The issue of Fire Fighting Services, specifically municipal budgets that support emergency services, has, and continues to, percolate in the community of Sault Ste. Mare, Ontario.
In the fall of 2015, Professional Firefighters from within the ranks of the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters were dealt a serious blow to both, their ongoing municipal funding structure, visa vie cuts to frontline staff, as well as to their morale. This can’t have been an easy few months for The Professional Firefighters in Sault Ste. Marie.
The Association has embarked on a campaign to educate the public. A call to undertake a ‘Risk Assessment’ through the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office, is a component of the awareness campaign
What does a pared back fire dept response look like, going from 17 firefighters on the job per shift rotation, (up until the recent cuts) down to 13, in broad strokes as impacted on community? And does a Risk Assessment take into consideration senior citizens and vulnerable populations, of which the Sault has both, and in increasing numbers? According to a 2011 Statistics Canada survey, 24% of Sault Ste. Marie’s population was considered as in the ‘vulnerable’ category; persons 65 years of age and older equated to 20% of the population. 37% of buildings in Sault Ste. Marie are pre-1960’s construction. 40% of buildings were constructed between 1961-1980, which makes the majority of those pre-sprinkler system building and Fire Code compliant.
In the event of a fire, one can presumably hope that, in the complexities of fire suppression in vulnerable populations, the response of fire fighters is secured in compliance with best practises, and industry standards. Especially where multiple levels of care are in play. Many residents in retirement residences and long term care facilities, are using walkers, canes, and wheelchairs, not to mention hearing aids, and coping with diminished vision. Some residents, are in fact, deaf. Some are legally blind. A fire alarm going off creates confusion, and, in an attempt to either discover the source of the noise or to make a run for it, as we saw in the recent Scarborough fire on February 6th, 2016, at a Seniors Community Housing high-rise building, seniors who tried to escape, were panicked into hallways. Three seniors died from smoke and chemical fumes inhaled in the 5th Floor hallway.
In this incident, aerial trucks absolutely made the difference between life and death as a mass evacuation of the 5th Floor was undertaken off balconies. “The most difficult part was the extent of the smoke,” Toronto Fire Services Cmdr. Bob O’Halloran told reporters. Eventually, firefighters had no choice but to move some fifth-floor residents out of the building by carrying them down fire truck ladders”, O’Halloran said
Fire Chief Mike Figliola’s plan, as approved by Municipal Council, City of Sault Ste. Marie, has essentially removed a dedicated operator for the truck with aerial fire apparatus housed at the Fire Hall on Tancred Street.
And while, Fire Chief Mike Figliola has referred to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards as ‘guidelines’, they are, in fact, guidelines that The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office discussed in an April 12,2013 Communiqué, titled ‘Transition from Ontario Fire Services Standards to NFPA Professional Qualifications Standards.’
An excerpt from the report states:
‘ In partnership with the OAFC and other important stakeholders such as the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) and the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario (FFAO), the OFM is revamping the current professionalization model in order to build on its previous success, and at the same time take into account the current challenges facing Ontario’s fire service and continue to fulfil its responsibilities under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997.
To that end, the decision was made that Ontario would adopt the National Fire Protection Association Professional Qualifications (NFPA Pro-Qual) Standards. Working closely with the OAFC and other stakeholders, the OFM is undertaking a review of the current standards model in order to determine how to transition from Ontario Fire Marshall standards
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 15 firefighters on duty is considered minimum standard. (Based on a 2,000 sq. foot occupancy single family dwelling, with no basements and no exposures; proximity to other buildings.)
‘Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free.
NFPA 1710, which Marty Kenopic, President of The Professional Fire Fighters Association #529 references in the SSMPFFA public awareness campaign, ‘specifies requirements for effective and efficient organization and deployment of fire suppression operations, emergency medical operations, and special operations to the public by career fire departments to protect citizens and the occupational safety and health of fire department employees. Provisions cover functions and objectives of fire department emergency service delivery, response capabilities, and resources, including staffing levels, response times, and levels of service.’ (http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards)
“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.” said Marty Kenopic in a SSMPFFA press release. adding ” 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.”
Somewhere, in amongst all of the statistics are seniors living in various states of fire suppression services and physical well being. One licensed retirement residence in Sault Ste. Marie is listed on the RHA, (Retirement Homes Association) public record, as having no sprinklers. As in zero. Ontario Fire Code regulations, specific to Retirement Homes, provide for a phased in and legislated compliance for a sprinkler system retrofit of all retirement residences and care facilities in Ontario, as legislated in The Ontario Fire Code
From The Ontario Fire Code:
‘Section 9.7 addresses Care Occupancies and Retirement Homes.
Section 9.7 is a Retrofit Section that came into effect on January 1, 2014, with a phased compliance schedule. It addresses minimum mandatory retrofit requirements for existing buildings containing care occupancies and retirement homes regulated under the Retirement Homes Act, 2010. Subsection 9.7.5.
In addition to the requirements in Section 9.5 or Section 9.6, regarding the provision of standpipe systems and sprinkler systems, as well as features to enable firefighting such as access routes and firefighter elevators, sub-section 9.7.5 provides the requirement for a sprinkler system in buildings that contain either care occupancy or a retirement home.
Part 2 of the Fire Code spells out the requirement for buildings containing a care occupancy, care and treatment occupancy, or a retirement home to have a fire safety plan. Part 2 also requires that supervisory staff be instructed in the emergency procedures outlined in the fire safety plan before they are given any responsibility for fire safety. Other important requirements include the need for sufficient supervisory staff available to carry out the duties in the fire safety plan.’
The Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority, RHRA, conducts compliance inspections as set out in section 77(1) of the Retirement Homes Act, 2010. A public register can be found here
Saultonline reached out to the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office for information about the Risk Assessment the SSMPFFA is calling for, as an avenue for exploration.
How does a Risk Assessment unfold?
“A municipal council may request a review by the OFMEM and, by process, the OFMEM requests that a formal council resolution, outlining the specifics of the potential review areas be submitted to the OFMEM for consideration. Generally a meeting is then convened to discuss and agree to a terms of reference. The Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997establishes that municipalities (Council) are responsible for fire protection for fire protection services as articulated at FPPA sub-clause 2.(1)(a) and 2.(1)(b). The Fire Marshal has specific responsibilities that provide a legislative basis to monitor and review at FPPA 2.7, and FPPA 9.1.(a ).
• The decision by the OFMEM to conduct a council-requested review is at the discretion of the Fire Marshal based on an assessment of the request, available resources, and OFMEM priorities.”
2) Will the Risk Assessment take into consideration fire suppression services for vulnerable populations, specifically senior buildings, retirement homes and long term care facilities?
• ” Before considering a request by a municipal Council to undertake a review, the OFMEM would first encourage Council to undertake a master fire plan review, including a comprehensive risk assessment, to ensure that municipal fire risks are adequately addressed in the context of municipal responsibilities set out under section 2(1)(a) and (b) of the FPPA.
• Such reviews and assessments are often undertaken by independent consultants with specialized knowledge and expertise. Master Fire Plan Reviews would take into consideration a community’s fire risk, including vulnerable occupancies such as care occupancies and care and treatment occupancies.
• While the Fire Protection and Prevention Act (FPPA) provides the Fire Marshal the authority to review fire protection services in a municipality, there has not been such a review requested by Municipal Council nor one planned for the City of Sault Ste. Marie at this time.
• Staff from the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management are available to provide additional process-related information to municipal officials, upon request.”
More information is available here: Care Occupancies/Retirement Homes.’
From The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management’s Jude Kelly.
Professional Firefighters, over and above Fire Suppression, provide Fire Inspections and Education, Medical Assist calls, Water/Ice Rescue, Auto Accidents, Haz-Mat Calls, Lift Assist and more. They are the critical link in ongoing staff training for retirement residences and long term care facilities.
In the event of a fire and rescue in vulnerable and senior populations within our community we need to know what the ‘boots on the ground’ picture will look like. It behooves families and individuals searching for retirement and long term care facilities to ask questions, and have a clear understanding of what the plan is, in a given Retirement Residence or Long term Care facility. Check the RHRA website for compliance reports on a wide range of regulations, including staff training for fire & emergency response, which govern retirement residences in Ontario.
What can possibly be the harm in taking a deep breath, and inviting the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office to the community to undertake a Risk Assessment? What in the wide world have we, as a community, got to lose? Is it not the least and perhaps the last best thing that can be undertaken to bring a resolution for the community, and our valued and valuable rank and file professional fire fighters? Whatever the outcome, it can be surmised that the SSMPFFA will be, at a minimum, grateful for the ‘pause’. The SSMPFFA has already stated that they would be open to whatever findings a risk assessment ultimately reveals.
The SSMPFFA has launched a petition for the public to consider signing “requesting the City of Sault Ste Marie suspend its plan to cut almost 25 per cent of frontline Fire Department personnel until there has been a full independent assessment of the impact on Public Safety, the Safety of Firefighters and Insurance Rates.” the petition can be found here