The IAFF’s political action efforts in Canada have led to two major advances in firefighter safety. On August 11, the Canadian government announced an action plan to reduce the harm that chemical flame retardants pose to the nation’s firefighters.
On the same day, the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes finalized a new language for the 2020 edition of the National Building Code that finally recognizes the unique roles firefighters play during residential structure fires and the need to incorporate firefighter safety in building design.
Fire Fighters’ Safety Needs
“August 11 was a great day for firefighter safety in Canada, and yet another illustration that our political action efforts pay off,” says IAFF Assistant to the General President for Canadian Operations Scott Marks.
“We’re grateful to the Liberal government for responding to fire fighters’ safety needs yet again and to our members across Canada who tirelessly lobbied these issues at our Canadian Legislative Conference.”
Dangerous chemical flame retardants
Firefighters are at an increased risk of harm because they encounter chemical retardants in a combusted state
The IAFF has been raising the dangers of chemical flame retardants at the federal level in Canada since 2007 and garnered support from MPs from all political parties at Canadian legislative conferences as recently as May of this year.
Another advocacy on the issue has included Victoria, BC Local 730, which worked closely with the Environmental Law Centre on a report about the dangers of chemical flame retardants that made national news and helped advance the issue on a national level. While certain chemical flame retardants are known to pose numerous health risks to Canadians, firefighters are at an increased risk of harm because they encounter them in a combusted state in the course of their duties.
Ban on harmful chemical flame retardants
Announced jointly by Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Health Patty Hajdu, and MP Terry Beech (Burnaby North, BC), the action plan includes a ban on harmful chemical flame retardants, support for the development of safe alternatives, research, and monitoring to assess exposures, the identification of practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) improvements to reduce harm to firefighters and the sharing of information and awareness.
Building safety code
The IAFF has lobbied for the inclusion of firefighter safety in the building code since 2005 when the code was changed to an objective-based format, but firefighter safety was not made an objective as expected. The omission meant designers and builders didn’t have to incorporate firefighter safety, and stakeholders like the IAFF could not use firefighter safety as a basis for a code change request.
While the recent change stops short of adding a firefighter safety objective, it’s an important first step and a recognition that firefighters can’t be viewed the same as the general public during a residential house fire.
First responder mental health
The Liberals established a national action plan on first responder mental health with the IAFF as a key stakeholder
These announcements were the latest in several important advances on public and firefighter safety issues achieved since the Liberal government was first elected in 2015.
In response to IAFF lobbying, the Liberals established a national action plan on first responder mental health with the IAFF as a key stakeholder and established the Memorial Grant Program for First Responders, which has provided a total of $41.7 million to the families of 139 Canadian IAFF members who have died in the line of duty since April 1, 2018.
Addressing firefighter and public safety issues
On August 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a federal election that will take place on September 20. While remaining non-partisan, the IAFF will be exercising its right to be politically active and engaging members and the public with a registered Third-Party initiative called Fire Fighters for Canada 2021.
Through social media and other means, Fire Fighters for Canada 2021 will strive to educate members and the public about federal political parties’ past and current positions on firefighter and public safety issues, as well as issues affecting union members and working families.