Former Ontario Fire Marshall Concerned with City Fire Plan

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There are currently 83 firefighters in the Sault, in three years there will be 63 according to the plan.

The following was released by the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters Association
Local 529

Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters Association has reached out to the former Fire Marshal for the Province of Ontario, Pat Burke, who has reviewed Chief Figliola’s report and presentation before council.

Mr. Burke has echoed the concerns and sentiment of our Association and we hope that council will not only reconsider their decision and allow for a proper assessment and consultation to take place but to also hear from Mr. Burke directly at a council meeting later this month.

As a follow up to Mr. Burke’s letter the Association will be making a request to have Mr. Burke present to council as a formal delegation.

The following is the full letter to the Mayor and Council from Patrick Burke

Worship and Members of Council:

The Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters Association has asked me, as a
person with some pertinent background and expertise and with just shy of 43 years
of fire service experience, a former deputy fire chief, a former fire chief and a
former Fire Marshal for the Province of Ontario (2006 to 2010), to conduct an
overview and commentary on the process that led to your adoption of an emergency
services realignment on October 26.

I have reviewed the available documents carefully and I have read a complete
transcript of the October 26 Council meeting, and I must advise that I am extremely
concerned about Chief Figliola’s plan to significantly reduce fire department
resources and capabilities by nearly 25 percent.

It is my considered opinion that the realignment you adopted on October 26 will
have a significantly negative impact on the fire department’s ability to protect the
public particularly in the case of fires, but also in the many other emergency
responses addressed by the fire department every day such as medical emergencies,
hazardous materials incidents, vehicle extrications, ice/water rescues, technical
rescues and other emergencies. It will also negatively impact the safety of your fire
fighters.

I am concerned that this plan was put forward and adopted far too hastily, without
a proper comprehensive risk assessment and without adequate consultation with fire
fighters and with the public. I am also concerned about numerous factual errors and
misleading statements the Chief made to Council during the October 26 meeting
before Council adopted this plan.

It is my opinion that the plan exposes the city, including the fire chief and
yourselves, to significant liability for any negative consequences experienced as a
result of the impact of this plan including loss of life, loss of property and loss of
income.

For example, Chief Figliola made a glaring misstatement to you on October 26 when
he stated:
“NFPA 1710 is a guideline, very generic with no fixed numbers for staffing. NFPA
has not been accepted by the OFM because it’s not viable for small/medium sized
municipalities.”

In fact, the National Fire Protection Association 1710 Standard is a highly-technical
and science-based document that explicitly states urban municipalities should have
at least four fire fighters assigned to each fire apparatus and that four fire fighters
should be on the scene of a fire at a two-storey residential dwelling in four minutes
90 per cent of the time, and 15 to 17 fire fighters (depending whether an aerial is
used) should be on scene within eight minutes. These are the minimum staffing
levels required for simultaneous fire suppression and rescue in a safe and efficient
manner.

Chief Figliola is incorrect when he states that the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal
has not accepted NFPA 1710, and incorrect when he implies that the standard is not
intended for cities like Sault Ste. Marie. The OFM accepts NFPA standards
including NFPA 1710.

In the OFM Public Fire Safety Guidelines, which are currently under review, the
OFM often references NFPA Standards. In fact, in OFM PFSG 04-06-13 particular
mention is made of NFPA with reference to resources for determining staffing levels.
In terms of where NFPA is intended to apply, it is clear in Section 1.2.1 that it
applies to career public fire suppression operations, emergency medical services and
special operations delivery.

It should be noted here that NFPA 1710 is also the yardstick that the insurance
industry uses to measure a city’s fire department capabilities for the purpose of
setting an insurance grading that is in turn used to establish residential and
commercial insurance rates.

Chief Figliola is also mistaken to cite an on-scene staffing complement of 10 fire
fighters as an acceptable level of fireground staffing according to the Office of the
Ontario Fire Marshal. This is simply 100 per cent false. The so-called 10 in 10
document was rescinded in November of 2010 and replaced with “Operational
Planning: An Official Guide to Matching Resource Deployment and Risk” and was
not replaced by anything that cites a 10-fire fighter response.

The Resource Deployment and Risk guide was introduced to assist fire chiefs and
municipalities with fire departments in discharging their mandatory requirement to
provide “fire suppression services” according to their needs and circumstances, and
to form the basis upon which the Fire Marshal would exercise “monitoring” powers
under the Act (FPPA).

Currently, when there are 21, 20, 19 and 18 firefighters on duty, there is a capacity
to meet the staffing requirements of NFPA 1710 for a single family residential fire,
and have some capacity to handle a simultaneous incident, or, the capacity to meet
some of the additional critical tasks required at a fire in a more complex occupancy
like a school, a hospital, a nursing home, a high-rise building or a commercial or
industrial complex. As you decrease those numbers of firefighters on duty, you
correspondingly decrease the ability to perform those required critical tasks and
increase the danger to the occupants and to the firefighters, to the point that
firefighters may not be able to perform offensive interior operations at all.
NFPA 1710, and indeed the OFM 10 in 10 PFSG when it existed, referred to the
requirements for a single family detached dwelling. The risk described in the NFPA
1710 document is a “typical 2,000 sq ft. (186 m²), two storey single family dwelling
without basement and with no exposures”. Anything more requires more resources.
The major difference between the current level of staffing and the staffing that will
be available once the plan reaches full implementation, is the ability to engage in
any interior firefighting operations, including rescue and suppression, in any of
these larger, more complex buildings, let alone a single family residence. The fire
chief failed to address this in his report and his presentation to Council and to the
public.

Yet another major flaw in the realignment plan is its reliance on mutual aid from
other nearby fire departments to provide emergency response in Sault Ste. Marie if
additional resources are required in order to respond to an emergency. When
questioned by Council on October 26 about mutual aid response times, Chief

Figliola replies:
“…mutual aid is unknown since we have never used it and need to take advantage
of it.”

It is simply shocking that a plan that will significantly impact public safety is based
in part on an “unknown” element that has never been used. This is unacceptable. It
is a serious lapse that emphasizes the lack of any proper risk assessment and the
need for a comprehensive risk assessment prior to any change taking place.
Mutual aid was not designed to supplement or subsidize the failure of one
municipality to address its fire suppression response needs. Mutual aid is for
assistance where a fire department’s response capacity is taxed and more assistance
is needed. The Fire Protection and Prevention Act (FPPA) has provisions for
automatic aid and that does not fit with what was suggested by the fire chief. I
would suggest that there is no way to fill the gap that will be created by reducing the
firefighting staff in Sault Ste. Marie.

I must also draw your attention to a misleading discussion that took place during
the Council meeting about the resources that will be dispatched to a call after the
plan has reached full implementation.

When Chief Figliola is asked about the difference in response times and personnel
dispatched now and when the reduction is made, he neglects to advise that the
response will be three fire fighters per vehicle instead of the current four. This is a
significant difference, because a first-arriving vehicle with only three personnel
cannot initiate interior search and rescue. These three person crews will have to wait
outside until backup arrives, wasting precious minutes at a time when seconds can
determine the outcome of an emergency incident.

In response to questioning before Council on October 26, Chief Figliola states that
the city conducts a simplified risk assessment on an annual basis and that a
comprehensive risk assessment is unnecessary.

In my experience this is a stunning response given that such substantive change is
taking place in the department, namely a reduction of frontline staffing of nearly 25
per cent that will unquestionably diminish what fire fighters can accomplish when
they arrive at the scene of an emergency. A simplified risk assessment gathers data
about the community profile while the comprehensive risk assessment analyzes the
data from a probability and impact perspective. Why not, at minimum, conduct an
internal comprehensive assessment for review by the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office?
Bill C-45 was discussed during the Council deliberation on the fire chief’s
recommendation. Indeed, the fire chief raised it in his report. I raised issues of
liability with fire chiefs in Ontario for my entire tenure as Fire Marshal and advised
them about the implications of both Bill C-45 and their exposure to civil liability
from failing to advise Council about the staffing needs for risks within the
community. Here is a quote from Lawyers Weekly in May of 2004 just after Bill
C-45 passed.

“an organization may be convicted of a fault-based crime if a senior officer, while
acting in the scope of his or her authority and intending at least in part to benefit the
organization, either actively engages in unsafe conduct, directs representatives to do
it, or knows about unsafe conduct but does nothing or not enough to put a stop to it,
and death or injury results”

“an organization commits criminal negligence where it breaches its legal duty with
wanton and reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others”

Given the liability implications and the numerous errors the chief has made, in my
opinion you would be wise to give the issue of liability careful study.

Further, Chief Figliola is making a huge presumption in his comments about the
Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS). In response to questions from Council, he states
that the city’s grading for insurance purposes “should remain the same with very
little decrease.” Since it was acknowledged that he has not conducted a
comprehensive risk assessment, how can he predict the outcome of a Fire
Underwriters Survey, which is a detailed analysis of virtually every aspect of the
city’s fire department capabilities? This should raise some concerns.

The Chief’s description of the FUS and its three components – water availability,
fire prevention/protection and fire department response – is a description of the
Dwelling Protection Grade only, which measures the city’s ability to combat a fire at
a residential home.

The Chief does not advise you that the FUS will also conduct a detailed Public Fire
Protection Classification which grades the city’s ability to combat a major fire in the
community. The PFPC is what’s used to determine commercial insurance rates, and
you should be concerned that you have no idea how the realignment will affect this
rating, especially since your fire department will have zero capacity to effectively
combat large-scale fires once almost 25 per cent of your frontline resources have
been slashed.

I trust that you, as the elected officials who are ultimately responsible for the setting
public safety levels in Sault Ste. Marie, would strive to have as much information as
possible. I trust that in the name of public and fire fighter safety you have given my
concerns some thought.

In my considered opinion, the “Fire Services Realignment” should be rescinded
until a proper and independent risk analysis can be performed and there is a
complete and accurate assessment of the plan’s impact on public safety, fire fighter
safety, insurance gradings and your own liability.

I am available to appear before you in Sault Ste. Marie anytime before November 26
to further elaborate on my concerns and to answer any questions you may have. I
hope that you will take advantage of my offer on behalf of your citizens.

Yours truly,
Patrick Burke, B.A, LL.B
Fire Services Consultant

2 COMMENTS

  1. The former fire marshall is “concerned” because he is being paid to be concerned.
    City councillors and mayor were right in agreeing with the fire chiefs plans (which are not cast in stone) and can be altered as they see fit.
    The real issue here is loss of jobs, not safety.

  2. The former fire marshall is “concerned” because he is being paid to be concerned.
    City councillors and the mayor were correct in their decision to go ahead with the chief’s plan (which is not cast in stone) and can be altered as they see fit.
    The real issue here is lost jobs, not safety.

Comments are closed.