Fire Fighting in Canada

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Volunteer Vision: The National Volunteer Firefighter Census

April 15, 2021
By Vince Mackenzie

This spring is special time for every volunteer in the Canadian fire service because of the first ever nationwide firefighter count called The Great Canadian Volunteer Firefighter Census. You volunteer in organizations where many decisions and initiatives have been made by governments, associations and the commercial sector that affect the volunteer fire service in our country. Many times these decisions are made using outdated statistical analysis.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the volunteer firefighter tax credit in Canada. It took a great deal of lobbying to the federal government by the nation’s fire service in order for that credit to become a reality. This writer was part of a dedicated group of fire service leaders and partners engaged in the massive lobby effort in Ottawa with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC). We held annual government relations meetings in Ottawa and we worked hard to lobby for the tax credit along with other pertinent issues for several years before it was actually introduced. We were frequently asked questions by government. “How many volunteer firefighters are there? Are firefighters volunteer, part time, full-time or paid-on-call? How many in each province, riding, or municipality?” These were somewhat difficult questions to accurately answer because we still only had approximate statistics.

The CAFC launched this census through actions of the Answer the Call committee. This April, our association, the National Advisory Council and all the affiliate associations involved with volunteer firefighters are making a concerted effort to do an accurate nationwide count. The Great Canadian Volunteer Fire Fighter Census has launched and we need your help. April 30 is census day, and we are looking to compile the volunteer firefighter data for 2021 through an online survey completed by each volunteer and composite fire department. Hopefully by the time you read this column in Fire Fighting in Canada, you will have already heard and your department has already participated. But if not, it’s not too late! This is a timely reminder to please ensure you are counted and have your fire chief or designate complete the short census survey online at the CAFC website link cafc.ca/page/2021volcensus.

The short census asks some carefully thought-out questions so we can gather the information we need to provide an accurate picture. You will also notice questions related to the size of your department, response area, your department’s definition of a volunteer, and if and how they are compensated. We also hope to capture the demographics of volunteer fire departments in all of Canada. Even after April 30, every fire department can accurately report how many firefighters are in their department on that date. The census will remain open for several weeks afterwards so please ensure your fire department is counted and we also ask you check and network with your neighbouring departments and remind them to participate as well.

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The effort has enlisted the entire volunteer fire service networks from across the country and we have partnered with the CAFC’s National Advisory Council to promote and appeal to all fire departments in their field of influence. These partners are your provincial and territorial fire chiefs associations, the Canadian fire marshals and fire commissioners of each jurisdiction, and the affiliate associations that include the Aboriginal Fire Service Association, Canadian Volunteer Fire Service Association, and the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation. We have asked all to promote the census to get as large a scope as we can capture in a short time.

This initiative is so important because no previous statistical numbers have been provided for volunteer responders of our country in a long time. With the ever-changing landscape, many times numbers have been approximate when provincial fire marshals and chiefs’ associations have tallied them at different times. We’ve even used statistics that have been generated in the United States to base important decisions for Canadians. We want to change this and one day has been picked as a census day and all surveys will be based on that snapshot in time — April 30, 2021.

At present, the census is not collecting from totally full-time fire departments, just volunteer and composite who have volunteer components. Full-time data will be collected, and we will ask employers and unions to assist us. Rest assured we do intend to collect full-time data as well in the near future for a total picture of the Canadian fire service. This spring we are concentrating efforts on volunteer and composite departments big and small.

For the good of our collective fire service and future efforts it is imperative that we know the strength or weakness of or volunteer fire services in Canada. Armed with that data, our fire services can accurately make sound decisions, judgments, and even lobby for all things fire and emergency management. We know volunteer firefighter numbers have declined in the past but we don’t accurately know by how much. This project will also determine a baseline data for 2021 and benchmark for years to come. Ensure your department is counted in the census and you are represented nationally. You can count on us — let us count you.


Vince MacKenzie is the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. He is an executive member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the past president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services. Email Vince at firechief@townofgfw.com and follow him on Twitter at @FirechiefVince. 


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