Fire EMS, Firefighting

Forward Avenue Report: “Moving Forward” One Year Later

By Peter Kennedy
President, Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, IAFF Local 162
 

The Workers’ Report – Critical Injuries: Forward Avenue Fire, Ottawa Fire Services Incident # 07-8038, was released in response to critical injuries sustained by five Ottawa firefighters who responded to the Forward Avenue Fire on February 12, 2007. The noontime fire involved a four-story, multiunit row house with exposures on three sides under conditions of clear skies and temperatures of -24°C (-12°F). Within 10 minutes of their arrival, the crews had rescued one occupant. They then found themselves jumping for their lives from fourth-story windows. All five critically injured firefighters, fortunately, have returned to active duty and continue to work through their permanent physical and psychosocial injuries.

(1) Badly injured Ottawa firefighters are tended By coworkers and paramedics for transport to trauma hospital. Photograph by Jean Lalonde.

 
The response from the fire community to the release of the Forward Avenue Report has been nothing short of incredible. What began as an obligation for labor and management representatives under Ontario safety and health legislation turned into a worldwide awakening to problems that all firefighters confront, regardless of whether they are a full-time career service or a volunteer service. In the ensuing year since the report went public, there have been many challenges and a number of very positive developments that occurred as labor and management representatives worked through the extensive worker recommendations.
 
The report was initially released in January 2009 to the workplace, including Ottawa Fire Services’ managers, the mayor and council of the City of Ottawa, and our affiliates, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters’ Association. Word of the existence of the report quickly spread, and it was released to the public later that same month because of high demand through the Fire Engineering Web site. The release of the report initially created communication barriers with management, but with the assistance of the Ontario Ministry of Labour, the parties have since developed a mutual understanding of how to work through their points of contention, and the worker and management representatives are systematically addressing all recommendations surrounding the Forward Avenue Fire.
 
With a framework of cooperation and understanding in place, the worker representatives provided a matrix of the report recommendations that went straight to the chief. In a matter of weeks, the chief responded to the worker representatives. He immediately agreed with a number of recommendations, and discussions ensued on the outstanding recommendations. The worker and management representatives have committed to working together to provide the Ontario Ministry of Labour with a “joint” report that will effectively combine the recommendations of an initial Ontario Ministry of Labour report, the by Ottawa Fire Service Management report, and the workers’ Forward Avenue Report.
 
Of the 85 original worker recommendations from the Forward Avenue Report, approximately 50 have been implemented, are in the process of being implemented, or will be implemented according to the terms agreed on for their implementation. There remain five recommendations that are considered to be beyond the jurisdiction of the Ottawa Fire Services. The issues involved are typically influenced by outside agencies. The worker representatives are attempting to get an agreement with management, if management agrees in principle with the recommendation, to arrive at a position that will result in a positive outcome. Management representative disagree with approximately seven recommendations, and the parties are still investigating and attempting to resolve another 23.   
 
What is particularly exciting for worker representatives is that the parties have overcome a number of obstacles together and are “moving forward” in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation. They have now become joint advocates for fire safety and have changed their approach to resolving issues by not only looking inward at their practices but by also looking outward and expanding their definition of the “fire community” and those groups that influence our work lives. They are in the process of finalizing a “joint” terms of reference to govern their interaction. Recommendations mutually agreed upon include establishing a strategy and tactics committee; creating a vehicle equipment committee that has worker representation; an evaluation of a self-rescue device to be conducted during the new self-contained-breathing-apparatus evaluation process; and instituting courses and instruction in fire behavior. 
 
With respect to advocacy, the Association has developed a collaborative educational partnership by hosting OTTAWA FIRE 2010 with Ottawa Fire Services, Carleton University’s Industrial Chair in Fire Safety Engineering, and the National Research Council of Canada. The symposium, held in Ottawa at Carleton University from May 17 to 21, examined the issues facing the fire service through relationships, education, discovery, and advocacy.
 
The first two days of the event featured a meeting of the International Fire Instructors Workshop (IFIW); the objective was to develop a better understanding of modern fire dynamics within the fire service. An international group of individuals presented to a select group of attendees responsible for political governance, policy development, administration of the fire service, and special interest groups. The forum afforded an opportunity for open dialog and development of understanding to advance the issues of the fire service, using firefighting, instruction, research, and engineering as the cornerstones of our discussions.
 
The remaining three days offered an open conference of presenters and attendees drawn from all four of the aforementioned cornerstones as well as students of those disciplines. A lecture format was used on two of the days, and a tour and lecture series hosted by the National Research Council of Canada and Carleton University at the National Fire Laboratory and a facility jointly operated with Carleton University that studies such things as tunnel fires were offered on one of the days.
 
Although the Forward Avenue Fire event is now more than three years behind us, our association and partners are committed to ensuring that the injuries and suffering incurred by these five members and that the lessons learned were not in vain. To that end, we believe OTTAWA FIRE 2010is about “Moving Forward,” and this endeavour allows for open and honest examination of the issues facing the fire service through relationships, education, discovery, and advocacy.
 
Please visit our OTTAWA FIRE 2010 Symposium Web site www.ottawafire2010.com for details and a downloadable copy of the Forward Avenue Fire Report. 
 
Peter Kennedy is a 22-year firefighter with the Ottawa Fire Service and is serving his fourth year as President of IAFF Local 162–Ottawa. After graduating from Carleton University in 1987 with a B.A. concentration in law, he joined the fire service and quickly became involved in the union, where he has dedicated 14 years of his time. His other positions within the union have included executive board member, secretary, and vice-president. He has carried portfolios on behalf of the union that administered charities, occupational health & safety, workplace safety and insurance. He currently chairs the pension and benefits committee as well the bargaining and grievance committee.