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

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A firefighter hoses down the inside of a pickup truck that caught fire on the Barbara Weit Road in Sherbrooke on Friday. Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer

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The report notes that the P.E.I. Fire Prevention Act is outdated, does not adequately address current expectations of the fire marshal's office or the full scope of response activities provided by the fire service.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

Organizations: MRSB Consulting Services, P.E.I. Firefighters Association

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Souris

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