Friday, September 23, 2011

Virtue vs Villainy

Meaford Fire Department will have its day in court on Monday. You may remember the incident that happened in September 2009, in which two Meaford firefighters entered the upper level of a burning restaurant to search for occupants reportedly still inside. The short version of the story is that both firefighters got into trouble and had to be rescued. One showed no vital signs and was resuscitated. The Ministry of Labour investigated the incident and laid six charges against the fire department. You can read about the incident here, and see another story that includes a list of the charges here.

Like usual, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

It’s true, two firefighters nearly died. It may be true that there were problems with the response, and with Meaford’s equipment and training. I agree that the Ministry of Labour has a duty to investigate fire service injuries and deaths so that future occurrences can be prevented. I grudgingly agree that charges might be a necessary part of the process. We must learn from our collective mistakes.

I disagree with a provincial government that steadfastly refuses to support the municipal fire service with funding, but eagerly hops on the enforcement bandwagon when there is an opportunity to lay charges. The Province says funding doesn’t fit their job description, and I say that their job description must change. Our operational deficiencies are directly connected to funding deficiencies. It doesn’t make sense to hold the purse strings tightly closed in one hand, while swinging a baseball bat with the other.

Taking a short detour from the main point, there is a fine line between virtue and villainy. If people had been trapped in Reed’s Restaurant as was reported, and if the brave Meaford firefighters had rescued them, they would have been rightly hailed as heroes . . . even though the same problems and deficiencies existed for which they are now charged. Guilt or applause is directly influenced by the outcome rather than mere facts. 

Back on track, I took a cue from one of the comments in the heated debate that raged over at in July 2010, and came up with an off-the-wall, from-the-hip idea for funding the fire service. Let the MOL investigate and prosecute volunteer fire departments if they must – and they certainly will, regardless of my permission – but let them donate their time, and their lawyers’ time pro bono. It makes sense that volunteer departments be investigated and prosecuted by volunteers. The funds saved would then be diverted into the fire service. I have no idea how much taxpayers’ money the province will spend on this and other similar cases in the next few years, but I do know that it would be put to good use by thousands of firefighters that are currently underfunded. Supporting them now is the best way to prevent future occurrences.

Note: If you live in the area, the Meaford Fire Department could use your support. The proceedings will start at 10:00 am on Monday, September 26th at the Provincial Offences Court, 595 - 9th Avenue, Owen Sound, Ontario.


  1. This kind of issue should send shivers down the spines of every Volunteer or Composite Chief in the country. If you are going to starve us of funds and expect us to basically do the job for free, where do you get off CHARGING us for getting injured?

    The level of hypocrisy here is staggering. I know the Chief and Officers in Meaford, and they definitely deserve our support. I can't be in the courtroom, but I'm definitely thinking about them.

    Everyone I talk to about firefighting, I highlight the screaming deal our country gets on protective services. I'm sure that all it does is bore people, but I can't help it.

  2. Bored or not, people need to hear the message.


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