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Canadian firefighters call for more support amid shortage


A new census by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs highlights the grave impact of the firefighter shortage across the country, but especially in smaller, rural communities.

According to the census released on Tuesday, the number of firefighters has decreased significantly since 2016, when 156,000 were reported. In comparison, of the 126,000 that were reported in 2022, 90,000 are volunteer firefighters who aren't always available because they work additional full-time jobs.

President of the CAFC, Ken McMullen, is among the 35 fire chiefs attending a meeting in Ottawa to call for additional funding from the federal government, especially for volunteers in smaller communities that are dealing with challenging calls like wildfires.

"We're attending to different types of calls that we didn't attend 25, 30 years ago and it's certainly having an impact on some of our members," McMullen told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday.

The census found, of the $5.6 billion fund given to fire departments across the country, only 15 per cent is given to the 2,000 departments that mainly have volunteers.

McMullen says volunteers currently receive a tax exemption of $3,000 annually, however the CAFC is looking to get that increased to $10,000 to not only help the current volunteers but also incentivize younger recruits.

"Thirty-three per cent of those (volunteers) are over the age of 50, so if you think about that, those individuals likely started in their communities many years ago, they may have been the first to start in their communities," McMullen said. "Where we're seeing the challenge is actually recruiting and attracting the younger generations."

Additionally, the CAFC census reported increased risk of deaths and injuries. Over the last 12 months, 629 fire departments reported two active line of duty deaths and 57 deaths linked to the profession, like cancer and suicide.

A recent W5 investigation found that response times in rural communities that mainly rely on volunteers, like Kawartha Lakes, averages 20 minutes; six minutes slower than the international standard of 14. These delayed responses and lack of support for smaller fire departments can lead to putting lives at risk as it did with one family in the Kawartha Lakes where two people lost their lives in a house fire after it took 25 minutes for firefighters to arrive at the scene.

McMullen says he's confident the data for this year’s census will show the federal government the much-needed funding and support that all 3,200 fire departments across Canada need.

"I think the big difference this time is we've got really clear, precise data that shows what the needs are in our community. It's broken down between all of the statistics that we've got; 3,200 fire departments, over 2 million calls attended throughout this country annually and we've got the information to really back up what we're asking for."

With files from Avery Haines Top Stories

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