While you were at COVID: Fire policy advances in Ottawa
By Tina Saryeddine, PhD, MHA, CHE
By Tina Saryeddine, PhD, MHA, CHE
While fire departments were playing their positions during the COVID-19 crisis, policy issues impacting our sector continued to evolve at the national level. What are some of these issues and how do they affect the fire service?
A wildland urban interface guide: The National Research Council completed the full draft of its Wildland Urban Interface Guideline. The guideline, which was developed by a multi-stakeholder roundtable over a two-year period that included the CAFC, the NFPA and Fire Smart, provides a prelude to potential building and fire code issues. There will be a limited public review open for individuals with expertise in the field in September. Until then CAFC members have access to the draft copy.
Beginning of a new building and fire code cycle: During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Canadian Building and Fire Codes Commission (CCBFC) undertook an evaluation of their processes. This is timed at the end of one five-year code cycle and the beginning of the next. The CAFC has long been on the record with strong support for the CCBFC and calls to improve some of its processes. Consider, for example, that the CCBFC call for comments on the proposed changes for a given year would often come out within a month’s notice close to the December holidays. The software they used to collect comments on the code worked well for industries that might have limited numbers of comments, but poorly for sectors like fire, since every change would have to be commented on through separate entry.
Most importantly, the evidence-informed codes process has unintended consequences. Research grade evidence must be brought forward by the party wishing to propose or refute a change. This is done to prevent undue influence in the codes process. However, industries that have more capacity for generating reliable data tend to have more data and therefore more evidence. The evidence required differs from the essential experiential knowledge of people in the field. Since 2018, the CAFC has called on the federal government to consider a Safety Innovation Research Fund that would be driven by the fire sector to ensure that the type, quality, and questions answered through research yields the data needed to examine and prove experiential knowledge of what needs to be addressed.
$8 million distributed for mental health research: As part of the $30 million that was ring-fenced for first responder mental health in budget 2018, the country’s largest federal granting agency for health research — Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) — announced its most recent funding competition results. Eight teams received close to a million dollars each to conduct their study. There were no fire specific projects in this round, but six projects were generic public safety personnel related. It is the hope of the CAFC that the remaining $3 million in funding for PSP mental health will be used for a project that can directly and immediately assist the front line. One idea is to channel the funding to set up a 1-800 suicide line that would be based on research and whose implementation would be evaluated while giving care to those seeking it.
Transport Canada e-shipping: In late 2019, the CAFC was advised that Transport Canada would be undertaking an e-shipping pilot project with a view to deciding on whether documentation regarding the transportation of dangerous goods could be provided electronically. The pilot provides temporary e-shipping permits to companies. At the time of submission, only three companies held e-shipping permit. The members of the CAFC National Advisory Council had the opportunity to discuss this project with Transport Canada. The need for both paper and electronic shipping copies during the pilot, special consideration for areas of the country where there is insufficient cell and internet coverage, and appropriate communication and training were highlighted.
Municipal budgets: Finally, during COVID nearly every sector had a need and an ask of the federal government. The CAFC’s focus was on ensuring the protection of volunteer firefighters, sufficient PPE and recognition of fire departments as part of a tiered healthcare system. However, in the larger context, fire department budgets will be impacted by the budgets of municipalities. The latter are being stressed by lower public transit numbers and lower user fee collections. As such, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has put in its largest request to the federal government: $10 to $15 billion in emergency operating funds.
Now that the first wave of COVID is beginning to recede, the CAFC is reconvening the committees that will continue to monitor and address these issues. CAFC committees have over 100 fire chiefs providing leadership nationally. The key is to stay aware and stay involved. At ‘Virtually’ Fire Rescue Canada 2020, happening Sept. 14-15, we will discuss what lies ahead to 2030. Please join the conversation. We welcome all chief fire officers and affiliates. Let’s work together and shape the future of the fire sector.
Tina Saryeddine, PhD, MHA, CHE, is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. You can learn more about the CAFC at www.cafc.ca.