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Aug. 21, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Driving the BRT – isn’t that why we all became firefighters? I know I used to love being in the truck while my dad drove, whether it was in a parade, just touring around town or, on a rare occasion, to an actual fire. Times where quite different then, obviously, but the seed had been planted for me.

August 21, 2012
By Rob Evans

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Aug. 21, 2012, Redwood Meadows, Alta. – Driving the BRT – isn’t that why we all became firefighters? I know I used to love being in the truck while my dad drove, whether it was in a parade, just touring around town or, on a rare occasion, to an actual fire. Times where quite different then, obviously, but the seed had been planted for me.

When I first joined Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES) I remember being allowed to drive only the so-called first response because it had an automatic transmission and was the size of a pickup. Two of our pumpers had manual transmissions and it was not until I was a member for more than a year that I started learning how to drive those trucks. Our third pumper was a brand new GMC TopKick with an automatic transmission. Wow, I can drive this! Well, it took even longer to be allowed to drive this truck: the truck had air brakes (sigh) and I didn’t have an air-brake endorsement on my license.

Now, most of our trucks have air brakes. Only the rapid response (Dodge 5500) and bush buggy (Chevy K2500) have regular hydraulic brakes. All of the trucks have automatic transmissions, including our two pumpers, tender and rescue. One truck – the tender – is tandem axle and to operate it, one requires an upgrade to a professional class 2 licence from a regular Alberta class 5. There is a school of thought that a class 3 license is more appropriate for driving tandem but I see a couple of problems with this license class and how it relates to fire apparatus:
• Training is often done using a tandem dump truck. A truck like this has a short wheelbase and typically the trucks we drive have longer wheelbases.
• A driver’s medical is not required to obtain a class 3.
   
o As a result, medical conditions do not have to be revealed.
   
o Licenses do not have to be renewed as often.
Others may counter that a class 2 license is obtained by testing on a school bus, which also has pros and cons like the dump truck. But the big issue, for me, is that you still need to produce a driver’s medical and renew more often with a class 2 license.

All of this being said, no matter what license class your department requires, it should not be a replacement for a sound, tested, in-house driver training and certification system. RMES has gone through our own driving training of some sort during the past 15 years at least. We are now developing a system under which our members will have to certify in-house for driving all of our trucks, including our new rescue support trailer and Polaris Ranger.

None of this replaces safe driving practices and smart, defensive driving by all of our members. We still need to watch out for others as we simply don’t know what anyone is thinking at the moment when they notice in their mirrors a fire truck with emergency equipment operating. About halfway through writing this, an Orangeville, Ont., engine collided with another vehicle and eventually ended up going through part of a post office. Thankfully, only minor injuries where reported in the collision. I’m sure that it was due only to the experience and training of the engine operator that there were not more serious injuries.

As much as I’m sure most of us joined the fire service to drive the BRT, I’m as equally sure that none of us ever thought we would need to charge people for infractions. But that’s what we, as a fire service, need to start doing.

Operating smoke alarms in residences have been a requirement for decades now. But why haven’t we heard reports of fire departments charging individuals for not having operating detectors? I’m sure we have all heard the stories of houses being destroyed and found not to have working smoke alarms. In the past, the tendency was not to add insult to injury by laying a charge to the homeowners. It is time to stop being the nice guys. Our role and responsibility to our communities is to start singling out these people and letting others know that it is not acceptable to have non-operating smoke alarms, it kills people. A united voice is needed across the territories, provinces, First Nations, NOW!

Becoming a firefighter, at the beginning, is all about driving the BRT but what it comes down to in the end, as chief officers and leaders of our departments, is driving change. This is why we have to take the wheel and drive the change of attitudes toward smoke alarms and enforcement of their proper use. We owe it to our citizens, neighbors, friends and families.

Rob Evans is the chief fire officer for Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. Evans attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1989 and studied photojournalism. In 1992, he joined RMES after taking pictures of an interface fire and making prints for the department. He has his NFPA 1001 level II certification, NFPA 472 Operations and Awareness (hazmat), NFPA 1041 level I (fire service instructor), Dalhousie University Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Certificate in Fire Service Administration and is a registered Emergency Medical Responder with the Alberta College of Paramedics. He lives in Redwood Meadows with his wife, a firefighter/EMT with RMES, and three children.


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