Editor’s Note


Fire season is upon us. In this special issue you will find exceptional content for connecting knowledge to action, exploring innovative examples from research and practice of fire and emergency management.

Back in 2002, as part of my engineering degree in emergency management, I interned at the Regional Fire Department for the Russian Republic of Bashkortostan. As part of my duties, I organized years of statistics in dusty archives. When I compiled them in a simple excel graph, I was startled: the number of fires and the number of casualties increased dramatically between 1991 and 1992, with elderly hit the hardest. Something extremely significant had happened, something that fundamentally altered fire dynamics in the republic.

That something was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Government plays a critical role in regulating and investing in public safety. Seeing the huge spike in the data was a watershed moment for me in my engineering-track career; it showed me for the first time the importance of social and governance dynamics in understanding the root causes of disaster risk. Like many other risks, fire risk is always affected by the structures and people who manage our essential services.

We see this in Canada as well. As an immigrant to this country and as a disaster risk reduction professional, I cannot help but ask why, according to the 2007 Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation report, First Nations people are 10 times more likely to die in a house fire. Most of the victims are young children.

This special issue on fire is a call for action. In this issue, you will find a critical examination of the successes and failures in addressing fire risk and the root causes that contribute to fires.

In our Interview section, as part of our Indigenous disaster risk reduction leaders series, you will learn how Todd Kuiack’s team at Indigenous Services Canada is supporting community resilience through a comprehensive approach to emergency management, education, infrastructure and economic development. You will also find out about an inspiring example of a US-based youth training program called “MyPI,” or My Preparedness Initiative.

In our Research section, you will read about a call for a “firefighting wellness strategy” to address the disproportionately high risks of cancer and other illnesses and injuries faced by the firefighters. This section also contains advice for emergency managers regarding evacuations in First Nations communities.

You will find a special visual essay exploring the valuable lessons learned during the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire that can be used by first responders and emergency social services workers. It’s been 15 years since the fire, one of the most devastating in British Columbia’s history, destroyed 238 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 33,000 people. In Fern Helfand’s words, University of British Columbia photography professor, “The wind swept away the smoke, providing a mesmerizing, surreal and panoramic view of an entire hillside ablaze, anxiously witnessed by residents and evacuees.” One of these images was selected for our cover.

In our In-Depth feature, you will find a collaborative article that brought together some of the leading experts from the insurance industry, academia and practice to reflect on the progress made and the challenges remaining for fire management in Canada. The article is also a call for action.

In our Lessons Learned section, you will read about the 2017 BC wildfire season from the perspective of the emergency social services directors for 100 Mile House and about the lessons that can be understood from the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team. You will also learn how the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London, UK, prompted many fire departments around the world to re-examine the ways in which they deal with fires in tall buildings.

In our Inspire section, we highlight the exceptional careers of three firefighters: Michelle Vandevord , Stephanie Whitney, and Alice Cullingford.

It takes a small village to put an issue together. On behalf of the HazNet team, I would like to thank all of our authors, contributors and peer reviewers. Our internal HazNet team has grown and changed. Carime Quezada takes over from Marina Sheelina as our design and layout lead. We thank Marina for her beautiful vision and dedication to producing the stunning issues of HazNet since 2015. Nicole Spence and Suzy Waldman take over from Sarah Kamal as copy editors. We thank Sarah for her exceptional service over the past three years. To learn more about the HazNet team visit this page.

In our society and within our field of practice, we have achieved significant progress reducing fire risk through regulatory, construction and behavioural changes. However, fire risk has changed as well due to land-use and resource-use patterns, climate change and other environmental shifts. It is this dynamic interplay of risk reduction and risk creation that keeps emergency management professionals awake at night. The work of trying to understand this seesaw between risk and resilience is what keeps our primarily volunteer HazNet team going, creating informative and timely content for our readers and all Canadians.

Join us in shaping Canada’s resilience story.

Lily Yumagulova,
Editor, HazNet