Fire Fighting in Canada

Features
Looking ahead to federal budget 2021

November 2, 2020
By Tina Saryeddine, PhD, MHA, CHE

In August, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) was pleased to provide its recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in advance of the federal budget for 2021. This annual call forms an integral part of the Standing Committee on Finance’s recommendations for what is included in the federal budget.

This year, the committee asked specifically for recommendations on economic recovery. The CAFC’s brief—From Emergency Operations Centres to Economic Recovery: Improving What We Have to Keep What We Need—focused on a series of recommendations in three key areas:

  • Stable municipalities to keep communities clean, safe, and employed
  • Correcting idiosyncrasies in the policy landscape for volunteer firefighting
  • Leveraging current mental health investments through a results-forward approach.

Under stable municipalities, the CAFC echoed the request of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for $10 to $15 billion in emergency funding to municipalities. This request was also made by the IAFF. Since that time, the federal government’s Safe Restart program with the provinces has already begun to flow much needed funding to the municipalities.

Other suggestions proposed by the CAFC to bolster federal funding to municipalities were to expand eligibility to fire and emergency services for programs like Investing in Canada, the Gas Tax Fund and Airport Capital Assistance Funds. The CAFC also asked that the federal government reinstate a joint emergency preparedness-type program while maintaining funding for heavy urban search and rescue.

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Under support to municipalities, the CAFC asked the federal government to continue to improve housing conditions for temporary foreign workers and ensure that fire regulations are enforced. Finally, the CAFC called on the federal government to advance the public safety broadband network to facilitate emergency communications, rural coverage and economic opportunity.

A second area the CAFC sought the federal government’s help is in the area of volunteer fire fighting. With 85 per cent of firefighters and fire departments falling into the volunteer category, the CAFC is very concerned about the sustainability of the volunteer firefighter sector. During covid, adjustments were made quickly to ensure that volunteer firefighters were not left ineligible for emergency funding by virtue of receiving a pay on call. The CAFC explained to the federal government that the pay on call was not a livable wage and adjustments were announced by the prime minister in April.

However, other idiosyncrasies in the volunteer fire fighting policy landscape, ranging from issues like employment insurance being impacted by the pay on call to difficulties claiming the volunteer firefighter tax credit, create a precarious situation in a sector that will already begin to experience attrition, first by the natural demographic and next by the complications of covid. For this reason, the CAFC recommended that the federal government coordinate incentive programs that preserve the suppy and savings provided by volunteer, paid on call and part time firefighters.

The third area was continued effort on the mental health of first responders. The CAFC has been tracking the investments made by the federal government since budget 2018. Many investments are in research. For research to impact the front line, different approaches are required that unpack milestones and better engage first responders in designing interventions and solutions. As such, the CAFC recommended that the federal government request milestones for the frontline from the $27 million invested from budget 2018 in first responder mental health research. It also recommended that the federal government direct the remaining $3 million in earmarked funds for first responder mental health from budget 2018 towards crisis prevention.

This is a tall order ranging across the mandates of at least a half dozen federal departments and there are other important policy and funding asks of the federal government. For this reason, the CAFC continues to believe that Canada needs the equivalent of a U.S. fire administrator that would assist all fire departments across provinces, territories and municipalities with grants, operational support, public safety messaging and data. It will likely take time to achieve these asks, but one thing is for sure: If we don’t speak up, we won’t be heard.


Tina Saryeddine, PhD, MHA, CHE is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. More information on the CAFC can be accessed at cafc.ca.