Fire Fighting in Canada

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Wieclawek outlines fire-prevention strategy

May 7, 2013, Toronto – Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek assured the province’s fire chiefs Tuesday that his office will help them deal with the hefty workload that will result from fire-code amendments aimed at better protecting seniors and other Ontarians who live in certain types of care homes.

May 7, 2013
By Laura King

May 7, 2013, Toronto – Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek assured the province’s fire chiefs Tuesday that his office will help them deal with the hefty workload that will result from fire-code amendments aimed at better protecting seniors and other Ontarians who live in certain types of care homes.

Wieclawek told the 500 fire officers at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) conference that when the legislation is implemented, fire departments will be expected to maintain a list of care homes in their areas, inspect the homes, approve fire-safety plans, and conduct and evaluate fire drills and evacuations.

Although some fire-protection duties are mandated now under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, many small departments do not have fire prevention officers or fire inspectors, and several fire chiefs said after Wieclawek’s presentation that they are concerned about liability if they are unable meet the demands that will be imposed by the province on municipalities and fire chiefs.
 
Wieckawek’s speech followed Monday’s promise by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that her government would legislate the recommendations of a technical advisory committee (TAC) that looked into fire safety for vulnerable Ontarians.

The TAC’s key recommendations include sprinklers in homes for seniors, the disabled and some other vulnerable Ontarians – that long-awaited measure is a victory for the OAFC and other groups, which have lobbied for years for retrofitting – and the registries, inspections, and drills.

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Although the minority Liberal government has not yet formally announced the adoption of the more than 50 recommendations of the TAC – there is no date for the announcement yet – Wieclawek said he was speaking to fire chiefs as if the code changes would proceed.

Windsor Fire Chief Bruce Montone asked Wieclawek how fire departments that are already stretched will keep up with the expectations once the code is changed. Wieclawek said chiefs who need help can call the Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM), which he said is working to establish the training materials and support.

“The commitment I will make to you right now,” Wieclawek said, “is that I don’t want a fire chief in the province being nervous and having a sense of anxiety as a result of this package because perhaps you haven’t been doing routine inspections – maybe you don’t have the capacity and the resources or maybe you just don’t have the staff and the training.

“One of the things we are doing is making sure we have a cadre of experienced and trained fire-prevention people and if it requires us to go out and actually do an inspection with you and provide the training, if it results in court action and enforcement, if that’s what it’s going to take from our office to do that, the expectation from my office is that we’re able to do that.”

Wieckawek said that although the OFM itself has scarce resources, it is changing its focus back to service delivery because it is not reasonable to expect fire departments alone to meet the new requirements that will result from the code changes.

“If we’re going to ask the fire service become more pro-active doing routine inspections, we have to do our role and that’s going to be to generate the training materials and to provide direct assistance as required,” he said.

Wieckawek also also said he was advised Monday that a significant amount of money will be invested in the training programs but did not say how much.

Wieckawek focused heavily in his hour-long presentation Tuesday on shared accountability, which is a mainstay of the OFM’s three-lines of defence strategy – fire prevention and education, code enforcement, and response.

He said shifting the focus to prevention and code enforcement from response and suppression requires systemic change.

“I don’t think it’s enough to talk about it or tinker,” Wieclawek said. “I think you need to do something abrupt and significant, and we’re going to ask municipal fire departments to conduct routine inspections. These are going to evolve from good practices and will be obligatory, and we’re going to provide all the support we can.”

Wieclawek clarified after the presentation that although fire-safety plans have always been required under the fire code, the new measures will be formalized through fire marshal’s directives.

“What we’re doing is coming up with a model where we’re going to be more certain that the owners are operators know they have these responsibilities to develop fire safety plans and submit them . . . What we’re doing is tightening up the system and having that shared accountability so that it makes it easier for a fire department, in terms of accountability, to be able to say to a municipality we have 20 of these facilities and we know what their status is.”

Meantime, the OFM has been working with the OAFC on a so-called integrated response model for Ontario fire departments that focuses heavily on the first two lines of defence – prevention and code enforcement. Details of that system will be rolled out at the conference tomorrow.

“This will result in a more balanced and more appropriate use and allocation of scarce resources based on the three lines of defence,” the fire marshal said.

“I think we’ve finally moved the benchmarks.”