By Marty Kenopic
President, Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters Association
You’ve probably heard a lot in the past few months about how firefighters and the city are locked in a battle over recent cuts to the fire department.
The city claims there will be virtually no impact after slashing almost 25 per cent of frontline personnel. As the firefighters who are on the frontlines every day, we’re warning that an independent and comprehensive risk analysis should be performed so that everyone knows exactly how such deep cuts will affect not only public and firefighter safety, but also things like residential and commercial insurance rates.
The city’s cutbacks leave the department with just 13 firefighters on duty, which by industry standards such as NFPA 1710, isn’t even enough for safe and effective response to a fire at a two-storey residential dwelling, let alone a school, apartment building, nursing home, factory, strip mall or other commercial setting.
It also means our fire apparatus will be staffed with only three firefighters instead of four, which is not enough to initiate interior search and rescue or begin aggressive interior fire suppression when first arriving on scene.
An on-duty complement of just 13 firefighters also limits our ability to respond to simultaneous incidents, and not just fires – we also respond to serious medical calls such as heart attacks, haz-mat incidents, water and ice rescues, vehicle accidents and more.
Sault Ste. Marie firefighters have called on the city to request a comprehensive and independent risk assessment from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office. We hope they take advantage of that opportunity, because it would provide much-needed data about risk levels under the current deployment model.
On February 6, 2016 in Toronto, three seniors died tragically in a fire at a location that was not formally identified as a seniors’ residence, therefore inspections were not required. A comprehensive risk assessment would identify public safety issues like that in our city.
Whether our city decides to provide adequate fire department resources to safely and effectively respond to seniors’ residences and other high-risk location or not, a risk assessment will at least identify gaps in fire protection so that those building occupants can be provided with strategies for their own safety.
The Fire Marshal’s risk assessment process is comprehensive, and it’s free. And it would provide crucial information about public safety in our city in the wake of major changes to the fire department. We can’t think of any good reason the city would not take advantage of this opportunity – there’s simply no downside.
Here’s something else to think about: sometime in the near future, the insurance industry will likely request the city’s cooperation in a Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS), which is a detailed assessment of fire department capabilities. The resulting report is what insurance companies will use to assess risk, and set residential and commercial insurance rates.
A FUS is supposed to be conducted every 10 years; the last such survey in Sault Ste. Marie was done over 25 years ago. An insurance underwriters survey conducted today would find a much smaller and less capable fire department than last time.
The city’s lack of consultation prior to making these cuts was disappointing. But it’s not too late to voice your concerns. Call or e-mail the mayor and your councillor today and tell them you want an independent comprehensive risk assessment, so you know exactly how it will affect you.
We believe that if there’s one thing you expect your taxes to do, it’s keep your family and your property safe. As a resident in this great city, you deserve no less.