Oshawa, Ontario is taking welcome steps to improve frontline emergency response capabilities following a tenacious campaign by IAFF Local 465 to address fire fighter and public safety shortfalls in the fast-growing city.

City council members voted on Jan. 19 to hire 20 new fire fighters – 15 more than initially planned – to ensure a new rescue vehicle at the city’s busy downtown firehall will be equipped with four fire fighters, the minimum number required to conduct interior search and rescue upon arrival at a structure fire.

“It’s been a four-year journey, but we’re happy that [the] council has agreed that public and fire fighter safety necessitates four fire fighters per vehicle,” said Oshawa Local 465 President Peter Dyson. “We’re very grateful.”

Dyson highlighted Oshawa’s recent growth and the need to assign four personnel to the new vehicle in a presentation before the council’s vote.

“It would not only ensure that there are enough fire fighters to protect our city, but it would prevent that gut-wrenching situation where two or three fire fighters roll up to a structure fire where people are trapped, but they have to wait outside for more crews to arrive, letting precious minutes pass at a time when every second counts,” Dyson told councillors.

“This budget exercise is a golden opportunity for you to do what a growing number of Canadian fire departments have recently done and make the conscious decision to grow our fire department in step with community growth and ensure that when someone calls 9-1-1 in their moment of need, they get the help they expect and deserve.”

Oshawa, which lies on the shore of Lake Ontario east of Toronto and has a population of just over 175,000, is one of the fastest growing in Canada. The city, which has a vibrant industrial base and a busy downtown core with older structures, is still reeling from a tragic fire in January 2018 that claimed the lives of two adults and two children.

Dyson said that having former IAFF leader and senior staff member Jim Lee on the Oshawa council was a tremendous help in advocating the additional personnel.

“We have someone who speaks the language of fire fighters,” he said, “and has a wealth of experience and expertise in fire department deployment and its direct impact on public and fire fighter safety.”

He also thanked other members of council who advocated for improved fire department resources, including Tito-Dante Marimpietri and Brian Nicholson, as well as the Local 465 Executive Board and membership for their hard work.

Support and assistance from the IAFF, including 13th District Vice President Fred LeBlanc and the Canadian Office staff, was integral to Local 465’s efforts, as were accessing services available through the IAFF. The local took advantage of numerous IAFF services, including a municipal financial analysis, GIS analysis, and custom media and communications assistance.

“As an IAFF local, you’re never alone,” said Dyson. “We used every resource the IAFF has to offer, and, working as a team, we’ve made an important step forward in fire fighter and public safety in our city.”