Fire Fighting in Canada

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March 4, 2015, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - It has been too long since I have been able to write, but social media posts this past Friday sickened me to the point where I had to say something. You see, Twitterverse was abuzz late last week with people obsessing over the colours of a dress – white and gold or blue and black. In fact, #theDress was the top trending topic on Twitter.

Normally this would be another hashtag that I ignored, but I just could not believe how viral the topic became. At the same time, I was reading a few posts about bodies being found in the ashes of a Quebec home that had burned the previous day – and where two toddlers were missing. That tragedy brings the total number of dead children to eight, in three provinces, in the past two weeks. Why, I wonder, isn’t there a trending hashtag on that subject?

How is it that deaths from fire continue to happen in Canada in 2015? Especially when fire departments across the country have been relentless in pushing for code changes that would make smoke alarms and residential sprinklers mandatory. Recently the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs was in Ottawa lobbying for code changes to include retroactive installation of sprinklers in facilities that house some of our country’s most vulnerable residents – our seniors. Until recently, only two provinces – Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario – had changed its codes to require the retroactive addition of sprinklers in older buildings. A third province, Quebec, changed its code requirements after the findings of the L’lsle Verte inquiry were released. But why, in 2015, are there only three provinces that have code requirements for retroactive sprinkler installation? And why are the last national statistics on fire deaths from the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners from 2007?

In fire fighting we seem to change tactics quickly when things are not progressing. If something is not working we revise our incident action plan to meet changing conditions. As firefighters, chief officers, departments, and municipalities, we need to continuously update our incident action plans to meet changing political climates when it comes to public safety and specifically the requirement of sprinklers in Canada. As focused and organized as the fire service may seem across the country, when it comes to sprinklers, are we focusing cohesively? I will not be popular over this, but hey, when has leadership been about popularity? I think the Canadian fire service can do better. Period.

Over the years I have been in many meetings about the messages that we deliver to the public. Nothing seems to change. Continually fire chiefs believe that we have to be portrayed as the nice guys, but being nice guys is not working. Why are we not charging homeowners if we go to a fire and find smoke alarms not working? Why are homeowners not charged criminally if smoke alarms could have saved a child’s, or anybody’s life? Our tactics are not working, people continue to die, and for what? The price of a $20 smoke alarm?

Across Canada, associations must start seriously working together to reach a common goal to see residential sprinklers added to new-home construction. There needs to be national statistics for the fire service to gather the information needed to back code change. None of this will get done however if the Canadian fire service including firefighters, fire chiefs, fire marshals and fire commissioners, do not seriously begin working together to really make progress towards having zero fire fatalities yearly. It is time for the leaders in all levels of the fire service to #stepupanddemandchange

Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a captain/EMT with RMES, and three children. Follow him on Twitter at @redwoodwoof

March 4, 2015  By Rob Evans

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