Fire Fighting in Canada

News
Comment: August 2017

It strikes me that our cover story about fire departments preparing for active-shooter incidents and mass casualties is a pretty sad statement about society.

July 17, 2017
By Laura King

Essentially, training for active-shooter incidents is a response to the likes of the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings in the United States – and a couple of situations in which firefighters have been the targets of armed citizens.

Firefighters were not involved in the response to the 2014 shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, and the subsequent apprehension of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. Rather passersby and paramedics responded to Cirillo, while the RCMP, security and Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers handled the incident on the Hill.

Still, it’s better to be prepared.

The Calgary Fire Department has ordered bullet-resistant body armour for firefighters who are called out to active-shooter incidents; and active-shooter scenarios are being discussed at chiefs conferences as departments look to implement best practices and develop SOGs.

Calgary Chief Steve Dongworth told Global News he preferred to be proactive and buy the equipment now rather than as a reaction to firefighter casualties after a response to a dangerous situation.

“As the environment changes, we have to evolve with that as well, and make sure that our people are protected to the same level as the members of the other agencies,” Dongworth said.

“We’ve seen a proliferation in North America — not so much in Canada — and in the world I guess, of these active-shooter events, which we call criminal mass-casualty incidents, and we are reacting to that.”

The purpose of the integrated-rescue concept in Ontario’s York Region – the focus of our story on page 10 – is to get to patients quicker. At Columbine, for example, some patients waited hours to be removed from the scene; the proposed York Region protocol would have police stabilize the threat, fire stabilize the scene, and paramedics stabilize the patient(s) – tasks already performed by each agency, but under unified command and a co-ordinated, practiced protocol.

While responder safety is certainly a component of the integrated-response concept under development, it’s also critical that departments ensure members are mentally prepared to respond to this type of incident, and are aware of the possibility of losing one of their own. Indeed, psychological training for such an event may be as critical as the integrated-response training itself.

Regardless, just as enhanced airport is a necessary evil post-9-11 – integrated-response training is the new normal, but still, to my mind, a sad one.


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