Operating a fire service is challenging

By Tyler J. Moffitt
The Safety Advocate

I’ve been in the fire and rescue service for 25 years, serving as a part-time and volunteer firefighter.
The fire service certainly has changed over the years—evolving from just providing fire suppression services to rescue services. Many fire services in Canada are now called fire and rescue.
Over the years, I’ve been asked many different questions, such as “What’s it like to be a member of a fire and rescue service” to “What is involved in the operation of a fire and rescue service.”
Here’s my interpretation of the fire and rescue service (but this is not limited to the following things I’m about to cover).
Being a member of the fire and rescue service involves a commitment—a commitment to training and continuing education.
Operating a municipal fire and rescue service, whether it is full-time, composite, or volunteer, consists of many things. It can be very challenging to operate a fire and rescue service for many reasons.
Recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of capable and experienced people often is a challenge. Unlike the police and paramedic service, a large percentage of fire and rescue services throughout Canada are a volunteer service.
What percentage of Canadian firefighters are volunteers? A comprehensive survey completed in 2010 revealed that only seven percent of the 1,001 people surveyed chose the correct answer of more than 75 percent (the actual figure is 78 percent).
Meanwhile, in Ontario, 94 percent of municipal fire and rescue services rely on volunteers. In fact, as of February, 2011, there were 465 fire departments in Ontario, of which 31 were full-time, 175 were composites, and 259 were volunteer.
In Ontario, a fire and rescue service (whether career or volunteer) must have a fire safety program, as well as training program.
A mandatory fire safety program in Ontario for a fire and rescue service consists of:
•public fire safety education;
•fire prevention inspections and code enforcement under the Ontario Fire Code; and
•emergency fire response
To be in compliance with the Ontario Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, an established public education program with respect to fire safety and fire prevention in the municipality must be in place.
As a minimum acceptable model, municipalities must provide:
•a simplified risk assessment;
•smoke alarm program and home escape planning, including an enforcement strategy relating to installation and maintenance of smoke alarms;
•distribution of public education materials and delivery of public education programs; and
•fire prevention inspections upon request or complaint.
As well, here are some things (but not limited to) involved in operating a fire and rescue service:
•Administration—budgeting, reports, records, Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs), policies, and bylaws;
•Communications—radios, radio protocol, and pagers; and
•Fire Hall apparatus/equipment—checklists, maintenance, housekeeping, and testing of fire apparatus, portable pumps, hoses, self-contained breathing apparatus, radio, pagers, etc.
Fire suppression and rescue consists of structure and vehicle fires, wildfires, search and rescue, motor vehicle accidents, medical response or assistance, and CO alarms/response.
It also involves ice and water rescue, Hazmat/clandestine drug labs, confined space rescue, high-angle rescue, and disaster response.
The level of service a rural volunteer fire and rescue service may provide may be:
•fire safety education and fire prevention services to the minimum acceptable model;
•fire suppression;
•rescue to a certain level;
•motor vehicle response to a certain level; and
•ambulance assistance
Training consists of some and/or all of the previous areas listed, as well as (but not limited to) health and safety, fire scene assessment and investigation, fire scene security and termination, and emergency planning.
As well, fire departments need to adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario.
As you can see, operating a fire and rescue service—especially a volunteer one—involves a lot of time and commitment, as well as a commitment to training and continuing education.
As well, some of the issues facing municipalities throughout Canada include fire and rescue service budgeting (i.e., not having enough funding to cover off all the legislative requirements) and trying to keep trained volunteers.
Tyler J. Moffitt is a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder, as well as a continuous improvement advocate.

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