Firefighting service on P.E.I. in disarray, Legislature hears

Dave Stewart
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Firefighters battle heavy smoke billowing from a building in the Stratford Business Park.

FILE PHOTO

The P.E.I. fire marshal's office doesn't have enough money to do its job.

That is one of a number of gaps in the Island fire fighting system highlighted in  a report prepared by MRSB Consulting Services for the P.E.I. Firefighters Association.

The report was presented to the P.E.I. legislature on Tuesday during question period.

It goes on to find that the fire school in the province is under utilized by some departments, that there is no third-party accreditation, that the current model of funding for the hazardous materials response team is insufficient and that some municipalities aren't able to provide oversight and guidance to their own fire departments.

It also notes that the province's third, fourth and fifth largest communities — Stratford, Cornwall and Montague do not have their own fire departments.

Opposition MLA Colin LaVie, who serves as fire chief in Souris, noted during question period that the province has increased the fire prevention tax every year to $500,000 in 2011-12 yet only pumped $340,000 into the fire marshal's budget.

LaVie says government is short-changing fire services in the province.

"The big concern is where the tax rate is rising and the first responders are losing,'' LaVie said after question period. "These vulnerable first responders are definitely losing out.''

The MRSB report was completed in December.

Janice Sherry, the minister responsible for public safety, says all 36 associations across the province provided feedback.

"They have identified a number of areas of concern for sustainability into the future,'' Sherry said. "I am still waiting to meet with the firemen's association (with) regards to it.''

The minister said there are lots of things to consider moving forward.

"How do municipalities manage the cost of firefighting? How do unincorporated areas manage firefighting? What about training? What about liability? There's a hundred questions in front of us.''

The report notes that the P.E.I. Fire Prevention Act is outdated, does not adequately address current expectations of the fire marshal's office or the full scope of response activities provided by the fire service.

LaVie said the fire marshal's office has only three staff and no administrative staff.

The Opposition asked for a commitment that government update the act prior to the next provincial election but Sherry says she doesn't have all the answers yet and needs to meet with the association.

"We do recognize the legislation is antiquated,'' she said. "There's been a lot of changes over the past 20 years (so) we do have to look at the legislation. I would like the opportunity to have some well-rounded discussions about what we're going to prioritize and how we're going to do it moving forward.''

Sherry speculated that discussions with the firemen's association would take place by June.

LaVie said departments are facing increased costs with dwindling budgets although he did acknowledge that training is paid for by the province.

"Supplies cost first responders. You go through a lot of supplies. That (involves) fundraising,'' LaVie said, adding that his department responds to 35 to 45 first responder calls a year.

"These first responders are the most valuable people on Prince Edward Island right now. They respond to every incident.''

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: MRSB Consulting Services for the P.E.I. Firefighters Association.The

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Souris

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Recent comments

  • Off Island Observer
    August 04, 2014 - 19:19

    This article amounts to nothing more than fear mongering in an attempt to be given funds. Either that or the article is so poorly written, the author of the report should be fired. Since when does Stratford NOT have a fire department? Last time I checked, it was called CROSSROADS Fire Department. Sure, it's not called the STRATFORD Fire Department, but it definitely serves the town of Stratford. Same thing applies to Cornwall. Last time I checked, they too had a fire department called NORTH RIVER Fire Department that services pretty much all of Cornwall and the surrounding area. And lastly, the author of this report must have completely fallen asleep at the wheel when they wrote Montague off entirely because, they too have a fire department...and coincidentally, this one is even called MONTAGUE Fire Department. So, can someone from MRSB Consulting Services perhaps explain exactly what they mean by these communities don't have fire services? Last time I checked too - all of these departments have mutual aid agreements with surrounding departments. If I were a part of ANY of the government parties on the Island, I would be giving this report a little more, well-deserved scrutiny as there is something clearly wrong.

  • Squirrel
    May 08, 2014 - 08:40

    " the observer of Stratford " is dead on . One part of the Island has 4 Fire Departments within 7 miles, cost in each Dept over $$1M. It has to be better organized. I believe the 1st responders should include Heath Care Professional like nurses, LNA ++++ , why try to teach an old dog new tricks. Could be a separate section within the Fire Dept. !!!!

  • don
    May 07, 2014 - 21:11

    this government needs to learn math. 3 guys from the fire marshal's office to look after 140,000 islanders and we have 30 plus mla's sitting on the butt suppose to be looking after 140,000 islanders it would be cheaper to have the fire marshal's office looking after the island and be cheaper. as he only people the mla's in the liberals and the myers want to be's are looking after them and the big shots.

    • Really?
      May 08, 2014 - 07:05

      It's clear from your rants you are not the sharpest knife in the drawer don but 30+ mlas? Really?

  • more funding
    May 07, 2014 - 13:29

    The fire departments need more funding. These departments are not just fire halls to hold the equipment that can help save your life, there are community gathering spots for all members of the community. All the volunteers in these departments are the bravest in our communities and deserve all the financial support to do their jobs without worrying about if their equipment will work. Thank You for all of your work you do to all firefighters in PEI.

  • Stop
    May 07, 2014 - 09:43

    Please stop complaining. The money is being spent on far more important things like a royal visit.

  • the observer from stratford
    May 07, 2014 - 07:39

    We have 1 ambulance service. Why not 1 fire service?

    • First Responder
      May 07, 2014 - 09:07

      Stratford , Cornwall and Montague all have Fire Departments, they might not be Municipal ones but look what happened in Mt Stewart, maybe Municipal isn't the way to go

    • the observer from Stratford
      May 07, 2014 - 10:29

      Our 20+ fire departments are a hold-over from the horse & buggy days. We have motor vehicles now and can drive further so there is no need to have a fire station with expensive duplicated equipment every few miles, especially if there are no volunteers available to respond, as is the case in some areas. This situation with fragmented little fire fiefdoms scattered across the countryside reminds me of the old private ambulance days which seems so positively antiquated nowadays. The province needs to take over all fire depts and merge them with EMS and create a Prince Edward Island Fire & Emergency Service. Just like Halifax, Scotland, many counties in Ontario, and the USA, etc. The current model makes zero sense.

    • Larissa
      May 08, 2014 - 08:35

      DEar Stratford observer, the ambulance services are paid positions. Most of our fireman are volunteers. Would you want to give up your weekends for training, a full nights sleep to save someone else's home, be haunted by the damage and destruction you see? All because you care and are brave enough to help. I have been told by local firemen that they are usually one of the first ones on the scene. Before that one ambulance service we have the firemen that are trained in first response saving lives. They drop everything and run the second that pager goes off sometimes that's still not fast enough. Also, those 20 plus fire departments act as back up when there is a really big fire. If you take anymore away there will be no chance in saving the buildings they would just have to sit there and watch it burn. Please support your local fire department. They are some of the best men and women around!