Ministry of the
Solicitor General

OFM - 00-00-01

Framework For Setting Guidelines Within A Provincial-Municipal Relationship

Public Fire Safety Guidelines

Subject Coding

PFSG 00-00-01




January 1998

Framework For Setting Guidelines Within A Provincial-Municipal Relationship


Under Review


To assist municipalities in making informed choices for providing public fire protection through objective and innovative approaches. Guidelines will be developed for municipal councilors and senior officials as well as municipal fire departments.


The Fire Protection and Prevention Act places new responsibilities on municipalities. The Office of the Fire Marshal has a mandate to assist municipalities to fulfill these responsibilities by providing information which will enable municipalities to make informed choices based on an objective analysis. Municipalities are compelled to establish a program in the municipality which must include public education with respect to fire safety and certain components of fire prevention. The act also states that municipalities are responsible for arranging such other fire protection services as they determine may be necessary according to their own needs and circumstances. The relationship between the province and municipalities is based on the principle that municipalities are responsible for arranging fire protection services according to their own needs and circumstances. The primary roles of the province are to provide leadership and support to municipalities in the exercise of this responsibility, and to ensure public safety is not compromised. Guidelines, developed by the Office of the Fire Marshal in consultation with municipalities, the fire service and others, will be a key vehicle for fulfilling the provincial role to support municipalities. This consultation process will continue on an ongoing basis to ensure the guidelines change and evolve to reflect trends, changing circumstances and new technology. To be useful, the guidelines must remain current, and must have the support and acceptance of municipalities. The province will retain an interest in the development of guidelines and monitoring of their application. However, day-to-day management and delivery will be municipal responsibilities.


The key principles which will be used to develop the guidelines are as follows:

  • Municipal councils are directly accountable to their constituents and municipalities are also accountable to the province.
  • There will be opportunities for appropriate stakeholder involvement and consultation during the development stages.
  • Local needs and circumstances vary widely across the province. Therefore, the measures required to address these needs and conditions will also vary.
  • There are many ways in which individual needs and circumstances can be addressed. Therefore, municipalities require flexibility to employ different strategies to achieve similar objectives.
  • Local council, in consultation with the fire chief, will determine the extent to which their needs and circumstances will be addressed. Some may choose to address specific risks more comprehensively than others. Provided serious threats to public safety are addressed, this is a reasonable and legitimate exercise of municipal responsibility.

Content and Implementation

The guidelines will provide:

  • The key concepts of risk assessment and risk management
  • The factors that affect the level of fire protection in any community
  • The options municipalities may wish pursue in addressing risks
  • The information required to evaluate those options

Municipalities will be able to use the guidelines in a variety of ways:

  • They can assign knowledgeable local officials to gather the necessary data and conduct appropriate cost/benefit analysis internally.
  • They can commission independent reviews of their fire protection activities and use the guidelines to monitor the consultant's activities and evaluate its conclusions.
  • Staff of the OFM will continue to be available to assist municipalities in the use of the guidelines.

In addition, the OFM will be re-focusing its training and education services to provide municipal and fire department officials with the skills needed to utilize the guidelines effectively.

Basis of Development

The guidelines will be based on the Comprehensive Fire Protection Effectiveness Model. Fire protection in any community is determined by:

  1. The risk of a fire occurring
  2. The impact a fire may have on the community
  3. Public attitude toward fire
  4. The effectiveness of its fire prevention activities
  5. The deployment of automatic fire detection systems
  6. The deployment of automatic fire suppression systems
  7. The effectiveness of its fire department's suppression activities
  8. The time period between when the fire starts and when the fire department begins suppression activity

The level of fire protection in a given community will reflect an appropriate balance of all of these factors. Changes in any one factor will affect the overall level of protection.

For example, if the general public is complacent about the risk of fire, there will be a greater risk of a fire occurring in the community. A municipality may choose to address the risk by enhancing its fire suppression capability, by deploying more automatic detection and suppression systems, or a combination of any or all of the other factors affecting fire protection. It may also choose to address the issue head on - by raising awareness of public fire safety through effective public education. In short, there are many valid ways of addressing a problem of poor public attitude toward fire. The guidelines will not make value judgments on which course of action is the best, but they will help municipalities evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of each option, and choose a course of action that suits its needs.

The guidelines will also serve as a tool for improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of a municipality's fire protection system. If a municipality is generally satisfied with the overall level of protection it provides, the model can help it improve efficiency by demonstrating that there are alternatives which may cost less, while achieving a similar level of protection. For example, it may find that through effective public education, it can reduce the number of fire code violations that persist throughout the community. This may lead to a reduction in the cost of inspecting properties and prosecuting offenders.

The guidelines will also help municipalities to make adjustments to existing services to improve effectiveness and reduce costs. By thoroughly analyzing costs and benefits, municipalities can initiate new work assignments with confidence. For example, fire departments with full-time fire suppression staff can reduce the workload of the fire prevention division by conducting in-service fire safety inspections. Without objective tools for analyzing such innovations, those opposed can prevent change by appealing to public fears and misapprehensions.

The guidelines will also facilitate fire department reorganization and restructuring on a much broader scale. Many smaller municipalities focus almost exclusively on fire suppression. This is often based on limited availability of volunteers' time to carry out prevention activities. The guidelines will help municipalities to see areas where resources can be shared and services can be provided over broader geographic areas. Inter-municipal co-operation will ensure that effective fire prevention and public education are both viable and affordable.

Collectively, these measures can improve public fire safety while, at the same time, stabilizing or reducing costs.

The guidelines are designed to provide municipalities with a new way of thinking about public fire protection. It will encourage them to consider all aspects of fire safety and not just fire stations, fire trucks and firefighters. Each guideline will assist municipalities to apply the Comprehensive Model by expanding further on each concept, outlining decision-points and indicating the information they will require to analyze their options.

Municipalities will have the means to make objective choices about public fire protection, and implement significant changes with confidence.

Overall Strategy

The guidelines represent one component of the strategy the Ministry is proposing for public fire protection in Ontario. This strategy includes:

  • Clarifying municipal responsibility for local fire protection, while protecting the provincial interest in public fire safety.
  • Removing remaining legislative barriers which forestall the restructuring and reorganization of municipal fire services.
  • Facilitating a shift in focus which places priority on fire prevention and public education as opposed to fire suppression.
  • Providing municipalities with decision-making tools to help them provide services according to their own needs and circumstances.
  • Facilitating more active involvement of the private sector and other community groups in fire prevention and public education through the Fire Marshals Public Safety Council.

This strategy recognizes that municipalities, with the aid of appropriate tools and support, are fully capable of ensuring adequate fire protection for their communities.

At the same time, this strategy recognizes that the provincial interest would not be met if the level of service provided by a municipality jeopardized public fire safety.

  • The guidelines will provide the means for municipalities to make informed choices about public fire protection - responsible choices that will not compromise public safety.
  • They are the foundation for measuring and determining adequate fire protection.
  • Provincial regulatory authority would be exercised only where there was a clear and identifiable threat to public safety that a municipality or municipalities fail to address.
  • Good guidelines, and responsible local government, will ensure that this authority need not be exercised.

Application Options

The model - "Optimizing Public Fire Safety" is intended to be a companion to the guidelines. Its intended use is to provide consistency in application and to ensure all aspects are considered when applying the guidelines.

Graphic outlineing Optimizing Fire Safety