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Manual labour: Nova Scotia develops guide for first responders

Nova Scotia develops guide for first responders

December 11, 2007  By Charles Reid

Several roadside incidents over the years prompted the making of the Nova Scotia Emergency Responders Traffic Management Guidelines for Emergency Scenes manual, and two stood out for 40-year firefighting veteran Malcolm Noble.

The first happened in southwestern Nova Scotia as Yarmouth County firefighters attended a Halloween car accident in 2005.

“A fellow down in Yarmouth County was picked off by a passing motorist. He ended up in the hospital,” said Noble, who jumped at the chance to work on the guidelines for fire, ambulance, police and even tow trucks drivers, when asked by Robert Cormier, Nova Scotia’s fire marshal, mid-way through 2005.

The second was much closer to home for the Elmsdale, N.S., fire chief of 22 years, at a snowy car accident scene last spring near Elmsdale, about half-way between Truro and Halifax.


An RCMP officer was on site and between breaks in his investigation trained a radar gun on passing traffic.

“(He clocked one driver at) 140 kilometres an hour through our accident scene. People just weren’t slowing down for us. They just sail right on by you. It’s crazy,” said Noble.

Strangely, both occurred while Noble and the committee, which included representatives from RCMP, provincial fire, ambulance and police services, the Nova Scotia Department of Public Works, the Halifax and Cape Breton regional municipalities, the provincial Department of Environment and Labour and the Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia, worked on the 48-page manual.

The incidents just stiffened Noble’s need to see guidelines for the safety of emergency service providers on Nova Scotia’s roadways, a real concern to him because most of his 32-man department travels to and from scenes on Highway 102, one of the province’s main thoroughfares.

“I was very concerned about working on the highways. I take my 15 guys there, I want to bring my 15 guys back home to their loved ones. It’s that simple.”

Nova Scotia had no province-wide guidelines so without a starting point the committee drew from sources on the Internet and from Pennsylvania. Western Canada had a large hand in drafting the manual, which Cormier approved in August 2006. It was released in October 2006.

“We used quite a bit of the manual that the Calgary Fire Department had put together and tuned it up to our own province,” said Noble, adding Nova Scotia’s version is altered to reflect its highways and speeds and, with input from Halifax and Cape Breton, addresses working in cities. Its adaptability, said Noble, is one of its draws for other provinces and jurisdictions. He said neighbouring New Brunswick plans to adopt the manual (adding a French version for the bilingual province) and calls have come from Australia, too.

Other highlights, said Noble, include scene setup in speed zones from 50 kilometres to 110 kilometres an hour. Parking fire trucks at a 30 degree angle from the road side instead of parallel so emergency vehicles jut out toward the centre line ,forcing drivers to ease off on the gas, is a simple example of the changes.

“Squeeze (drivers) and make them slow down,” he said.

Other recommendations include pink florescent reflective signs with a black arrow pointing ahead and the words “emergency scene” underneath. Driving through intersections, traffic cone placement and traffic control, command of a scene and taking down an accident scene are just some of the issues addressed.

Next is educating the public, which Noble admits has had its problems.

“That is still in the planning. We’re pushing Cormier to get media attention to it and so on, but that has been a bit of a failure for us,” Noble said.

Still, he’s seen progress on his stretch of highway. His department answers about 210 calls a year. Thirty per cent are motor vehicle accidents.

“Our own department is using the signs and procedures on the 102 and we’re finding really good acceptance. People are slowing down for them now. It’s a slow process, but we’re winning.”

While New Brunswick’s fire marshal Benoit Laroche said the province has received a copy of the Nova Scotia guidelines, implementing the recommendations is still in the works.

First, New Brunswick’s Department of Motor Vehicles must approve any possible changes to the province’s Motor Vehicle Act, then the manual needs the OK from fire services in the province and the provincial Association of Fire Chiefs.

“It’s not really red tape, it’s consultation and looking at our laws to see if we can adopt it or it we have to modify it to reflect the New Brunswick specification,” said Laroche. “Maybe there’s stuff we have to modify because the rules and regulations of the highways are not the same. Maybe they (Nova Scotia) have something different.”

Like Laroche, Ken Campbell, the deputy fire marshal for Prince Edward Island, said his department is reviewing the manual and will send out copies to the Island’s fire services for their input.

There’s no time frame for adoption but Campbell doesn’t see a problem.

“(P.E.I.’s) traffic laws and those of Nova Scotia are pretty compatible.” Campbell said some of the Island’s fire departments are using some similar techniques but the manual’s strength is unifying emergency safety procedures.

The guidelines include using an emergency vehicle parked in a lane or on the shoulder as an early warning indicator in speed zones over 70 kilometres an hour, wearing high-visibility clothing with reflective traffic cuffs at least seven inches long and handling traffic on roads and railway crossings when attending a potential hazardous material accident scene.

For more information, call Noble at 902-883-8932. The manual can be downloaded and printed free at or call the call Nova Scotia fire marshal’s office at 902-424-5300.

Charles Reid is a freelance writer living in Pisquid, P.E.I. He can be reached at .

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