Letter: Fire halls are not shelters

Editor: Re: “Fire halls offer ideal solution to homeless problem,” (The Times, Feb. 17)

When I first started reading this letter, I assumed it was a parody of an overly ambitious politician who is making it his mission to squeeze as much sweat out of municipal employees as possible.

I soon realized that the writer was completely serious.

He wonders why his solution to turn fire halls into homeless shelters has never been thought of before.

I’ll tell you why — because it’s absurd.

It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the role of firefighters in society, the stress that they undergo in the performance of their job, and the function of the fire hall.

Firefighters put their lives on the line every time they step into their uniforms.  The incidences of work-related deaths, injuries, post traumatic stress and suicide are significantly higher for firefighters than the general population.

Fire halls serve a vital role in the protection of a community. They house millions of dollars of high tech machinery and lifesaving equipment.

They provide a safe place for firefighters to prepare meals, stay fit and rest between calls.

They provide a focal point where firefighters wait vigilantly, prepared to deal with emergencies in the community.  The parking lots are used for training drills and practice.

Homeless shelters are rife with mental illness, substance abuse, theft and violence.

Mr. Klaas would have the efficiency and lifesaving equipment of the fire hall jeopardized by introducing this element?  He would have the responsibility of overseeing a tent community placed on those who already endure so much workplace stress, and risk so much to keep us safe?

Firefighters are not social workers, or police officers, health care professionals or counsellors. Putting them in this position would risk their safety and their ability to perform their jobs.  And as a result, would risk the safety of the community.

Homelessness is a terrible social injustice that cannot be so easily remedied as Mr. Klaas suggests.

On one point I agree with him, that the solution to homelessness requires “a little will and co-operation from all levels,” including private citizens. It does not belong on the backs of our firefighters.

A. Watt,

Surrey

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