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

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NFPA Impact
The NFPA's Sean Tracey wonders whether we need a national fire services advisor and explores the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs position on the issue.

October 15, 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  www.firefightingincanada.com for a more detailed analysis of each
of the CAFC envisioned roles.)

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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
n stracey@nfpa.org

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