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Rural firefighters to get more freedom - and responsibility

posted May 29, 2011, 2:49 PM by web tech   [ updated May 29, 2011, 2:53 PM ]

New law could allow firefighters to respond to non-fire-related rescues  


Firefighters with smaller departments in New Brunswick could soon be allowed to respond to rescue calls in rural areas without putting themselves at risk of liability.

The provincial departments of local government and public safety are considering changes to the Fire Prevention Act and the Municipalities Act that would allow firefighters to respond to non-fire-related dispatch calls without worry over legal concerns.

"There was an issue for firefighters for off-road rescue missions," said Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch. "The Municipality Act said they could only respond to fire prevention calls, and others were not permissible under the Act."

Fitch says firefighters were often "frustrated to receive 911 calls they weren't allowed to respond to."

"Some said they'd go despite the act. But some wouldn't because if the people weren't rescued the firefighters would risk liabilities," says Fitch.

"It's a tough position to get a call and feel capable. But you can't step outside your authority," he says.

Although local service districts "aren't required to take these calls," now they can have the option, Fitch says.

Fitch says the initial reaction has been "nothing but positive."

"It was an initial big thumbs-up," says Fitch.

"I am proud to have worked with the New Brunswick Association of Fire Chiefs to bring these changes forward to allow firefighters to carry out this important work."

Public Safety Minister Robert Trevors is happy to be involved with introducing the changes and opening them up for discussion.

"I thank the many firefighters who dedicate themselves to making New Brunswick safer for everyone," says Trevors. "I am satisfied that this legislation will allow firefighters to continue their important work and to expand their activities to help where they are most needed in our communities."

While the change won't necessarily affect them, the Tri-County Search and Rescue organization says the amendments are necessary.

"Firefighters respond to known locations. Search and Rescue locates lost and missing people. That's how we differ," says Joseph LaBelle, spokesman for Search and Rescue.

"The issue has been that people outside urban environments were on their own," says LaBelle.

"There can now be limits on liability."

The New Brunswick Association of Fire Chiefs also had input on the changes, and are pleased with the initial plans.

"The fire services have been changing for 20 years. Traditional functions are no longer the same," says association president Jody Price.

"There were restrictions on Local Service District departments in providing services. Governments had trouble letting the fire department get involved in rescue," says Price.

"We started working with the government to allow us to provide these services."

Price is excited about the new direction the department is taking.

"With different demands and public services, we can take on rescue. We can evolve and become a one-stop shop. We can provide water, ice and ground extraction," says Price.

"We can help areas that need us to perform rescue services quicker and faster."

These recommendations come after years of firefighters facing moral dilemmas.

"It's stressful when you don't have equipment and training. You may go take chances to save a kid. It's human nature," says Price.

"This really focuses on smaller rural departments. In small communities, we're the only response they have left."