Fire Fighting in Canada

Firelines: November 2015

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that responding to and retuning from emergency incidents in fire trucks continues to be a significant cause of firefighter deaths and injuries:

November 11, 2015  By Dave Balding

this may be the most easily preventable cause of harm to our members. There are many steps we can take before turning a wheel to help ensure everyone goes to incidents and comes home safely in our rigs; as chief officers, it’s our responsibility to ensure they do.

Training drivers is critical. Compared to passenger vehicles, fire-service vehicles have higher centres of gravity, greater stopping distances, larger turning radii and myriad controls. For a novice apparatus driver, a rig is a huge step from a compact car, so driving training programs need to be progressive; start training on the smallest truck you have.

Going over the department’s operating guidelines and policies about driving fire trucks is a great place to start. Guidelines should also reviewed periodically by all apparatus drivers. Before moving the apparatus, ensure the new driver is familiar with the location and operation of every control on the truck. Some devices, such as emergency lights and siren, might be best operated by the passenger. If your department conducts its own driver training, NFPA 1002 is a great resource for training and assessing drivers.

Many departments require applicants or new operators to furnish a driver’s record or abstract. I recommend doing this annually to ensure only those with safe driving habits operate the trucks.


Gone are the days when apparatus maintenance could be carried out by a mechanically inclined firefighter; today’s trucks are highly complex vehicles that require skilled technicians to keep them performing reliably and safely. Keep up with both preventative and corrective maintenance and maintain accurate records of all work done. Provincial regulations require regular inspections. I look for a facility that will dig deep to find any potential problems with our trucks. Why? Because I want the vehicles that our members ride in to be as safe as possible. In keeping with provincial requirements, our department conducts post-trip inspections every time the truck returns to the hall and pre-trip inspections before every non-emergency run.

When it comes to design and construction, I don’t believe in building new fire trucks that are delivered overweight. Some trucks carry additional equipment and, therefore, extra weight, over their lifespans, so a truck that is marginally overweight on delivery will be even more so later. Have your trucks weighed, either at a commercial scale or by inviting government vehicle inspectors to your hall with portable scales. If there is no way to redistribute or reduce loading on your rigs, put the applicable overweight permits in place. Vehicles converted for fire-department use are also a concern; these are typically tenders that may have transported fuel or milk in previous lives. While cost effective, these trucks can be top heavy without adequate baffling, or there may be other safety considerations associated with them.

There have been tremendous improvements in apparatus emergency lighting. LED lights are not only highly visible, but also draw a fraction of the electrical power of their predecessors. Upgrade or add lighting to an older truck to make it more visible.

Many mishaps occur when reversing fire trucks – try to avoid doing so. When you must back up, use a spotter. An extra set of eyes can save embarrassment and possibly even a life. Ensure the spotter can see the operator in the mirror, otherwise the driver can’t see the spotter. Create standard hand signals to be used by all members.

NFPA 1901 advises against wearing helmets while travelling in fire trucks as they interfere with the protection provided by headrests. Helmets and any other equipment in the cab of the truck must be stowed so as not to become a projectile in the event of a collision.

Most of us live in areas with snowy conditions at least a few weeks every year. If you’re lucky enough to have a first- and second-line engine, it is a good practice to have chains installed on one of the two.

Sadly, firefighters have been injured, or worse, responding to fire halls in their private vehicles. At emergency scenes our actions are driven by our training, not by adrenaline. The same needs to happen when getting there and going home.

Before and after the response, diligence in driver training, trip inspections, vehicle maintenance, certifications, and ensuring sound practices are followed in your department all go along way to ensure everyone gets to and comes home from every incident safely.

Dave Balding joined the fire service in 1985 and is now fire chief in Golden, B.C. Contact Dave at and follow him on Twitter at @FireChiefDaveB

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