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NFPA Impact: Industrial fire brigades operating under the radar

According to the most recent and most thorough snap­-shot of fire service personnel across the country, there are just 400 industrial fire brigade members in Canada and they’re all in British Columbia.

March 19, 2008  By Sean Tracey

seantracey2According to the most recent and most thorough snap­-shot of fire service personnel across the country, there are just 400 industrial fire brigade members in Canada and they’re all in British Columbia.

Clearly the statistics are wrong as there are considerably more personnel assigned these tasks but because industrial brigades do not come under the authority of provincial fire marshals or fire services, their numbers are not reported and their training and standards are not monitored.

Generally, it is only after a serious incident that the services of industrial fire brigades come into the limelight.

Several major fires in 2005 highlighted issues that can arise when public and industrial brigades interface. The first was the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, on March 23, 2005. Explosions and fires killed 15 people and injured another 180, resulted in financial losses exceeding $1.5 billion and forced 43,000 people into shelters.


The second was the Buncefield oil depot fire in Hertfordshire, U.K., on Dec. 11, 2005. It was the largest fire in Europe since the Second World War and took four days to control. Both cases highlight the requirements for industrial fire brigades to be trained and competent as well as able to work harmoniously with their public counterparts.

Industries recognize the need for trained, on-site personnel because of the unique risks associated with their facilities. They understand that the detailed skills needed to handle an incident at their facilities and the necessary familiarity with their plants and resources are not available through the municipal fire service. In addition, the response time of a municipal service may not be adequate, so these industries form and train their own fire brigades for initial response. Municipal fire departments may be called in to augment their resources.

When incidents occur it is the industrial fire brigade’s role to perform the initial fire attack and then to co-ordinate responders from outside. The community response is to the gate and the industrial brigade retains incident command. In some larger industrial regions, there are mutual-aid agreements among industrial brigades. This is an effective use of these valuable resources but it requires very close communication among outside municipal fire departments and the industrial brigades and a better understanding by all parties of industrial firefighting standards. Two unique and noteworthy examples of these municipal-industrial co-operation arrangements in Canada are the Northwest Region Community Awareness and Emergency Response (NRCAER) network in the Alberta Industrial Heartland and the Chemical Valley Emergency Co-ordinating Organization (CVECO) in southwestern Ontario. Both are excellent examples of industry training, liaising, planning and co-operating with municipal response as well as having effective community awareness and notification systems.  

With the lack of federal or provincial regulations or standards, industrial brigades need to follow industry best practices. The only standard available in North America can be found in NFPA. NFPA 600 Standard for Industrial Fire Brigades 2005 Edition should be the overall requirement should a plant or facility form a fire brigade. It covers the need for a site-specific evaluation of the hazards and the development of an organizational statement of response duties. It requires that there be a balanced application of the principles found within NFPA 1500 to protect brigade members. It also requires the establishment of an incident-management system as per NFPA 1581. This helps to ensure a common level of understanding among responders. Additionally, all personnel with firefighting tasks should be carrying out their duties to NFPA 1081 Standard on Industrial Fire Brigade Member Professional Qualifications 2007 Edition. The rest of the equipment apparatus standards are all to NFPA or other industry standards that are familiar to municipal responders. It is important that all municipal fire services responding to support industrial brigades understand these standards. (All NFPA standards are available for free public viewing online at )

Just three jurisdictions in Canada are training and certifying industrial brigades to NFPA 1081. These are Fire Etc., the Justice Institute of British Columbia and the College of the Rockies. Other colleges may offer training to NFPA 1081 and NFPA 600 but the provincial bodies are not accrediting these training programs. This is a separate issue that highlights the fact that many provinces are looking only at municipal-service needs. Nonetheless, these non-accredited training programs are essential for those agencies taking part as these programs and those developed and implemented in house would be compared to the benchmark of NFPA 1081 should there be an incident.

Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and formerly the Canadian Armed Forces Fire Marshal. Contact him at

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