By Laura King
Feb. 14, 2011, Toronto - An Ontario member of Parliament has introduced a motion in the House of Commons asking the Stephen Harper government to fund Canada’s volunteer fire departments.
By Laura King
John Rafferty, the NDP MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, said that bill M-635 was introduced last week on behalf of several constituents who have raised the issue of funding for volunteer departments.
The motion asks the Conservative government to fund volunteer fire departments and to work with provincial and municipal governments to ensure that these departments receive sufficient operational funding.
Additionally, the motion says, if no agreement can be reached, governments should immediately move to create another funding stream accessible to volunteer fire departments that does not infringe on provincial jurisdictions.
Rafferty singled out Upsala, Ont., Fire Chief Tim Beebe, who helped to craft the motion. (Beebe writes the Spontaneous Combustion column for Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly.)
Rafferty noted that 91 per cent of Canadian communities are served by volunteer fire departments, which respond to 95 per cent of incidents that take place on the Trans-Canada Highway corridor.
“Despite their heavy responsibility, volunteer fire departments are often forced to work with older equipment, with 39 per cent of their pumper trucks and 42 per cenet of their tanker trucks being 15 years or older,” Rafferty said in the press release.
Canadian fire-service leaders said that although the motion will not result in any immediate federal money for fire departments, getting MPs on side one by one is the onerous first step toward changing the funding formula for fire departments.
“Even if the motion passes, it isn't binding, and there is no provision for funds to be actually allocated,” noted Beebe. “Rafferty informed us of this in the beginning, but said that it would put the issue in the spotlight, and could possibly help pave the way for future legislation that would see funds allocated to volunteer fire departments.
“We need to keep the issue alive if we want to see it go forward. Constituents need to contact their MPs to show that there is broad support – if there is broad support – for volunteers.”
Stephen Gamble, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of British Columbia and first vice-president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, said he’s pleased that the issue of funding for volunteer fire departments is getting some attention.
“Support is required at all levels of government to address this crisis and this initiative is but one piece of the puzzle,” Gamble said.
Alberta Fire Chiefs Association president Brian Cornforth said he applauds Rafferty’s motion and his initiative.
"Expecting volunteers to raise funds for the most basic of equipment, including personal protective gear is unrealistic,” Cornforth said.
“It’s time to prioritize budgets aligned with responsible decision making to ensure the safety of those who are serving in our communities."
Vince MacKenzie, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services, said all Canadians, but particularly elected representatives, need to understand that the fire service is the first line of response to all emergencies.
“Unfortunately I would suspect that M-635 won’t see the light of day until the government of Canada can wake up and understand that the fire service is a three-level government service,” MacKenzie said.
“All Canadians rely on their local fire stations for all disasters – large or small, local or regional in scope – and well before the military or police forces are often called in. Would Canadians stand for our brave soldiers out raising money for their weapons and tools to do their job in the manner that this country’s fire services do?”
In Rafferty’s Northern Ontario riding, volunteer firefighters respond to 98 per cent of incidents that take place on the Highway 17 and Highway 11 corridors.
“These volunteers provide an essential service to many Canadians, particularly so in our riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, and should not be working with skeleton budgets,” said Rafferty.
“I am hopeful that this motion will put the issue on the national agenda in Ottawa. Our fire volunteers and citizens deserve better service and more support from our federal government.”
CAFC President Rob Simonds noted that the Conservative government is considering a request to introduce a $3,000 tax credit for volunteer firefighters who perform more than 200 hours of service a year.
He said the CAFC welcomes Rafferty's support "for the essential work of Canada’s volunteer fire departments."