Codes and standards
Written by Shayne Mintz
With new legislation that came into force Oct. 17, 2018, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, it appears evident a whole new world is being unveiled to the fire service.
Written by Shayne Mintz
Many of us assume Canada is a peaceful, law-abiding nation free from violence and hostile events that seem to plague many others around the globe.
Written by Shayne Mintz
This past June 14 marked the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, England, that blaze was one of the most tragic fires in the history of the modern United Kingdom. Seventy-two people died and more than 70 were injured.
Written by Len Garis, John Lehmann and Alex Tyakoff
A casual question from a colleague could eventually lead to changes to the no-stopping zones around fire hydrants in British Columbia, underscoring the importance of taking a second look at long-held practices.

The no-stopping zones around hydrants are a significant issue in urban areas, where space for parking is at a premium. In most jurisdictions, it is illegal to park a vehicle within a certain distance of a hydrant, to ensure it is visible and accessible during emergencies. Across North America, this distance is typically three to five metres (or about 10 to 16 feet).

British Columbia is at the top end of the range. Chapter 318, Section 189 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act (RSBC 1996) prohibits vehicles from stopping within five metres (about 16 feet) of a hydrant. Municipalities mirror this distance in their bylaws to prevent conflict with provincial regulations. The result is 10 metres – more than 32 feet – of unused road space around every hydrant.

But is that much space required? This was what Fraser Smith, the City of Surrey’s general manager of engineering asked of Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis in 2016. This question resulted in a study on the issue by the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), written by Garis (an adjunct professor at UFV) along with Surrey Fire Service Deputy Fire Chief John Lehmann and strategic planning analyst Alex Tyakoff.

“Providing on-street parking is critical to the success of neighbourhood densification in communities. As we accommodate residential growth through townhouse and apartment developments providing one or two additional parking spaces next to each fire hydrant will be greatly appreciated by our residents. In a growing neighbourhood the total increase in parking spaces could be very meaningful,” said Smith.

To prepare for the study, titled The Reduction of Parking Restrictions around Fire Hydrants: An Examination of Parking Distances and Setback Regulations, Surrey Fire Service conducted a series of evaluations to determine the impact of reducing how far away vehicles could park from hydrants. Of specific concern was the potential to impede the flow through the four-inch supply lines running off the hydrant side ports. The study also looked at potential damage to vehicles parked next to hydrants.

The testing included simulations of crews arriving on the scene in an engine, stopping at a hydrant and removing the equipment and hose before sending the truck further down the road. This simulated a “forward lay” tactic, where water uses existing head pressure to make its way to the engine at the fire scene. A baseline flow of 250 gallons per minute was used to measure any reduction of flow through kinking of hose lines at corners.

In the end, the testing showed vehicles could park as close as two metres from hydrants – less than half of the current requirements – without affecting visibility and access.

This conclusion is supported by the National Fire Protection Association hydrant clearance standard, which recommends 60 inches (five feet) of clearance on either side of a hydrant with a connection diameter greater than 2.5 inches. This standard was updated in 2015 and provides for three times less parking clearance than is permitted in B.C.

Given the results of the testing and the widely recognized NFPA standard, the study concludes that a no-stopping zone of 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) on either side of a hydrant would not affect fire fighting operations or public safety while allowing for additional street parking.

Why does the province require so much parking clearance? If the reason was to ensure emergency responders could easily spot hydrants, that is no longer valid, given today’s widespread use of GPS, CAD maps in fire trucks and other technology, not to mention the drivers’ awareness of hydrant locations.

If the reason was to ensure firefighters have adequate access to hydrants, that rationale is also not sound. Fire apparatus rarely, if ever, pull up right next to the curb at fire hydrants; the practice instead is to block travelling lanes as necessary.

Whatever the original justification, the matter is being brought to the attention of B.C.’s provincial government. Smith took the study to Metro Vancouver’s Regional Engineers Advisory Committee (REAC), which crafted a resolution requesting that Section 189 of B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act be amended to permit municipalities to limit the no-stopping zones near hydrants to 2.5 metres on either side, measured from the point in the curb or road edge closest to the hydrant.

The resolution was supported unanimously at the 2017 annual general meeting of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia, and has been provided to city managers to strengthen the position with the provincial government.

The amendment would enable B.C.’s local governments to update their bylaws and free up additional parking spaces — a boon for urban and growing communities — while having no negative impact on fire operations.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that the recommended change was the result of a simple query about why we do things a certain way. These types of questions are often dismissed. However, in this case, making the effort to thoroughly explore that question could result in a significant improvement for B.C. cities while also demonstrating how the fire service continues to be responsive to the changing needs of the communities they serve.

The Reduction of Parking Restrictions around Fire Hydrants: An Examination of Parking Distances and Setback Regulations can be downloaded for free by searching “hydrant” at

Len Garis is the fire chief for the City of Surrey, B,C., an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and an associate to the Centre for Social Research at the University of the Fraser Valley, a member of the Affiliated Research Faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and a faculty member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

John Lehmann is a deputy fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C. He has 25 years’ experience, is certified as a fire officer IV and is the chief training officer with the Surrey Fire Service. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Alex Tyakoff is the strategic planning analyst for the City of Surrey Fire Service, B.C., with 25 years’ of experience in public safety research. He possesses a master of science (MSc) degree in urban and regional planning from the University of British Columbia. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Written by Shayne Mintz
The National Fire Protection Association has hired its first full-time regional public education advisor in Canada. In 2015, the NFPA hired three regional public-education specialists in the United States to achieve broader outreach of our educational programming and assist municipalities and local fire departments with fire-safety public education programs.
Written by Shayne Mintz
In the heat of summer, many people are out enjoying time on the water and around marinas. This brings to mind the fact that I was asked to speak at a recent conference about NFPA 303 – Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards.
Written by Shayne Mintz
After several months of planning and preparation, the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition has bridged the border. In March, the United States-based non-profit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition announced a new Canadian website, with important educational information for a broad range of stakeholders.
Written by Don Jolley
My February column described the new Playbook standard and its application to both service-level determination and corresponding training-level application for an individual authority having jurisdiction.
Written by Shayne Mintz
Food trucks may seem like a strange topic for a column, but these kitchens on wheels are a becoming an issue for the fire service, particularly people in fire protection and prevention.
Written by Don Jolley
Does your fire service utilize NFPA 1001 as your minimum training standard for your firefighters? Does every firefighter have that level – even if you are one of the thousands of small volunteer fire services in Canada?
Written by Shayne Mintz
In my travels, certain NFPA standards come up more often than others in conversations. Recently there has been interest in NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.
Written by Shayne Mintz
When will something finally be done to develop a building code for the wildland urban interface?
Written by Shayne Mintz
Over the winter, there were more large-profile barn fires in the news than I can recall in recent memory. At one point it was difficult to keep track of them all.
Written by Shayne Mintz
Good fire-service leaders know the benefits of a solid and comprehensive strategic plan; it provides the opportunity to analyze the current state, identifies what risks or threats may exist or lie beyond the horizon, can help highlight future opportunities and pitfalls, and can provide the organization with vision, goals, and objectives to pursue in a world of continuous improvement.
Written by Jay Shaw
February 2016 - In our fire departments, we throw around terms such as leadership, accountability and management. Why do these terms matter and why do we always talk about them?
Written by Shayne Mintz
Have you ever had a question about standards or best practices and didn’t know who to ask?
Written by Shayne Mintz
If a disaster like the train derailment and subsequent inferno that caused 47 fatalities in Lac-Megantic were to occur in your community, would you, your department and your municipality be prepared to respond? Would you be capable of mitigating the incident and prevent or minimize the loss of life and property? Could you work effectively and efficiently alongside non-government agencies to find a resolution?
Written by Shayne Mintz
When it comes to fire-service training, it is caveat emptor – or buyer beware.
Written by Kirk Hughes
Navigating the world of protocol is complex and, at times, frustrating and confusing. Since my article Protocol and proper dress appeared in the June 2013 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, I have received countless emails, letters and phone calls from fire personnel across Canada. Most of the questions are similar in nature; some ask for clarification on uniform standards, some seek advice on proper protocol for parades and functions, and some ask for specific insight on the wearing of orders, decorations and medals.

In responding to these correspondences, a few common questions and situations arose. I hope here to further the understanding of dress and deportment in the Canadian fire service.

The side on which shields or badges are worn on the tunic chest is the subject of some debate. In order to provide some insight we must first consider why the shield was originally issued. Historically, the chest badge was modeled after chivalrous societies to symbolize a knight’s shield. The reasoning is that those in public service perform noble work, often in a paramilitary environment. As a carry over of those duties, the Maltese cross shield was adopted by fire departments throughout the world.

A typical medieval knight or soldier carried his shield on his left arm over his heart for protection and kept his right hand free to draw his sword. That is why you salute with your right hand – to show the person on the receiving end that you are unarmed. Therefore, wearing your shield on the left side is a throwback to the early evolution of the fire service. The wearing of a shield or badge in such manner is steeped in tradition, however, there are no official regulations in Canada that stipulate on which side they are to be worn; in fact, the issuing agency may stipulate where the shield goes. The classical approach is to wear shields on the left.

Service markers
Although you won’t find service markers mentioned in the official Canadian Honour System, these awards are issued to service members who perform a set period of service and are often worn on the uniform. Again, there is no official standard regarding placement, however most emergency services personnel wear the markers at the bottom of the left sleeve (with the exception of the RCMP – members wear them on the left arm between the shoulder and the elbow). A service marker customarily represents five years of service. Styles differ among the traditional Maltese cross, maple leafs, and stars or bars. A member who has served in more than one fire department is permitted to wear the accumulative years of service.

Hazardous skill badges/wings
This topic was covered briefly in the original article, but I have received many questions about the proper procedure for mounting hazardous-skill badges on formal dress uniforms. When discussing hazardous-skill badges – or wings, as they are often informally referred to – it is important to identify exactly what is being discussed. For the purpose of uniforms, we are referencing Canadian Armed Forces patches that contain a specific specialized trade encased on either side by a wing. Single-wing badges are not referenced and are generally not worn on formal uniforms. Examples of the most commonly seen hazardous-skill badges include basic military parachutist, search-and-rescue technician, pilot, and explosive-ordinance disposal technician. These wings are worn on the left side above the lapel pocket and above any medals or ribbons being worn. Trade badges, such as military firefighter, are worn on military dress on the right side and are seldom worn on civilian firefighting uniforms, although such action would not be entirely inappropriate. A firefighter’s decision to wear trade badges is based on permission from his or her fire chief.

Firefighter trade patches
Firefighter trade patches are an emerging trend in the Canadian fire service as a way to recognize specialized skill sets. These specific patches are generally worn on the bottom left sleeve. Officers have rank braids and generally do not wear these patches. Originally trade patches included an R wrapped in laurel leaves to signify that the wearer was no longer an active member of the fire service but retained the privilege of wearing the department uniform. Now patches are used to signify medical qualifications, hazardous-materials training, and even crossed axes, which, depending on departments, can signify a fully trained firefighter. These patches are likely to increase in popularity as demands for specialized knowledge increase. Local fire chiefs must exercise caution to prevent these patches from becoming excessive, numerous and inappropriate. (For example, a rifle marksmanship patch isn’t something you should see on a firefighter’s tunic.)

Undress ribbons
As described by the Guide for the Wearing of Orders, Decorations and Medals: “Ribbons worn by uniformed personnel when the wearing of full-size or miniature insignia is not appropriate. Every honour has its own ribbon, and when more than one ribbon is worn, they must be placed in the established Order of Precedence and be arranged in rows, with the most senior ribbon at the left of the top row.”

When a firefighter is wearing short sleeves or a tunic, undress ribbons are worn centred immediately above the left breast pocket. Undress ribbons are not to be pinned to the flap of the pocket, but rather should rest on the crease that separates the top pocket flap from the tunic.

Provincial and territorial medals
These awards are authorized by the province/territory, often handed out by the provincial lieutenant-governor, and are worn at the end of all federally issued medals. The simple rule to remember is that the lieutenant-governor represents the Queen, and an official award from the Queen’s representative carries the weight of the Crown. As such, provincial/territorial medals are worn in conjunction with all medals of the Canadian Honour System. Examples of these types of medals include the Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery, the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal and the Emergency Services Medal.

Foreign commonwealth medals
Generally, foreign awards from a commonwealth country that are headed by the Queen – such as Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand – may apply for permission from the Governor General to wear decorations in accordance with the Canadian Hzonours System. This is a strict protocol as the Canadian Honour System has two sets of “order of precedence”; one dating back before 1972, and the current system. Decorations not approved by the Government of Canada directives for wear should not be worn unless authorization has come from the Crown.

Foreign medals
Foreign medals are awards made by other countries that do not have the Queen as the head of their honour system, such as the United States. As a rule, these awards are not to be worn in conjunction with any order, decoration or medal unless authorized by the Governor General. Examples include bravery or meritorious service medals such as the Bronze Star or the Army Commendation Medal.

Cadet medals
I received a lot of questions about cadet medals, particularly from aspiring firefighters. Since September 2011, cadet medals have been worn on the right side above the tunic pocket. Cadet medals are classified as unofficial, so their display is at the discretion of the fire chief or the chief training officer of the academy. Cadet medals are customarily not worn. The exception is cadet pilot and basic parachutist wings, which are awarded to cadets because they follow rigid Department of National Defense selection and graduation requirements.

Association medals
Association medals are a hotly contested issue. According to the Governor General, unauthorized medals cannot be worn in conjunction with official Canadian Honours. Wearing association medals is an erroneous habit in the fire service. Many firefighters receive awards from partner agencies, such as the Royal Canadian Legion, the Order of St. Lazarus, firefighter associations, and the Royal Lifesaving Society. These medals are acknowledgements from community partners to show that they value the service firefighters provide, however, they must not be confused with official honours. Wear only on the right side, if at all.  

Department medals

Department medals, such as for service or valour, are becoming more common in the fire service. Such awards are sometimes posthumous or made in memory of a deceased firefighter. Department medals not only express gratitude for the recipient but also convey a legacy of the person whose name is attached to that award. These medals are often governed for wear by the local fire chief and should be worn on the right side of the tunic only.

Commemorative and unofficial medals
Medals that are acquired through unofficial means should never be worn on any uniform, even if they seem legitimate. Firefighters purchasing medals, often labeled as commemorative, is a disturbing and growing trend in the fire service. These medals are often of high quality and craftsmanship to replicate those awarded by the Governor General, however, they are not legitimate and wearing them can cause friction with veterans and possibly lead to charges under the criminal code.

Improper wearing of honours
The topic of improper wearing of honours became front-page news across the country last Remembrance Day. Veteran groups quickly discredited Franck Gervais, who falsely portrayed himself as a combat veteran. Does this happen in the fire service? It does – and it is illegal. Lt.-Col. Debbie Miller, for example, not only wore military medals to which she was not entitled, but the ones she was awarded were stripped due to her conduct. An alleged veteran in Hamilton, Ont., is also under federal review and is charged for wearing medals he did not earn. Simply put, wearing orders, medals or badges that are not earned is not worth it. Veterans, scholars, researchers, and military buffs will quickly uncover imposters and highlight any falsehoods. The resulting negative press will devastate that person’s reputation and previous legitimate accomplishments, and demean the prestige of the fire service.

If a colleague is in violation of honours etiquette, politely advise that person that his or her behaviour has serious consequences and ask that he or she stop. If that fails, the next step is to formally bring the colleague’s actions to the attention of the senior officer and appropriate management. Failing all else, the local police service should be notified to assist, and, if deemed necessary, investigate. Those who parade around with such items on their chests should not be allowed to jeopardize the high community standing of a fire service and bring the character of fellow firefighters into disrepute. In the end, it is about trust. Communities trust their emergency services members to be honest, have integrity and be honourable.

The dress uniform continues to be a recognizable symbol of the fire service and a source of pride. Ensuring its standard enhances public trust, presents an appearance of professionalism and, finally, promotes the value of emergency services throughout the country. The benefits of continual uniformity cannot be understated.   

Kirk Hughes is the fire chief for the Edzo Fire Department in the Northwest Territories. Reach him on matters of uniform standards at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Written by Shayne Mintz
There is a constant and almost daily injection of new technology into our lives, homes and workplaces. But the gradual pace at which the latest-and-greatest technology works its way into the fire service is often frustratingly slow.
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