Remarks by Minister Goodale to the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services

Speech

September 10th, 2016
Ottawa

Good morning everyone.  Greetings and good wishes from Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada

Salutations et meilleurs voeux de la part du Premier minister et du gouvernement du Canada.

Je suis ravi de participer aujourd’hui a votre Assemblee generale annuelle.

A warm welcome to the nation’s capital!

I expect most of you will participate this weekend in the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial – to honour your colleagues who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their communities.

It is my tremendous privilege to be speaking at tomorrow’s ceremony, when we will also solemnly mark 15 years since the horrific events of “9-11” in 2001, when so many firefighters and other emergency workers lost their lives.

It is a painful, powerful, poignant anniversary!

Fittingly, tomorrow is also Canada’s National “Day of Service” when Canadians can rally together not only in remembrance, but also in service to their communities and their country.  And that “service” has a unique quality when it comes from volunteers.

A volunteer is a very special type of person.

They do what they do, not because they “have” to, but because they “want” to – because it reflects their personal passions, aptitudes and skills; and because (beyond remuneration or reward) it’s their way of giving back, of paying forward, and building something better than they found.

Winston Churchill once said that we make our living by what we get in life, but we make a life by what we GIVE.

Volunteers are Big Givers.

And thus they enrich their own lives through their service, and they make the lives of so many others so much better.

It seems to me that volunteer FIREFIGHTERS must rank right near the top.

Firefighters shoulder an enormous responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of Canadians.

We witnessed that in spades last May when hundreds of firefighters fought that Beast of a wildfire in and around Fort McMurray.  It was the worst fire disaster in our history – the Canadian fire witnessed around the world.

As they always do, VOLUNTEER firefighters stepped up to the plate, right alongside the other fire crews, to battle that vicious blaze.  They all demonstrated remarkable skill and determination and courage and resiliency – and they deserve Canada’s gratitude and admiration.

I’ve been Canada’s Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness for 10 months now.  The volume, velocity and gravity of the issues in this portfolio are unrelenting – something like riding a fire hose.

But the job certainly has its perks – including special occasions like this – when I get a chance to meet the courageous women and men who stand on the front line, risking their lives for the safety and security of others.

As firefighters, you are most often the first on the scene of all manner of emergencies.  You and your families make real sacrifices for the benefit of your fellow citizens.

So on behalf of our government and all Canadians, let me commend and thank you for answering the call to public service in such a profound way, in communities across this land.

I have long believed that we need to do more for those – volunteer and full-time – who put their lives on the line for the rest of us.  That feeling has only intensified since I took on my current role.

And I’m glad to report that an important national emergency preparedness and response agenda is taking shape. 

It needs to include such elements as reliable comprehensive emergency communications systems; the best possible training, including HazMet training; better coordination of all our Search and Rescue capabilities; and restored federal funding for Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams.

Our agenda also needs to focus on more personal issues.

Notre gouvernement croit fermement que pour contruire un Canada securitaire et resilient, il faut d’abord assurer la sante, la securite at le bien-etre mental do nos agents de la securite publique.

By definition – stress, trauma and danger are part and parcel of the jobs you do.  But you signed up anyway.

In return, the people you serve need to provide you and your fellow public safety officers with the tools, resources and support systems needed to help you cope with the enormous pressures you experience on the job.

Canada needs a national strategy and action-plan on post-traumatic stress injuries which disproportionately affect public safety officers.  And it doesn’t matter whether they are volunteer or full-time.  The strategy and plan are needed by both.

Every day, firefighters, police officers and paramedics are exposed to gruesome and life-threatening situations that are simply unimaginable to the rest of us … situations that can, and often do, take a significant toll on their mental health and well-being.

Last January, in Regina, we convened a national roundtable of First Responders and their representative organizations, all levels of government, academics, researchers and others, to begin fleshing out an appropriate national PTSI plan.

There was a clear consensus for a national approach that included sophisticated research, education and awareness tools, early diagnosis, a constant battle against stigmatization, plus the means for treatment, recovery and reintegration in the workplace.

While there are local and organization-specific initiatives in place to provide some of these elements, something much more comprehensive is required.  And volunteer First Responders must be included.

The work is ongoing.  We need to bring it to fruition.  Looking after the mental health and well-being of firefighters and other First Responders is not only an obligation we need to fulfil to them.  It will also contribute to the safety of all Canadians.

Another personal issue for emergency workers is the need for a national public safety officer compensation benefit to be paid to the families of firefighters, police officers and paramedics who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.

And again, it doesn’t matter if you are volunteer or full-time.

I have been pushing for this kind of initiative for many years, and I’m determined to get it done.  My department has been working closely with the leadership and the membership of the Tri-Services and others to examine all the angles so we get it right.  Good progress is being achieved.

Nothing can make up for the loss of a loved one.  But a properly designed national benefit can at least alleviate some of the financial pressure on the families who suffer such a loss.  It’s also a gesture of respect for the vital service public safety officers perform.

In all these endeavours – and more - I want to thank the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association for your leadership and your collaboration.

Je tiens encore a exprimer ma gratitude et ma reconnaissance a l’egard de votre service courageux et devoue aux Canadiens.

I wish you a very productive AGM

Thank you.


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