May 28, 2008
“If you could have three wishes, what would you ask for?” When the question came up at dinner recently, my kids offered a range of impossibilities. World peace. An end to poverty. The big blue house by the lake. Afterward, I got to thinking about the fire service. If a benevolent genie showed up today, what would I ask for?
I’m sure you’ve heard about the tragic death of an 18 year-old volunteer firefighter in Quebec recently. An outside official gave an opinion that the firefighter hadn’t been sufficiently trained. Whether or not his opinion was justified in this case, it is a concern that many of us in small rural departments need to examine for ourselves.
The question is why aren’t we sufficiently trained, if indeed we aren’t? EMS and police always seem to have the necessary certificates, because their jobs require it. Wait a minute. I detect some magic in the word jobs. In Ontario, the provincial government puts a lot of funding toward those jobs. It seems that the EMS and police “genies” are much more benevolent than ours are.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m happy that those jobs are in my village. I would also be happy to consistently have enough well-trained firefighters to safely perform rescue at structural fires. Sorry to say, there are many days it won’t be possible unless the genie in the bottle is on duty.
In northern parts of Ontario, fire departments in many unorganized areas do receive provincial support, but we need more. Our rural municipal neighbors, who are largely left out in the cold by the province, are in even greater need. At the top of a long list is a need for personnel. Sure, there are people who want to help, but few that can give the necessary time to train to a standard.
Imagine the chaos if our rural departments said, “We’re not doing this anymore.” It happened not long ago, in a department not far from here. The whole crew showed up at the town hall and handed in their pagers. They conveniently left them on, so that when a “coincidental” page test occurred later, council got a rude awakening. It might seem like they were playing nasty, but when you’re expected to work magic with a shoestring, something’s got to give. Money is not the answer to everything, but the best-trained crews are often the best paid. Have you ever heard of a career department that couldn’t attract recruits? There are still communities that pay nothing and survive, but they are not the norm.
I’ve suggested outlandish solutions in the past. This time I’m proposing an old-fashioned remedy. When the genie appears, I want funding. Dependable funding in every federal and provincial budget. Upsala doesn’t need a career department, but we could use guaranteed wages for our dedicated folks when they show up for training and calls. How much would it take? Probably less than what Ontario is spending on 50/50 funding for EMS, or on the program to hire 1,200 new police officers over four years.
Is anyone listening out there? Not likely, so here’s another outlandish idea. With all the extra police officers on patrol, the jails should soon be swamped with new convicts. Why not train these unemployed inmates, and let them serve as volunteer firefighters? If you think that’s far-fetched, check out the last paragraph of this web site from Charleston, Indiana: www.ai.org/dhs/files/bffpse_min0208.pdf
The bottom line is that we must put more resources into people and training, if we want to avoid more funerals.
Be prepared to abandon the past in order to survive the future.-Peter Drucker (paraphrased)