Canadian fire chiefs call for increased support amid firefighter shortage

December 5, 2023

In response to a critical shortage of volunteer firefighters across Canada, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) are urging the federal government to enhance support for these essential community protectors.

The proposal includes a significant increase in the volunteer firefighter tax credit, highlighting the urgency of the situation in light of a severe wildfire season.

Proposal for increased tax credits

The CAFC has proposed an increase in the volunteer firefighter tax credit from the current $3,000 a year to $10,000.

This change, which has not been updated since its establishment in 2013, aims to attract more volunteers to address the growing crisis in the firefighter ranks​​​​.

NDP MP Gord Johns has championed this cause, introducing a private member’s bill (C-310) to boost the tax credit.

Emphasizing the urgency, Johns stated at a press conference that it is “critical” the federal government acts swiftly to show respect and support for volunteer firefighters, especially during the intense fire season​​.

The extent of the firefighter shortage

Former CAFC president Paul Boissonneault has brought attention to the scale of this crisis, revealing that there are at least 15,000 vacancies for firefighters in the country, a number that increases when including search and rescue personnel.

He stressed that the situation is dire, stating, “I dare say we are in a crisis”​​.

Municipal fire departments face recruitment challenges, with over 40% having to defer training and new equipment due to financial constraints.

Maintaining well-trained and prepared firefighters and search and rescue personnel is becoming increasingly difficult under these conditions​​.

Economic implications

The financial impact of the shortage is significant.

Replacing even a quarter of volunteer firefighters with full-time workers would cost exponentially more than the proposed increase in the tax credit.

This economic reality underscores the feasibility and necessity of the tax benefit increase​​.

Wider impact and government response

The shortage of volunteer firefighters has broader implications, affecting families, communities, and businesses, especially during wildfire seasons.

Boissonneault emphasized the need for increased support, urging the government to consider expediting the process for increasing the firefighter tax credit​​.

Despite recognition of the issue by the Minister of Public Safety of Canada, Bill Blair, who acknowledges the proposal’s merit, there is a sense of urgency for more immediate action.

As Johns pointed out, “We can’t wait,” indicating a need for prompt governmental response​​.

Ongoing challenges

The CAFC has warned of diminishing numbers of both career and volunteer firefighters across the country.

With 417 active wildfires burning in Canada, of which 198 are out of control, the sustainability of firefighting efforts is in question.

CAFC President Ken McMullen expressed concern that prolonged and intense firefighting events might lead to volunteers leaving their positions due to the strain​​.

FSJA Comment

The increasing demand for volunteer firefighters amidst Canada’s severe wildfire seasons and the associated challenges in recruitment and retention underscore a critical issue.

The CAFC’s call for heightened tax credits reflects not just a response to a staffing crisis but a broader recognition of the indispensable role volunteer firefighters play in community safety and emergency response.

The potential economic benefits of increased tax credits, coupled with the urgency expressed by fire chiefs and politicians alike, highlight the need for immediate action.

This situation is a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of community safety, economic policy, and governmental support, demonstrating how crucial it is for authorities to prioritize and support volunteer emergency services.

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