. Congrats Rob!


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