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Straight Talk: June 2014

It is simple to say that the underlying philosophy that one applies in determining what action to take on an issue is to do the right thing for the right reason.

June 2, 2014 
By Kevin Foster

It is simple to say that the underlying philosophy that one applies in determining what action to take on an issue is to do the right thing for the right reason. But what if the right reason to me is different than the right reason for you? If my reason is public safety and yours is profit, what is the right thing to do if my right thing and your right thing are in conflict?

While advocating on many matters, I have heard bureaucrats and decision makers at federal, provincial and local levels ask about the position of other stakeholders on the issue we are discussing, and whether the organization I represented was working with the others.

It was obvious that the preferred option for policy makers was to support what the stakeholders could agree to. However, they were reluctant to play referee in a dispute between or among two or more sides. It is significantly easier to reach consensus on an issue when everyone has a solid understanding of the matter. That means not only promoting your position but also learning the other viewpoints. Obviously, the underlying intent of collaborating with other stakeholders is to influence them in such a manner as to have them support your position.

One of the key approaches to successfully achieving consensus on any initiative is education. With that in mind then, for automatic fire sprinklers to be incorporated into building codes, a comprehensive, co-ordinated education campaign is fundamental to overcoming the opposition to such code revisions. Well, that’s the easy part. Now the tough part: how to do that? 

Thankfully there are examples to build upon. The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition stepped up its promotional campaign early this year with the new Ask for Them‎ interactive guide on its website. Sprinkler coalitions have been successful in areas of the United States.

There was one specific campaign I was quite intrigued to learn about earlier this year. “The professional voice of the U.K. fire rescue service,” the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), spearheaded a National Fire Sprinkler Week. The program is a multi-partner, co-ordinated national campaign that promotes the value of fire sprinklers to the U.K., similar in nature to Fire Prevention Week here in North America. The CFOA has made National Fire Sprinkler Week one of its priority fire-safety campaigns. In Canada, a co-ordinated national campaign may be the best approach to educating the country as a whole on the benefits of fire sprinklers; it would reach a broad audience, provide common messaging and resources through promotional materials, and could easily be supported by local agencies that would not be required to develop their own campaigns. Could a National Fire Sprinkler Week work here in Canada?

There is no reason to believe that a National Fire Sprinkler Week wouldn’t work; consider the safety successes that we achieve with Emergency Preparedness Week and the aforementioned Fire Prevention Week. A National Fire Sprinkler Week may represent the single biggest opportunity for fire sprinkler education. Organizers of a prominent, national campaign may be able to successfully leverage the vast network of sprinkler industry and safety partners to overcome resource, expertise and financial hurdles which, individually, most of us have not been able to surmount. It is obvious that a national campaign needs to be spearheaded by a group with a national focus for public fire safety. I see two such groups that fit the bill: the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners which, as part of its mission, supports members’ efforts to minimize fire losses by promoting fire safety awareness; and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, which has as one of its objectives to advance fire and life safety education across Canada. I challenge both organizations to show their leadership and take up this cause.

I understand that meaningful change takes time to achieve and perseverance is vital. If it is a priority to improve fire protection for Canadians by having all new residential construction include automatic fire sprinklers, then there needs to be a national campaign to educate our families, friends, and neighbours; these same people are our elected and appointed officials and, just as importantly, voters and new home purchasers.

Kevin Foster is in his 27th year in the fire service, having begun as a volunteer firefighter in East Gwillimbury in 1987. For 11 years, Foster was a firefighter with the Richmond Hill Fire Department and in June 1999 he became the first full-time fire chief of the North Kawartha Fire Department. Foster was appointed chief with the Midland Fire Department in November 2001. Contact him at and follow him on twitter at @midlanddfsem

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