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Jan. 7, 2014, Toronto – It has been pointed out to me that the apparatus involved in the Nipissing, Ont., incident was a pumper, not a tanker as I described in my blog of Dec 31. I apologize for that inaccuracy; I was using information from media reports. That’s not an excuse, I should have done my homework more thoroughly.

January 7, 2014
By Peter Sells

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Jan. 7, 2014, Toronto – It has been pointed out to me that the apparatus involved in the Nipissing, Ont., incident was a pumper, not a tanker as I described in my blog of Dec 31. I apologize for that inaccuracy; I was using information from media reports. That’s not an excuse, I should have done my homework more thoroughly.

Also brought to my attention is the fact that section 22 of Regulation 340/94 under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act says, in part, that a firefighter holding any classification of driver’s licence (other than the junior classifications in the graduated system, and not considering motorcycle licences) may drive a motor vehicle of any class, including a vehicle equipped with air brakes, other than a motorcycle, on a highway in an emergency and in the performance of his or her duties.

The same regulation allows police officers the same rights, which is understandable when you consider the original intent. Both amendments to the regulation were enacted in March 2003, as the SARS outbreak was in its first wave, primarily in the Toronto area. The main intent was to allow firefighters and police officers to drive ambulances, which they would not otherwise be licenced to drive. At that time, all services had to adapt to the unanticipated situations brought on by SARS. For example, classes were cancelled at the Ontario Fire College to mitigate the chance of someone bringing a contagion along that could then be widely distributed across the province. Paramedics were in short supply. Some had been quarantined due to fear of early exposure. Patient contact was being minimized as much as possible, which created a need for cops and firefighters to take the driver’s seat in many ambulances.

So, although the intent of the amended regulation was not to allow firefighters to drive apparatuses without the proper licence, the letter of the regulation implicitly does allow exactly that.

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There is no way to fault any fire officer in Ontario for taking advantage of this loophole in an emergency, provided that the firefighter is properly trained and familiar with the apparatus.

The danger of relying on this loophole – a loophole big enough to drive a fire truck through – is that the employer is drifting away from taking “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.” That language is excerpted from the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act, which supersedes all other legislation (“Despite anything in any general or special Act, the provisions of this Act and the regulations prevail”), including the Highway Traffic Act.

A convenient exemption could potentially create a less urgent need to get licencing done, which could then evolve into an unwritten standard practice. That’s not finger pointing, it’s simply human nature.

Let me extend my thanks to the two readers who helped me correct and update this blog. This is not about bureaucracy and covering municipal assets – it’s about fewer funerals for young firefighters.

Retired District Chief Peter Sells writes, speaks and consults on fire service management and professional development across North America and internationally. He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Windsor. He sits on the advisory council of the Institution of Fire Engineers, Canada branch. Peter is president of NivoNuvo Consulting, Inc, specializing in fire-service management. Contact him at peter.nivonuvo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @NivoNuvo


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