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NFPA Impact: Do we need a national fire services advisor?

The CAFC, IAFF, CVFSA and other national fire service organizations have been actively lobbying for the establishment of a National Fire Service Advisor (NFSA). 

September 19, 2008  By Sean Tracey

The CAFC, IAFF, CVFSA and other national fire service organizations have been actively lobbying for the establishment of a National Fire Service Advisor (NFSA). There is no guarantee that the position of NFSA will come to fruition because several provinces object to the need for such an advisor within the federal government. This lack of unanimous support has sent up a red flag on the issue and may delay the implementation of an NFSA. The conflicting views lead to questions about who is correct and whether we need an NFSA.

It warrants a closer look at what the envisioned role is for this advisor. We shall review the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs position on this as well as what the first actions of a fire advisor should be. Will this be the panacea for all the fire service woes? Personally, I think not, but it is definitely better than the status quo.

The only place where the envisioned role for a NFSA has been publicly stated is in the CAFC’s recent policy paper to the government. The role includes responsibility for fire training standards, fire prevention and education, co-ordinating a national response to any emergency, serving as a link to the provincial fire marshals, keeping national fire statistics and representing the interest of the fire service at the national codes level.

It is on these CAFC stated roles that there has been resistance from some provinces. Some of these roles are not practical and not necessary, in my view. In particular there is no need to review training or other standards. This would quickly become burdensome and, besides, other standards bodies are already doing this. There is a definite need for somebody to correlate best practices, and our national fire loss and firefighter injury and fatality statistics are an utter embarrassment. (NOTE: See the online version of this column at for a more detailed analysis of each of the CAFC envisioned roles.)


Where to go in the future?

As mentioned, there is resistance from some provinces on this matter. This is based on roles identified by the CAFC that conflict with provincial responsibilities. The solution should be that the NFSA roles should not conflict in these areas. The NFSA needs to be a resource for the fire services to enable them to perform their roles but it cannot dictate policy. It can, however, be a resource for fire services best practices. The NFSA should not be looking to reinvent what is not broken.  

In 1978 the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) was formed. This came about 26 years after the need was first articulated in the America’s Burning report. This should be a good model to review for the Canadian fire services, even though we will likely not have the same financial resources. The U.S. has similar constitutional issues as we do in Canada. In both countries, the requirements for fire protection are at the local level and there is varying involvement at the state/provincial levels. We can learn from the U.S. experiences surrounding when to be engaged at the national level. Like the U.S., we have a national level chief and union organizations, national level standards organizations and a national level fire marshal body. Despite these groups, the USFA has carved out a valuable role for itself.

In Canada today the first task should be to fund a fire service national survey and a national public consultation round. From this, we need to assemble a fire services summit and a published report – perhaps something similar to the U.S. America’s Burning report. This should be the basis for prioritizing the tasks ahead and the government’s resourcing of the NFSA should be determined based on this.

This NFSA role is going to be that of finding its boundaries for the first few years. There will never be unanimity in its actions but we can hope for consensus. The NFSA should establish a working relationship with the USFA, the codes and standards writing bodies, the CCFM&FC, CAFC, IAFF and others. This office should look at funding of fire protection research, collecting and dissemination of best practices, and be the go-to source of information. It should address the fire statistics nationally. It should take ownership of the First Nations fire safety issues by creating a strategy and funding its implementation. Federal funding for the JEPP program for the fire service should be administered from this organization and it should be used as a tool to increase fire department effectiveness.

In my view, there is more than enough for a NFSA to do in Canada. The areas of conflict in provincial responsibilities can and should be avoided. Make the appointment. Start the review and get a fire summit planned for Canada. We can then move forward on the many other issues in which a national-level fire service point of contact can benefit us all.  

Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and formerly the Canadian Armed Forces fire marshal. Contact him at

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